By Meda Kessler
Photos by Nancy Farrar
A vintage ornament, a well-used tablecloth, an inherited serving bowl. It’s the simple things that make the holidays special.
Nancy Farrar has been using her grandmother’s aluminum serving bowl for years.
Shallow, with a beaded lip, it’s not overly ornate. The etched botanical motif has started to fade a bit, and Farrar admits she has never done anything to restore its original finish. But it’s a favorite piece used to hold crackers or rolls. Stashed in an easy-to-reach cabinet in Farrar’s well-organized home kitchen — she’s an avid cook, too — the bowl has been in her possession for 40-plus years.
“My mom used it for about 30 years,” says the Fort Worth photographer, whose family hails from Sicily and Syracuse, New York. Her grandmother, Antonette Peparata, used it at Christmas dinner, a multicourse Italian feast that started with lasagna and salad. The meal continued with capons and then the dessert of home-baked pies. Next came the fruit and nut course, with the aluminum bowl filled with tangerines (for good luck), red grapes and mixed nuts. Dried figs strung on a thin rope also were part of the mix.
“It wasn’t just for show. Everyone took their turn with the nutcracker, and the entire bowl was emptied.”
Grandma Peparata, who died when she was in her late 60s, was practical, too, and wrote her name on a strip of what looks like medical adhesive tape stuck on the bottom of the serving dish. “At big dinners where you took a dish, you always wanted to make sure you got your plate back,” says Farrar.
As for many of us, gatherings have been different due to the pandemic. A recent dinner caused a flood of memories to return when Farrar pulled out the aluminum bowl and glanced at the tape on the back.
“I use it all the time, but this dinner was special. And the tape. It’s been there forever, surviving countless washings, but it sort of hit me hard this time. I got on the computer later and went down a rabbit hole of looking up photos of my grandmother and the old neighborhood in Syracuse.”
No doubt countless family heirlooms — all priceless in their own way — will take their place on holiday tables this year. If mom or grandmother or that favorite aunt can’t be with us, at least a piece of their legacy will be.