Anita Forzano
Anita Forzano

CLARKSBURG -- Carol Hayes credits her cooking acumen to the women in her family tree.

The Clarksburg mom inherited many recipes and cooking skills from her mother, Edna Williams, passed down through her maternal grandmother. Hayes regularly puts the family culinary traditions to the test, cooking for both of her 95-year-old parents every day.

"Mom would tell you that she wasn't a very good cook, but she always undersold herself," she said. "When I was growing up, casseroles were the most common meals as they stretched ingredients."

Holidays, family reunions or simply putting the nightly supper on the table, Hayes said her mother's cooking "brings back wonderful memories."

"One was a Depression Era casserole of cooked shell macaroni mixed with a can of cream-style corn and topped with bacon strips and baked in the oven until the bacon is crispy," she said. "Economical and tasty."

As Mother's Day approaches, Hayes is among several Eagle readers honoring their moms' kitchen skills by sharing a signature family recipe.

Hayes contribution is Edna's Famous Cheese and Pasta in a Pot that was a hit at every family gathering, with a slight exception. While one son loved the dish, another wasn't particularly fond of one ingredient.

"He used to dissect the dish to make sure he didn't get any of the mushrooms," she noted. "By the time that he was working at a local fast food establishment when he was 16, he was eating and loving mushroom burgers."

For Anita Forzano, cooking has been a family passion that also pays the bills. The co-owner of Cakewalk in Lee grew up in the restaurant business, her family once operating The Kettle in Longmeadow.

"Our biggest thing was making pasta," she said. "When our grandmother brought out the linens to dry it, we knew we'd be busy all day."

After 30 years in food service -- the last 15 as a baker -- Forzano and her husband decided last July to own their own business and bought Cakewalk on Main Street. As a tribute to her mom, Anna Marie Magnanin, Forzano offers easy make -- and hard to resist -- Italian cookies. The recipe calls for anise, a spice similar to licorice and for some an acquired taste.

"I use the anise because it's not commonly used in the country, it's more European," she said.

While Forzano and Hayes have the cooking genes, there's no guarantee the family recipes produce the desired result generation after generation.

"[My mom] could always cook a simple pork chop so that it was tender and juicy," recalled Hayes, "something that I have never been able to achieve."

Mom's Favorite Italian Cookies

Courtesy Anita Forzano, co-owner Cakewalk in Lee

1 cup butter, room temp.

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

5 1/2 cups flour

1/4 tsp. baking soda

3 tsp. baking powder

1 cup milk

3 tsp. anise

Mix butter until smooth, add sugar until light, add eggs. Sift flour, baking soda and baking powder, add to butter mixture with milk and anise.

Form batter into balls, bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until lightly golden.

Ice with a mixture of powdered sugar, milk and a little vanilla.

Edna's Famous Cheese and Pasta in a Pot

Courtesy Carol Hayes, Clarksburg

Serves 8

2 lbs lean ground beef

Vegetable oil

2 med. onions, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 jar (14 oz.) spaghetti sauce

1 can (1 lb. ) stewed tomatoes

1 can (3 oz.) sliced, broiled mushrooms

8 oz. shell macaroni, uncooked

1 1/2 pints (3 cups) dairy sour cream

1 pkg. (1/2 lb.) sliced provolone cheese

1 pkg. (1/2 lb.) Mozzarella cheese, sliced thin

Brown the ground beef in a little vegetable oil in a large, deep frying pan. Drain off any excess fat.

Add onions, garlic, spaghetti sauce, stewed tomatoes and undrained mushrooms; mix well. Simmer 20 minutes or until onions are soft. Meanwhile cook macaroni shells according to package directions; drain and rinse with cold water. Pour half the shells into a deep casserole. Cover with half the tomato-meat sauce. Spread half the sour cream over sauce. Top with slices of provolone cheese. Repeat, ending with slices of mozzarella cheese.

Cover casserole and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove cover; continue baking until mozzarella melts and browns slightly.

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Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese Dip

Courtesy Ed Damon, Eagle reporter

16 oz cream cheese, softened

1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, pepperjack, Monterrey jack, etc)

1 cup sour cream

1/2 cup jalapeno peppers

1 loaf of crusty bread for a bread bowl

optional: 1 bag potato chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix cream cheese, shredded cheese, sour cream, and jalapenos with an electric mixer until smooth. Set aside.

Hollow out bread loaf and set aside removed bread. Fill bread bowl with cheese mixture, bake 30 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Cut removed bread slices into cubes for dipping or use potato chips.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233