Memories of home-made noodles past re-entered my mind today as Dad and I used Mom’s recipe book to mix the dough for this year’s batch, which is the highlight of our Christmas Eve family meal. Like the ghosts of a Christmas Carol, the noodle-making actually held lessons that were unseen for so many years that began to reveal themselves to me today.
The Noodles of Christmas Past were a true labor of time, patience and love. Since meat was not allowed on Christmas Eve, pasta and fish dishes were given center-stage on the menu and the pasta was made from scratch, not out of a box. I can remember how my Grandmother and then my mother made huge sheets of paper-thin dough that they rolled out in big sheets with a narrow, handle-less dowel (NOT a traditional rolling pin, which is too bulky to achieve the near transparent noodle fabric). Then, they would roll them into long tubes in a tight jelly-roll style, being careful to dust adequately between the layers with flour to prevent sticking. Once the rolls were rolled tightly, THE KNIFE would appear. This was not any ordinary knife at all – it was a noodle-cutting knife and no other knife would compare. This was a consumate tool for a professional noodle-maker. It had been forged from the finest and strongest steel from the local mill, where my Grandfather worked. The blade was easily 18-inches, if not more, and sharpened to razor-like specifications. The blade was riveted into a Bake-Lite handle (top of the line for those days) and balanced perfectly to provide control and precision. It was lovingly commissioned and then lovingly used to cut those rolls into the finest noodle nests which were then lifted with a gentle touch and left to drift down onto a brown paper bag surface to air dry. As they worked with speed and efficiency (lest the dough dry and crumble before its time), I would look on – at first, my chin barely cleared the table-top, so I had to get up on a chair, then as I grew I would be allowed to help with the separation of the strands and my mother would constantly chastise me to “Stop mashing the noodles! Easy! Easy! They are delicate.” The lessons of Noodles of Christmas Past escaped me then and only recently have begun to reveal themselves: Honor Tradition; Good Things Take Time; Hand Down Your Family Legacies to New Generations.
The Noodles of Christmas Present found my mother using a manual noodle-making machine and trying to get me to help her mix the dough and crank the rollers and participate in the whole process. “I’m not going to live forever, you know! You need to learn,” she would say every year as I artfully evaded her with excuses and delay tactics. Sometimes, she would rope me into “catching” the noodles as they spiraled down from the cutting roller – but not without the same chastisement:”Delicate! Delicate!”. Only once, before she passed away, did I go the entire course with her and all the while, I fought the lessons that were right under my nose: Don’t Let any Opportunity to Learn Pass You By; Don’t Take Any Day for Granted, It May Be the Last Chance; Don’t be Selfish with Your Time and Attention.
The Noodles of Christmas Future found Dad and I making them together, using Mom’s machine with a motor attachment which eliminates the need for the hand-cranking (I regret that I didn’t know how to get the attachment for her when she was here). Dad mixed all the dough, so I STILL have not accomplished that goal. But, I was there for it all and we talked and laughed and worked together and shared memories of those Noodles that had come before us. I was still the “catcher and spreader” and found it reassuring that Dad never scolded me for mashing or crushing the delicate strands. THEN, when my back was turned, I saw him at the drying table with his back to me and a fork in his hand that he was using to pick the strands apart and separate them more than I had left them. He didn’t say anything, but I got the message, loud and clear, “Stop mashing the delicate noodles!”. Oh well, I guess I have a lot more to learn. The process evolved, but the purpose and the meaning has never changed. The lessons of the Future build on those of the Past and Present: Spend Time with the People that You Love, Spend Time Doing Things For the People You Love, Time Spent Loving is Time Well-Spent.
While we are all enjoying our feast on Christmas Eve, I know that each of us will silently remember Mom who kept this tradition alive for us for so many years. Her legacy lives on in us and as she would say every year, “God Bless Us, Every One”. Here is her recipe:
(Serves 8 as a full
Large Bowl for Mixing
Towel or Tablecloth and Flat Surface for holding dough
Noodle Machine For Rolling and Cutting or – Rolling Pin and a Very
Sharp Knife –
Large Paper Bags for Holding Cut Noodles
8 Eggs -or-
an 8-Egg container of Egg Beaters -or- Half of Each
2 T Corn Oil – 1 tsp Salt
– 4+ C All Purpose Flour
Mix Eggs, Oil and Salt in Blender until thick
and frothy, about 5 minutes.
Place 4 C Flour in a large bowl, reserving
rest to be used if needed. Make a ‘well’ in center of flour.
Pour Egg Mixture slowly into the flour ‘well’, stirring and mixing until a stiff dough begins to form. Use more flour as needed to make sure the dough is very stiff.
Turn Dough out onto floured board and KNEAD about 5 minutes,
until well mixed and elastic.
Place Dough in floured bowl and cover with clean napkin or towel. Let stand about one hour, then knead again. Make noodles by hand or machine as follows.
Divide dough into four pieces & knead flat.
Divide each piece into four pieces again (16 pieces) knead flat.
Set up Noodle Machine and place roller dial into the widest slot.
Place the large clean towel over the work surface to hold strips.
Begin rolling dough, processing only 4 pieces at a
time. Rotate among the four pieces, rolling on each slot and placing dough on
towel after each roll. (For extra fine noodles, slip slot above the last spot
and roll on tightest pressure)
Cut Strips to approximately 6 to 10 inches in length.
After the final roll, run noodles through finest cutter, catching
them and spreading them loosely on bag.
Make sure you cut just before the edges of strips start to dry, but not when dough is sticky. Repeat the process for all 16 strips. (For thicker noodles, do not roll so many times, cut on wider cutters. Remember noodles rise when cooked.)
HAND CUT METHOD
Divide dough into 4 pieces. Knead each piece into a flat,
Roll one piece at a time with rolling pin, to desired
thickness… paper thin for very fine noodles.
Sprinkle the sheet of dough lightly with flour & roll up jellyroll fashion. The more turns to the dough, the longer the noodle.
Cut in thin slices, very fine, with an extremely sharp, long bladed knife. Toss Cut Noodles onto bags loosely.
(This method takes some skill. You might try doing just two eggs of noodles a couple of times first.)