SCCC students keep traditional family recipes — and stories behind them — going
Every Thanksgiving, Victoria Colozza remembers anise extract — and Eva.
Heather Chestnut remembers sausage — and Mary.
The two student chefs at Schenectady County Community College prepare family recipes every November and December. For Colozza, currently in her first year of culinary training, the family favorite is anise cookies. Chestnut, a second year student, cooks “Mema’s Sausage Stuffing.”
Partners in cookies
“Usually around Thanksgiving is when we start our cookie baking for the holidays and this is a very popular cookie in my family,” said Colozza, 29, who lives in Gansevoort. “It started out with my Dad’s mother — Eva Colozza — and our good family friend Verna Furciniti.”
Eva and Verna lived in Troy as neighbors. “My grandmother and Verna always did everything together,” Colozza said. “Every holiday they would get together. They were both Italian and instead of making small dishes they always made large dishes.”
Holiday celebrations always were held at either Eve’s place or Verna’s house. Nobody left hungry.
“There used to be tables and tables of cookies and food,” Colozza said. “You would just visit with everyone.”
The tradition dated to the 1950s. The anise cookies, small, biscuit-like sweets covered with white icing and dotted with colored sprinkles, always have been family staples.
“The recipe keeps getting handed down,” Colozza said. “It got handed down to my mom, Deborah Colozza, and she handed it down to me. And now my sister-in-law, Danielle Colozza, asked for the recipe and now she’s teaching my three nieces how to make them.”
The cookies can be an acquired taste, thanks to the anise extract.
“A lot of people aren’t familiar with the anise extract,” Colozza said. “It’s similar to the black licorice flavor and sometimes that will throw people off. They either tend to like them or not like them. It’s in the cookie and it’s also in the icing that goes on top of it.”
The taste always comes with some talk. “We sit around and eat them together and reminisce about family times,” Colozza said.
Thanksgiving anise cookies always come with colored sprinkles. For the December editions, Colozza and her family bakers will sometimes substitute confectionery snowflakes.
“It’s funny,” Colozza said. “I’ll eat these but I won’t eat black licorice.”
Chestnut thinks about her mother, Mary Bee, when holiday turkey is on the menu. November means sausage stuffing.
“My kids named my mother ‘Mema’ when they were growing up,” said Chestnut, 57, who lives in Schenectady. When Mary passed away in 2003, Heather and other family members collected Mema’s recipes and put them in a booklet for other family members. Along with sausage stuffing, Mary Bee decked her dining room table with candied sweet potatoes, cauliflower au gratin, creamed pearl onions and scalloped tomatoes, among other dishes.
“I’ve always made this stuffing since I was a little girl,” Chestnut said, adding she will bake this year’s dish with her daughter Christina in New York City. “It makes me feel so warm and fuzzy,” she said. “You think about your mother and Thanksgiving and memories of being together for the holidays.”
Mary Bee made other stuffings, but family traditions do not include homages to her oyster and corn bread stuffings. The sausage stuffing is cooked two different ways.
“We like this particular recipe because she would take half of it and stuff it in the bird and that would be really soft and gooey in the end and then she took the rest of it and put it into a casserole dish and baked it so we’d have the crunchy stuff to go with it,” Chestnut said.
The SCCC student chef still makes both versions available around the holidays, although some culinarians do not like stuffing — it’s only called stuffing when it’s inside the turkey — cooked inside the turkey cavity. Chestnut said she follows strict cooking rules and makes sure the stuffing temperature — measured with a thermometer — is at least 165 degrees for at least 15 seconds.
Chestnut samples a little bit of both on Thanksgiving. “The sausage and the sage come through,” she said. “I love the flavor of the sausage, it kind of melts into the bread.”
The other flavors are naturals when it comes to stuffing and dressing — chefs say the latter term is used when the dish is cooked in a casserole dish. Onions, celery, butter, garlic and thyme are also in the mix.
Like Colozza’s anise cookies, the Chestnut stuffing is served with conversation.
“It brings us together at the holidays,” she said. “You get all the good thoughts and everybody talks about family.”
2 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1⁄3 cup shortening (or butter)
1 1⁄2 teaspoons anise extract
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1⁄4 teaspoon anise extract
1⁄4 cup multicolored sprinkles
Do not double this recipe.
For cookies, preheat oven to 370 degrees. Put all dry ingredients in a bowl. Work in shortening — or butter — add the beaten eggs and the extract. Dough will be sticky. Do not add more flour.
Drop dough by teaspoon onto a cookie sheet.
Bake until golden brown. Cool completely before adding icing.
For icing, measure powdered sugar and set aside. Combine milk and anise extract.
Add milk mixture to the powdered sugar. Mix together; icing will be thin.
Dip the cookie into the icing. Sprinkle the sprinkles on top of the icing.
Mema’s Sausage Stuffing
2 large sweet onions, diced
3 stalks celery, sliced
1 stick butter
1 pound loose pork sausage
1 teaspoon Bell’s seasoning
1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme (1⁄2 teaspoon dry thyme)
1 teaspoon fresh sage (or 1⁄2 teaspoon dry sage)
1⁄2 teaspoon garlic salt
6 to 8 cups cubed bread
2 cups milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sauté onion and celery in butter until soft.
Add sausage and cook until there is no pink. Do not drain.
Remove from heat. Add seasonings.
Add cubed bread stuffing and mix thoroughly.
Pour in milk and toss.
Taste and adjust seasonings. Place in a casserole dish.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown.