Friday, March 7, 2008
I felt it only fitting to write a tribute to Grace Hasson, otherwise known as Vava (or Yaya, which is Greek for grandmother) to her friends and family. I guess I can begin by explaining that Vava was my husband’s grandmother, who passed away last week at the beautiful age of 104! We should all live that long.
Vava lived an amazing life, and I feel bad condensing it here into a few paragraphs, because her life was so full. But I guess that I will have to leave the hundreds of other stories for another day (or maybe a book or two).
Beginning her life on the Island of Rhodes (now part of Greece, but at one time under Italian and Turkish rule), Vava and her husband Joseph immigrated to the United States when she was in her early twenties, winding up in Southern California. Since she and her husband Joseph were Sephardic and spoke Ladino (a language fairly close to Spanish), East Los Angeles was a perfect place to settle, raise a family and open a flower shop. Yes, this is how my husband’s grandmother wound up in East LA.
Along with raising a very large family (4 children, 16 grandchildren, 16 great grandchildren and two great, great grandchildren), I think Vava was most famous for her food. She was always cooking up amazing amounts of delicious Sephardic delicacies, from beans and rice, stewed okra and zucchini, to burekas (pastry turnovers filled with mashed potatoes, onions and parmesan), Boyus de Spinaka (spinach pastries), leek patties and quashadu (a Sephardic spinach and egg fritatta-like dish), all on a tiny old stove. Next to the simmering pots and baking sheets filled with hundreds of burekas, was something that her grandchildren often referred to as her “magic” coffee pot. This tiny little pot would continuously percolate cup after cup of coffee, all day long, seemingly never needing to be refilled.
It was always a treat to spend time in Vava’s kitchen, making sure to stand out of her way while noshing on burekas, sipping a cup of her special coffee, and listening to the chatter of her Spanish soap operas playing in the background on her little black and white TV.
Visiting Vava was like watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding, with all of the cousins and aunts and uncles crowding the front lawn, hanging out, catching up and sharing food.
When I first met Vava, I was terrified of her, as she looked me up and down giving me the "look" which said “oh great, he brings another young girlfriend home to meet the family”. But once Jay and I decided to get married, Vava softened up and welcomed me into her family. She even took me aside one day and told me to “hide my money” in my bra, that men will always spend it and that it’s up to women to keep it safe and tucked away.
Vava continued to cook through her 90’s, but was hesitant to share any of her recipes. Being very superstitious, she wanted to make sure that no one could replace her or cook like she could. So although some recipes were reluctantly shared (mostly by observing her cook with a pinch of this and a handful of that), true “Vava” food will never be duplicated. We will miss you greatly Vava, hanging out in your kitchen and sharing your incredible meals.
She leaves us with a legacy to admire, which spawned several generations that will never forget her.
Labels: everyday dish