The Curious Conflict of the Canosa Christmas Sauce Part One

Some seventy miles north of New York City, in Ulster county, on the west side of the Hudson River, there is a small town named Milton. Why it is called Milton I do not know, nor does, apparently, Wikipedia or the town’s website, but there it is – Milton, New York. Milton is a small town of roughly 1300 people. Of these 1300 people I am directly related to at least 30 and, I believe, indirectly related to 1270.

Milton is bisect with US Route 9W. On the west side of US Route 9W there is a small road called Old Indian Road. The Old Indian whom it was named for, like the name of Milton, seems also to have been lost to time.

On Old Indian road there is a several acre piece of land where my family has lived since long before I was born. Before my family moved to this piece of land my mother’s father, Michael Canosa, who we all called “pop,” lived in Milton for roughly 16 million years.

This is what Milton looks like today.

Modern Downtown Milton

This is what I assume it looked like when Pop first lived here

I could go on, at length, with my observations about Milton, New York for quite sometime, however this is not the reason for this particular story.

It is on this several acre piece of land, on Old Indian Road, west of Route 9W, in Milton, in Ulster county that I have spent every Christmas Eve of my entire life. In the course of my life, many things have come and gone including three houses (built by my aunts and uncles) coming into the picture and several husbands leaving the picture. One thing that has remained constant however is Christmas Eve at the Canosa’s. This is no small affair.

As the grandchildren grew older and got married and had children of their own Christmas eve grew from large to positively unruly. Of course, such a big party takes a lot of preparation and everyone does their best to help out. Some people cook, some people bring booze, some people do both and everyone drinks. The menu has changed a bit over the years, but at its core it is an Italian Christmas Eve dinner.

Just how Italian it is I am not sure seeing as the Italian part of this family, that is Pop, lived in Milton long enough to actually use gasoline made with the fossil fuels of the dinosaur he kept as a childhood pet, but, as far as I know, it is a traditional Italian dinner. The core of this Italian dinner, and a staple that has been on the table every Christmas eve I can remember, was the red sauce with shrimp and calamari and other bits of seafood in it.

Pop made the sauce.

Yes, people always brought food and sometimes they changed it up like when one year I made crab cakes and another year made steamed mussels, sometimes it stayed the same, like Aunt Kathy’s spinach dip, which sits in a loaf of bread and is always in demand. Sometimes it is sweets like Aunt Michelle’s cookies, which are much sought after, and sometimes appetizers like the fish salad that my mother swears she isn’t making again every single year until the last minute when she finally makes it. Sometimes someone forgets to bring their food, like Uncle Joe’s Bacala, forcing Aunt Linda to rewrite the lyrics to a popular Christmas carol to illustrate the point that the bacala was mysteriously absent.

But one thing that never changes: Pop makes the sauce. Pop’s sauce, in its last incarnation, was an ancient family recipe dating back to at least the 1980’s. It wasn’t his family’s recipe, it was the DeLuise family recipe which was passed down to my grandfather through a very successful book. That book is called Eat This It’ll Make You Feel Better and it is by Dom DeLouise.

This is the sauce that was the cornerstone of the great feast of Christmas Eve for my entire life.

Pop made the sauce.

This year Pop passed away. He lived a long and happy life surrounded by family, friends and colleagues and during the last 20 years even heard nearly 20% of what they had to say to him. He will be missed far more than I can express here and he will be missed for many many reasons. With his passing a very large hole has been left and we are all scrambling to fill just enough of that hole so that we don’t all just curl up in the fetal position screaming.

In his wake many questions are left open. One of these questions is this….who is going to make the sauce?

The choice here, I believe, is obvious. However, since Dom Deluise passed away in 2009 it seems unlikely that we will be able to convince him to attend Christmas Eve, much less make the sauce. So, with this in mind, along with the fact that I feel I am a pretty fair cook, I mentioned, the day after we buried Pop, that I would in fact make the sauce this Christmas Eve.

I will not try to recreate the lightning in a bottle that was my grandfather’s sauce, and Dom’s before him, I will do it as best I can, with my own recipe that I have cultivated through trial and error over the last several years and hope that this sauce, complete with shrimp and calamari and scungilli will, while never replacing Pop’s sauce, suffice in both feeding a large family and paying tribute to the man we all loved very much.

I spoke to my aunts and even spoke to my grandmother and it was all settled, I would make the sauce.

This is a big deal.

That was several months ago. Today I received an email from my mother simply asking one question. “Are you still making the sauce?” My response was also short and simple, “Yes. Why?” The yes part went over well, however, the why part got a little nutty.

Apparently, and my details of who called who and when may be slightly off because everything is second hand, Cousin Christopher, who is the oldest of Pop’s grandchildren, called Grandma Stella and told her not to worry about the sauce, he was going to make it. Grandma Stella said that I was going to make it. This led to a round robin of phone calls involving Chris’ father Joe, my Aunt Michelle, my Mother and, of course, me.

Chris really wanted to make the sauce. His argument for making the sauce is that he was older and mine was that I called it. As you can tell, we are all very mature.

As an aside, I deal with money at work. When I say money, what I mean to say is I deal with a shit ton of money and I have to make decisions. This is important because you have to realize that I found out about the curious conflict of the Canosa Christmas sauce at work while I was trying to make some decisions that, if I got them wrong, would cost the good people who pay me to loose so much money that if they advanced me, tax free, 20 years of my salary I couldn’t even put a down payment on the loan that it would take to pay them off. However, this didn’t matter.

I am making the sauce.

I called my mother, my mother called Uncle Joe, my mother called me back, Uncle Joe called her back, at some point I yelled something about the “goddamn sauce” and all of this happened over the course of an hour during which no good decision making was happening on my part. After all, I called it.

There was a brief discussion of two sauces as well as whether the cephalopods and bivalves that were in this sauce counted towards the seven fishes which are traditional in Italian Christmas Eve dinners. However, in the end, it was settled. I called it and I am making the sauce. The final word on this came from my mother who told me “it better be good fucking sauce.” Whether or not the sauce is good or further battles break out on the sauce front is yet to be seen, but for now, the issue is settled.

I am making the sauce.

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