Have you ever given up a long-held family food tradition? I have. Years ago I gave up Italian Sunday Gravy, which is basically manna for Italian Americans. Although I stand by my decision, I often regret it as well.

Like many other Italian-American families, my mother made Gravy — a rich tomato-based sauce with numerous cuts of meat — each Sunday. It was almost always served with pasta, eggplant Parmesan, and other dishes and we ritually ate it each Sunday at around 2:00 p.m. (we had to eat earlier because we would then be full for hours). It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how time consuming it was to make this enormous meal each week. My mom would start cooking by 7:00 a.m., first seasoning the meat for the meatballs and chopping the onions, parsley, and garlic. I would then come downstairs and eat a freshly cooked meatball for breakfast.

While she cooked, she would often reminisce about the long and wonderful Sunday Gravy dinners of her youth. These were spent at her Grandparents house in the Bronx and almost always had more than 20 people in attendance, with aunts, uncles, and cousins crowding around tables in the back garden or basement dining room table. When my parents moved from New York to California when I was four, the tradition of intergenerational family Sunday dinners ended for us. My mother continued the custom for the five of us in San Diego, making this enormous meal on her own each week. I loved those Sunday dinners, but often wished I had cousins and other relatives to play and eat with, as my mother had.

My love for Sunday Gravy faded once I became an adult and had to make gravy myself. Gravy’s incredibly high fat content – it has pork butt, chuck roast, meatballs, braciole, and Italian sausage in the mix – places it in the “special occasions” category for me, not the “weekly” category. I also like to sleep in on Sundays while my husband makes us steel-cut Irish oats (which is probably healthier than a meatball for breakfast, although not as delightful). I think the main reason I gave up Sunday Gravy, however, is that I am too culturally removed not only from Italy, but from the even closer New York Italian American traditions of my mother’s childhood. I also do not have a large local family community to create the experience that seems the natural partner of this meal, so making the extra effort required to keep this custom going for a family of four just seems insane. My mom and I occasionally make her Sunday Gravy recipe, which was passed down and tweaked generation after generation, but now only occasionally on Christmas or in larger family gatherings.

Although I am fine not eating Sunday Gravy each weekend, I realize that its absence is a reflection of how different family life is now than it was when my mother was a child. The sense of community my mother felt while gathered with her grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins nourished her more than the gravy itself, while the respect for traditional foods made from local ingredients is something she learned in her grandmother’s kitchen, and then passed on later to me. I know, however, that although I love what Sunday Gravy represents, it’s not really a part of my life anymore.

I am wondering if anyone else out there has family food traditions you’d like to share. If so, do you regularly take part in them, or have you also given them up? Why and do you have any regrets?

Note: Although I would love to include my mother’s (and grandmother’s and great grandmother’s Sunday Gravy recipe) I have been told that it is a family secret and so it’s off limits for publication. I’ve found a few Sunday Gravy recipes online and have listed them below. None of them seems equal to my mother’s Neapolitan masterpiece, but I am a good Italian daughter and so therefore quite biased:

This site says the recipe is for the Soprano’s Sunday Gravy.

Here’s a Sunday gravy recipe from the Food Network that seems the most authentic to me.

The Chicago Sun Times lists this Sunday gravy recipe.

Epicurious lists this Sunday gravy recipe.

Giving Up Sunday Gravy: A Lost Food Tradition 28 December,2010Denise Santoro Lincoln

  • maggiemay

    In my family, our Southern Sunday dinner consisted of fried chicken, rice, and lots of gravy. There might be some mustard greens or maybe green beans cooked until they fell apart. No, absolutely not healthy and I do not eat this anymore except sometimes…
    sometimes I must fry chicken and make gravy or I’ll surely die.

  • My family called this a ragù, or meat sauce. A “big ragù” for Sunday would be made of roma tomatoes cooked down and processed through a food mill and poured over [deglazing the pan with red wine first] roasted pork, veal shanks, braciole, hot and mild Italian sausages, garlic cloves, red torpedo onions studded with bayleaf nailed to the onion with cloves, and then braised in the oven for another two hours, with meatballs added an hour before serving, and shredded basil leaves stirred in just before serving. The link that I gave for my website, is the blog posting for my meatball, Abruzzo Polpettine, recipe, which shares some elements with a simple ragù. There are also links there to wonderful, traditional ragù and pesto recipes from Gianugo Rabillino.

  • Denise Lincoln

    I love how gravy, or ragù, has different nuances throughout Southern Italy. Each region seems to make it a little differently, and each Italian Grandma within those regions has her own secrets.

    I also have always loved the idea of a big Southern fried chicken dinner. I need to get adopted into someone’s family so I can experience the real deal 🙂

  • Yeah this is a wonderful memory for me too. My grandfather came from a little town near Bari and my grandmother from a little town near Napoli. There were some compromises made so it a mix. My dad taught my german mom how to make the gravy and it became a wonderful tradition. She made the meatballs, braciole and rolled pig skin from scratch. Hot and mild Italian sausages, lamb shanks, and beef (chuck roast I think) were bought and braised in a gi-nourmous pot. Some fat was drained off, but the drippings were deglazed and used to flavor the gravy which simmered all morning. I also have memories of meatballs for breakfast. One thing is that this process was on a larger scale for our family because mom would freeze up containers of gravy to be used on other days. It was always fun to see what meat was in the container that night. We weren’t allowed to pick, so the meat exchange negotiations were always entertaining.

    I think I’m going to have to plan an Sunday Italian Gravy night and invite my friends over to celebrate this tradition.

  • Denise Lincoln

    Stephanie R — It sounds like our Sunday gravies were pretty similar, although I had completely forgotten about the rolled up pig skin. My mother only occasionally included it, but when she did, it helped flavor the whole pot and was one of my favorite things to eat. Thanks for jogging my memory!

  • Elaine Martin

    Dear Denise,
    Like you, I grew up with the delicious aroma of gravy cooking every Sunday morning. My sisters and I would come home from church and grab chunks of Italian bread and start dipping into the gravy, only to be shooed away by mom because we would have finished off the pot and the loaf if left alone.
    Last night I served “gravy” to dear friends who had never heard of it. I told them of our family tradition of telling the day of the week by when you made gravy. I do miss it, but it’s time-consuming to make and loaded with salt and fats, but oh so comforting.
    I only make gravy on special occasions now, but I have passed on the tradition and the guarded, unwritten recipe to my children. I have also taught them how to make pizzelles.
    Thanks so much for your article. It gave me such comfort to know there are others out there who know that not all gravy is brown.

  • Ralph Bernard

    I too grew up waking to the wonderful smells of meats cooking. My grandmother used to prepare gravy on Sundays as well when I was very young. My sister and I used to look forward to the wonderful meal she used to prepare and how it brought our family together. My grandmother passed from cancer when I was 8 and my uncles never took an interst in learning how to prepare the gravy. So for us the recipe was lost. I have been searching and tried many different variations of gravy but always seem to fall short of the flavor I remember. Perhaps it was just my youth and that special touch of love my grandmother put into the gravy that made it taste so good. Either way I will continue my quest in hopes of bringing a lost tradition back to my family. Thank you Denise.

  • m. ponti

    I’m Italian on both parent’s sides & now my parents & brother (whole immediate family)are gone. I am only in my forties. I used to scoff at having gravy every single Sunday, but now I make it even if it’s just for myself–a smaller version of it– & it makes me feel closer to my family. It doesn’t necessarily have to be unhealthy, depending on the cuts of meat,etc. Also, never put breadcrumbs in meatballs–wet bread makes them lighter & is a genuine Neapolitan way. My mom also never mixed garlic & onion is the same dish. There are many, many more healthy Italian traditions, such as lentils, pasta e fagioli, escarole with beans, etc. Not to mention artichokes, other veggies,fennel,fresh nuts,fruit,garlic,oil. All of these things are good for you-the Mediteranean diet.

  • Paul Fiorino

    While I don’t have the massive family to share dinner with, I try to make spaghetti sauce (we never called it “sunday gravy,” though that’s exactly what it was) at least once a month because I love the way it smells up the house, and most importantly, I want my kids to have the same experience I did. I’ve tweaked the recipe of my father/grandmother; I include a bit of pureed eggplant for flavor, and I use the crock pot for long simmering (after doing all the browning and deglazing in a regular stovetop pot). It’s great to have on hand, frozen, for lunch or quick meals.

  • C. Russo

    I’m Italian from my parent’s on both sides. My mother was born in the city of Naples. I too remember the smell of “gravy” when I woke up. Along with the gravy on Sunday, was the “gravy meat”; braciole,sausage, meatballs, eggplant parmagiana, stuffed artichokes,tossed salad
    I have continued the “Sunday gravy” tradition. I make gravy almost every Sunday with other favorites. Most Sundays my grown children come for dinner. In fact, both my children know how to make “gravy”…..

  • A. Harris

    I’m Italian on my mother’s side (Couglietto), and me and my brothers always woke up to those magnificent smells from the kitchen. This is back when we lived in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Grandma was alive and the family was together. It began to spin apart after Grandma died and even more so when our parents uprooted us to New Jersey. The requirement that all the brothers had to be together at dinner became very relaxed, and those Sunday smells became fewer and farther between. I make the tradional Sunday gravy mean for my family on occasion, but those wonderful days are gone. More’s the pity.

  • snowhite5646

    I still make Sunday gravy the way my Noni (the way she spelled it) made it only I do not still grow my own tomatoes, basil, garlic, etc. It doesn’t taste like hers but everyone always wants me to show them how I do it. When I do they want nothing to do with making it. Too many hours I suppose. But they always want a jar when I’m done. I think some traditions should never be for gotton. Like you there are many faces missing from my table. I often long for those days and wish I paid closer attention when Noni or Papa were cooking. It was truly the best.

  • Strunzo

    I could not agree more with the sentiments of this article! That fried meatball breakfast, and the later snack of bread and sauce, were among the best things ever. We got away from every Sunday and big family meals, but my mom always relied on “sauce” (no one in my very Italian family ever used the term “gravy”) to please big crowds. I have carried on with this advice. If I’m hosting a party or function, a big pot of sauce never fails to please the group. And, it’s definitely easier and more worth the effort when you’re able to make a big batch.

  • Al Marabella

    Until the past few years, I never realized Sunday gravy was such a tradition in Italian households. And the word “gravy” is unique to certain Italian families. Only a few years ago, my non-Italian wife pointed out I use the term “gravy” for sauce. I was surprised! Doesn’t everyone say gravy. I also remember my momma up at 6:30am to start the process. And my dad would often cater Sunday dinners at the Knights of Columbus for various groups. Half the town would show up when Nuncio was cooking spaghetti at the KC’s! Our recipe came from my dad’s side (from Catania), complete with pork neck, pig’s feet, chicken, a whole roast, and meatballs. I’m ashamed I didn’t appreciate the tradition (and effort) until it was too late to tell my parents. I’ll occasionally make Sunday gravy for my wife and two kids, and I’m trying to pass the tradition to my daughters…but it’s not the same.

  • Joe Hard

    Back when I was a kid,our sunday dinner consisted of Pot roast,gravy,mashed potatoes,and Irish soda bread.My mother is an amazing cook and this was the highlight of our week back when the whole brood was still living under the same roof.Thanks for the story Denise,truly enjoyed it.

  • Jim

    There is no sunday gravy in Italy

    • Andy

      How sad for Italy!

  • Hi Jim — Yes, I think “gravy” is a distinctly Italian American dish. I think Lidia Bastianich explains this best, in the intro to “Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen” when she says that Italian-American food “had been developed by a people who came with a rich collection of memories of intense flavors and aromas and a patrimony of recipes and cooking techniques that in this new land had to be executed with different ingredients from those with which the immigrants were familiar.” It’s roots are in Italy, but it’s an American dish 🙂

  • I am trying my very best to keep this Sunday Gravy tradition going in my family. I grew up in an Italian house hold and remember those wonderful Sunday afternoons when grandma would be cooking all day and we would get home from the Catholic church and my uncle would be playing the accordion and there would be a nice antipasto and red wine waiting and much food to be enjoyed, the house smelled great and the family and friends where great, it was all great. Many hours at the table sharing laughter and love. I do miss those days and am trying hard to keep them going from time to time. Definitely not every Sunday but as often as I can make it happen. I have created a website dedicated to my Italian Grandmothers recipes and traditions in an effort to keep them going. Check out my Grandmother’s Italian Recipes website I have created. I think you will enjoy them! Happy cooking, Happy Times and Share The LOVE! ~ Anthony

  • John Pag

    Sunday mornings always started out going to the 8 O’clock mass with my three bothers while my Mom started the traditional Sunday sauce. After church we went to DeCosto’s bakery for 10 loaves of oven fresh Italian bread. Long Island had the best bread. They say it was the water. When we reached the back door of our house (we never used the front one) we already could smell the aroma of the sausages, meatballs, beef & pork in the sauce with all the spices. Mom’s recipe was an old Naples recipe handed down through the generations. The first thing we did was sit at the table with very large cups of coffee, lots of REAL butter and go to town on the Italian bread. At least 4 loafs would be gone before my mother would stop us. By noontime we all sneaked some italian bread and a saucer with some sauce, a meatball and whatever we could get away with. There always was plenty so my Mom got used to it. By 2pm my uncles, cousins, aunts, and anyone else who was hungry came over. Dinner lasted from 2-5pm. There was always Jimmie Roselli and the Italian hour played in the background radio on WBAB,Babylon, Long Island. At 5pm the Pastries from Longo’s made their way to the table with the cannoli’s,and all the others.This was served with Black coffee, (cafe nero), expresso. Our next activity was Boce’, some pinnaccle, others hit the couch. About 7pm it started all over again until 9pm when everyone went home, either too stuffed, drunk from the homemade wine, or chased by their wife. Those were the days I miss most. Today, everyone has just about gone, only memories. I’m 75 yrs. young and have lived the best life anyone can enjoy. Bon APETITE.

  • Mr. Pag — Your story made me smile. What a wonderful way to spend your Sunday afternoons. I also heard repeatedly from family in Huntington Station that the bread was best on Long Island because of the water! When we were in San Diego, my mom would hold up the only “Italian” bread she could find — doughy and limp — saying “This is Italian bread?!” What wonderful memories you have. Thanks so much for sharing them here.

  • Joe Hard

    Mr. Pag,I agree with Denise that is a wonderful story and you’re right you’ve had a great life so far with more to come.I really enjoy checking this thread for new posts on the way it used to be.Friends,family and food,what’s better than that?

  • Denise,
    I am making my Sunday gravy for my blog and was wondering if I may use your black and white photo of your family as part of my post.
    I will be posting the recipe late January.
    Thanks in advance,

  • Peter Clemenza

    You never know, you might have to cook for 20 guys someday. You see, you start out with a little bit of oil. Then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste, you fry it, ya make sure it doesn’t stick. You get it to a boil, you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs. And a little bit of wine. And a little bit of sugar, and that’s my trick.

  • MaryB

    I make a huge pot of Sunday gravy about every 4 months and I’m not Italian. There is only my husband and me. I freeze it and use it as the ‘gravy’ for pasta, lasagna etc. Nothing in the grocery store can compare to homemade. Like bacon, we don’t eat it every day but I’d hate to see the world without it!

  • Andy

    When I was a kid we had Sunday gravy every Sunday. I’m amazed our arteries didn’t explode by the time we were in our twenties!

  • Joe Hard

    Our arteries did just fine because it was real food,not the processed junk that has destroyed all our eating habits today.Funny how my parents and grandparents were raised on fatty meat,lard and fat back(of course many other additions as well) and they did just fine.Empty carbs and high fructose corn syrup has become the norm unfortunately.

    • Del Martinis

      My mom’s 92 now and as healthy as ever, and we all grew up on her Italian food.

  • Hi MaryB — How wonderful that you keep the tradition going strong. You’re right in that nothing can compare to homemade gravy. I made a partial-version recently (i.e., just meatballs and sausage) and then froze half for later use. I was so happy to have it available a month later when I was making baked ziti!

    Hi Andy — Do you ever make gravy now or have you given it up?

    Hi Joe — I have to agree with you on this. Although we ate gravy every Sunday we also had an enormous salad with it plus eggplant, stuffed artichokes, fresh peppers and lots of other vegetables. Then during the week my mother would make vegetable soups and pastas. So although we indulged, we also ate lots of vegetables and whole grains – and it was all natural!

  • Andy

    Hi, Denise — the Sunday gravy is a 4-time-a-year thing with me. It’s a lot of work and not enough family left to eat it.

  • Ralph

    I believe their are “Sunday gravies” in Italy, but they call them ragu or sugo. I saw Lydia Bastianich make an Abrruzese ragu with lamb, and I’ve seen Italian language websites talking about Napolitano ragu. It’s definitely Italian as well as Italian American as far as I’m concerned. Maybe Jim is not from the rural south, as Italy is so highly regional.

  • Hey Ralph, and all you others who love Sunday Sauce but don’t like making it: I make it once or twice a year in a H U G E pot. 20 Pork chops, 20 Veal chops, 50 sausage, 5 or 6 Bracciole (I cheat a little by buying the bracciole pre-stuffed and tied at a local market), pounds and pounds of lamb neck (2 inch chunks on the bone) lamb shanks, chicken legs and wings, a whole lot of meatballs and gallons and gallons of crushed tomato and tomato paste. Of course, I start with PLENTY of fresh garlic (no onion) and include oregano, a few bay leaves, some ground fennel seed and a few good pinches of crushed hor pepper. Takes about an hour to fry up all of the meat. Then into the big pot. The tough chops go in the sauce on the bottom, the delicate meatballs sit way up top, everything else have a fun time mingling somewhere in the middle! Once in the sauce, everything cooks on a tiny, tiny flame for about 5 hours. Another 2 hours to cool off. Who can eat all that food? Not me, at least not all at once. I FREEZE EVERYTHING ! ! ! Single and double serving sizes get put into Tupperware, labeled and into my freezer. (I have a big freezer, and I’m not much of an ice cream eater.) Reheated in the micro or a small covered pan with a couple of tablespoons of water and I have “Sunday) sauce a couple of times a week for months and months. DELIZIOSO

  • Andy

    Steve, nice reply! When I make it I try to do it when there are lots of guests in the house. The conversation and “buzz”, kids running in and out, the ladies drinking wine and chatting on the porch while the guys BS each other while a game is on (if not some primo Italian American music from the 60’s) and you have the best communal event ever.

    I also do the Tupperware thing on those rare occasions when there’s enough to freeze. After all, I must bottle some for my guests to take away with them. I should incorporate!

  • The only problem with guests is that by the time they arrive, the cook is ready to drop dead from exhaustion! Last month, we had people over for 3pm Sunday dinner. We took out 4 double portion containers. Two minute thaw in the micro, into a pot for about twenty minutes, a pot full of Penne Rigate, some grated Pecorino Romano cheese, steamed Broccoli di Rapa, Salad and Bread. Half an hour – a feast for eight. I never broke a sweat!

    By the way, looking through all the other posts, am I the only one that included chicken in my gravy?

  • Hi Steve — Sounds like you’ve created a great way to have gravy throughout the year. I’m guessing you have a nice big freezer 🙂 No one in my family ever put chicken in the gravy. Just pork and beef (including some fried pork skin). Maybe it’s a regional thing. My family is Neapolitan. Where is your family from?

  • MaryB

    Hi Steve! I have never used chicken, only pork neck bones, pork ribs, sausage and ground beef. I will be adding bracciole to the next batch if the budget allows. I love making Sunday gravy; for me it is quite relaxing! I also love the responses from dinner guests in my home. They love it too and look forward to the dinner invitation!

  • Nonna and all the cugini were from Benevento (Up in the mountains, halfway between Naples and Foggia) Don’t know if chicken was a Benevento thing, but that’s the way I grew up eating it. Mom sometimes threw together a quick pot with just lamb neck, chicken drumsticks and a few sausage. The chops, braciola and meatballs were only for special occasions when there were lots of helpers in the kitchen.

  • The Bronx, that’s right, Gunhill and Eastchester – I want to make a T-shirt that says – Gravy Ain’t Brown, Pass the Sausage 

    • Ds 1029

      I too am from the Bronx and you’re so right, it’s gravy! Is this just a Bronx thing?

      • Anonymous

        My family was from the Bronx too and it was always GRAVY!

  • I just found this post. It’s excellent.  I too, am trying to reconstruct traditional Italian American recipes and holidays.  I found this site because of the picture.  They are eating in the basement kitchen!  Yes, exactly what I was looking for.  I’m from suburban Philadelphia, but even in the burbs we had a second kitchen in the basement. And my cousins who lived in what was then the country, also had a kitchen built in the basement ( 1950-60’s)  If you have the time, take a look at my site, http://www.thefoodtable.com
    May I use your photo on my website?

    Thank you,
    Tony Devaney Morinelli Ph.D.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Tony — Feel free to link to the photo here 🙂

  • R_wetmore

    Very similar situation here growing up in upstate NY, parents from southern Italy. The only tradition I currently keep is making the “ham pies” (as I called them as a kid….or “quiche” to Americans) at Easter time. I loved my mom’s sauce, meatballs, braciole, etc. And boy do I miss the seven fishes dinner on Christmas Eve since she passed away.

  • yes, I remember these days very well, unfortunately today, all of my known family aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents have passed away. there are a few counsins but no contact with them. I have extended family that I never met from father’s side in Ohio. Maybe I will get to visit them and relive the moments if they still practice this Italian family ritual event.

  • Kbaldspo

    Nope..I still cook the high fat wonderful gravy with the high fat meats and the eggplant too. I buy fresh Italian bread and we enjoy the meal and the family who has the pleasure to be with us. It is once a week and it will not kill you. It is the staple of who we are and it is tradition. I wouldn’t give this up for any healthy or lazy way of life. The Sunday Gravy with Spaghetti and all the wonderful meats are a tradition that will be in my family until we die.

    • Del Martinis

      Just made some yesterday and now we have leftovers for days….why would anybody want to give this up!

  • Dtmdata

    I enjoyed reading your thoughtful post and saw many similes, including the move from the Bronx to CA which ran so close to my own history. Recently while dining at a Buca… restaurant for Fathers Day with my daughter and her boyfriend she asked about that Sunday custom which I had abandoned after their first few years. Aside from not having relatives to share it ( which I think is essential) my husband complained about the calories and I had less and less time with work and three kids to fit in the other weekend necessities. I do miss it though…and my meatballs ARE the best ;-).

  • John

    I am 58 years old, moving from Buffalo, NY to Palm Beach, Florida in 1981 but our traditional sunday meal ceased in 1980, 12 years after my grandmother passed away and the 4 eldest cousins out of 15 cousins moved from the Buffalo area. My story is substantially identical to that of Denise’s. I found some new ventures with 2 Italian organizations, the Sons of Italy and the Italian Sons and daughters of America which was not part of our affiliation in Buffalo but gave me and my family an association which was fun and active. My parents relocated with me 5 years after I came to Palm Beach, but it was my wife who actually carried on the Italian holiday tradition, including making braciole and my favorite, gnocci. Meatballs larger than a baseball, but smaller than a soccer ball. And no, we never called it gravy, but sauce. I was lucky marrying a jewish girl, having 3 children, with my parents and in laws, living closer to me than I would have ever been in Buffalo, gave us a guaranteed turn out of 20 people every holiday at my house. Now those days are gone with all the parents gone, 2 of my children away, 1 in california, the other away at school, it clearly was my wife who kept the italian tradition in my life for almost 30 years. And for that I am thankful. The cousins have distant themselves from the family and only two cousins remain in Buffalo. I have great memories of an italian tradition in the past, the continuation of the tradition for the upbringing of my children and great memories of both.

    John M. (law9300@gmail.com)

  • Dotzz24

    I grew up in Astoria which was mainly Italians.  Back in the 40’s an 50’s before it became a Greek neighborhood we had a macaroni store near Ditmars Bvd.  They had big machines in the back that would roll out all the different shapes.  My mom sometimes made gravy with fat back – I guess during weeks that money was short.  We called every shape macaroni, never used the word pasta.  I don’t remember too much about the meat but I do remember plenty of bones.  I still make gravy often as I live in the same house as my son and his family and they love it.  Whenever my daughters visit they expect gravy and macaroni.  I do still make “homemade” macaroni and ravoli.  I always use pork either ribs or sausage, meatballs and sometimes chicken wings with crushed tomato.  

  • Bea Amato Verstandig

    I too miss those Sunday dinners, although I did it for years for my husband and kids. Sadly, I lost my Husband 11 years ago and the kids are out of the house. I do still make my macaroni on most Sundays but not always. Growing up in Gravesend, Brooklyn one of my most cherished memories is walking down my block and smelling everyone’s gravy cooking. I’m so glad I lived and grew up in those times (1950’s and 60’s), a very special time.



    • Anonymous

      An Italian father who cooked! I love it! How wonderful that you keep the tradition alive each week. Thanks for posting. 

  • Anonymous

    Hi R-wetmore — Are your easter “ham pies” made with a black  pepper olive oil crust and stuffed with prosciutto and ricotta? I love those!Hi Jim P — I do hope you find some people to continue sharing this great tradition, although I’ve found that inviting friends who like to eat over is also a wonderful way to share beauty of gravy 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I love that you still do this! That’s fantastic and you’re right, it will not kill you (and will only feed your soul).

  • Anonymous

    Like you, I find this tradition hard to fit in on a weekly schedule. Since writing this post I have started making gravy a few times a year and when I do I tell my daughters all about the original tradition of my mother’s childhood with Sunday Gravy and then my own childhood experiences. I think telling your daughter your family story is lovely and I hope you teach her how to make your meatballs!

  • Anonymous

    Hi John — I’m so glad you were able to keep the tradition going for so long and that you shared it with your kids. Your wife sounds like an amazing woman and a great cook! Thanks for sharing your story and I hope you find yourself one day soon eating a meal of Sunday “sauce” with your wife and children again along with other friends and family 🙂

  • Anonymous

    What a fabulous way to grow up! I wish those traditional pasta stores were still around. How wonderful that you are continuing the tradition with your grandchildren. I bet your ravioli is amazing. Thanks for sharing your story here.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Bea — I agree that you definitely grew up in a very special time and place. Thank you for telling us about it here. I love the image of you walking down your block and smelling everyone’s gravy. What a great sense of community you must of had growing up in your wonderful Italian Brooklyn neighborhood.

  • Anonymous

    An Italian father who cooked! I love it! How wonderful that you keep the tradition alive each week. Thanks for posting.

  • ducklucky

    Sorry, a latecomer here. Was looking to improve my marinara and get some tips, and did, thank you all. Sure the meat is the key, with the bones where all the flavor comes from, and not much else. My maternal gram was off the boat from Hungary, and our Sunday dinner was chicken paprika with homemade, agonizing noodles, like spaetzle. We had to take turns making the dough for the noodles which was nothing more than flour and eggs and lots of them. The dough had to be hand mixed with a wooden spoon, and it was very thick and gummy, almost impossible to stir, think each of us could only last 5-20 minutes. It had to be perfect, with absolutely no lumps, and so very thick you could hang the bowl upside down and it would stay put.

    Then they had to sit for at least an hour or two, and more mixing. A HUGE pot of salted boiling water, and then we would take turns spooning the noodles. Only a dinner teaspoon was allowed, and the noodles were spooned out one by one, and could only be the size of the edge of the spoon., just a sliver, and all the same size. There were words when you tried to cheat and make the noodles larger to get it over with. Hours…and hours, and backbreaking. By the time the last noodle was in the water, it was time to drain them, put a stick or two or three of salted butter in the pot and add the drained noodles back in. Stir, stir, so they wouldn’t stick, but every noodle has the yummy (back then homemade) butter. Another hour, the noodles had absorbed it all and had, as Gram said “dried out” a bit because they had absorbed every drop of butter.. The noodles would be in a huge bowl passed around, then the chicken paprika which had a rich gravy that had been finished with plenty of sour cream. There was never a noodle left over. Of course there wereus 5 kids, parents, Gram, guests of my parents, and ALWAYS a stray or two. No one was allowed seconds until everyone had their share of the first helping, and that was monitored so everyone was equal.
    An exhausting meal, and yes, I still make it on those cold snowy days,, it is comforting to stand over a warm stove and humidify the house. Gram made all of her noodles from scratch, many days spent rolling, rolling long noodles out paper thin on the white linen tablecloth and hanging them to dry all over the kitchen. Although it was a lot of work, the whole family participated, and those who didn’t show up in time to help got to do the dishes. Sure wish families werre still all like this, truly that is what we have lost here. Everyone is so busy running this way and that, and timing has to be everything to have these special Sunday dinners. You just can’t be late for something like this! It is unfortunate that the younger families these days will never get to experience this.

  • Donna Marcantonio

    Hi Denise. I realize it is now many years since you posted this piece. I found your piece via a photo search for a blog posting I am putting up on a similar theme. Yes. I miss the community of those Italian dinners.
    Is your photo available for me to use on my posting?
    Best wishes,

  • Nancy Drigotas

    This brings tears to my eyes. I made gravy this Sunday, definitely one of my best. It always brings back the memories you are describing. The photo accompanying your article is so familiar. As for recipes, I don’t share either. Besides, it never turns out the same twice. Depends on the herbs and the meats. I doubt that I’ve ever duplicated precisely. And my family’s braciole is slightly different than most I’ve eaten elsewhere. The braciole browning by itself can evoke so many emotions and memories because of the mixture I use. Sunday gravy is a great story for all of us.


Denise Santoro Lincoln

I am a writer, editor, mother of twins, and enthusiastic home cook. I was raised by an Italian-American mother who, in the 1970s, grew her own basil (because she couldn’t find any in the local grocery stores), zucchini (for those delicious flowers), and tomatoes (because the ones in the store tasted like “a potato”). My mom taught us to love all kinds of food and revere high-quality ingredients. I am now trying to follow in my mother’s footsteps and am on a mission to help my daughters become adventurous eaters who have a healthy respect for seasonal food raised locally. My daughters and I grow vegetables and go to the farmers’ market. We also love to shop at Piedmont Grocery and Trader Joe’s. When I’m not hanging out with my daughters or cooking, I like to contribute to cookbooks (including Williams-Sonoma’s Food Made Fast and Foods of the World series), work as an editor, and write about food for Bay Area Bites and Denise’s Kitchen. My food inspirations are M.F.K Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters — three fabulous women who encompass everything I love about food.

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