WILMINGTON, Mass. — It’s a hard and fast rule of cooking — your grandmother’s recipe is always best.
But why settle for just one grandmother and one recipe when you could have 12?
The Wildcat Community Cookbook offers recipes for Grandma’s chicken with apples and onions, Grandma’s seven-layer bars, Grandma Fazio’s pizzellis, Grammy Lou’s turkey loaf, Grammie Cincotta’s lasagna and meatballs, Grandma Cookie’s chocolate-marshmallow candy, Nonna’s lasagna, Nana Crowe’s Irish bread (and Nana’s Irish bread, a similar but separate recipe), Nana Gracia’s spaghetti sauce, Nana Roselli’s biscottis or Nana’s ginger cookies.
And those are just the obviously named ones.
Each of the 75 recipes in the cookbook prepared by Wilmington High School students, teachers and community members tells a family’s story.
Nana Gracia never wrote down her famous spaghetti sauce recipe, so one day her daughter made it with her, taking notes as they cooked.
A macaroni-salad recipe was a favorite summertime snack of high-school sweethearts who married after World War II.
Swedish pancakes were brought to Wilmington by immigrants who settled on a farm and worked by cultivating carnations in a greenhouse.
“It’s nice to see everybody’s different backgrounds,” said Domenic Forgione, a senior whose family found its giant ginger cookie recipe, the centerpiece of big annual Christmas parties, in a 1998 edition of Better Homes and Gardens.
“We’ve been making it for Christmas almost since I was born,” Forgione said.
A collaborative project by the classes of English teacher Lisa Desberg, graphic-design teacher Jennifer Fidler and nutrition teacher Brandi Torchia, the cookbook is a fundraiser for the Wilmington Community Food Pantry. They’ve collected more than $500 so far in book and digital-download sales.
Most of the recipes, like Forgione’s, give a taste of another family’s holiday celebrations.
There’s the pumpkin roll Caitlee Callahan’s family makes every Christmas and Thanksgiving in memory of her grandmother, the artichoke dip Michaela Chenevert’s family has shared each Christmas Eve since a cousin discovered everyone loved artichokes, and the custard cupcakes Keara Martins’ family has made for the holidays since an aunt brought the recipe back from Brazil.
Others represent daily meals that still have special ties, like Grandma’s chicken with apples and onions, submitted by student Bella Cigna.
Cigna and her parents stayed with her parents across town for four months after selling their house, and the sweet and tart chicken was a dinnertime staple.
Laura’s mom Bella remembers watching — mostly smelling — her own grandmother cooking this and traditional Polish dishes like pierogi.
“And it was always in butter,” Cigna said. “Real butter, none of this other stuff.”
Desberg’s students collected and submitted their favorite family recipes, writing notes along with them on who originally created the dish and why it was important to the family.
Torchia’s classes edited the recipes, and Fidler’s designed the cover and illustrations.
Torchia and Desberg each have their own recipes included, both sentimental favorites.
Desberg is behind Grandma Cookie’s chocolate marshmallow candy, a sweet she used to receive batches of during her freshman year at Boston University, for a taste of home.
At a tasting event recently, Desberg served a plate of the candy, made by 81-year-old Grandma Cookie herself, visiting from the Bronx for Hanukkah.
“And she said to me, ‘You bought milk chocolate! I know I wrote semi-sweet,’” Desberg said. “I know, I know.”
Torchia’s contribution is a red-velvet cake that her mother serves for Christmas each year.
“This cake is my son’s favorite, and I love that we are continuing our family tradition with the next generation,” she wrote in the cookbook.
Even beyond the recipes, the cookbook was a collective effort.
Each of Fidler’s 84 graphic design students submitted a cover illustration. Her classes narrowed the entries down to 12 finalists, and the entire school was then able to vote online for their choice.
Senior Angelica McNall’s rendition of a Wildcat kitten whisking a bowl of batter graces the cover.
McNall, who hopes to land a job on the creative side of advertising after college, said she wanted to create something fun and simple that kids would like.
She said she’d like to see more endeavors like the cookbook project.
“Everyone gets to participate, and it’s for a good cause,” McNall said. “I just think it’s a good idea. We should do more things like this.”