Every time she’s in the kitchen, Charlotte Amorebello Remakus pays homage to her heritage.
Remakus’ grandparents were off-the-boat Italians, hailing from Sicily. Food often is a huge part of Italian families, and as Remakus grew up in Dunmore, she learned the Old World recipes passed down from the women in her family, including her late mother, Sarah. One that stands out is Italian Pepper Cookies.
“These cookies are such a big part of Italian culture, especially weddings,” Remakus said recently at the Hallstead home she shares with her husband, Bernard.
The recipe, which earned Remakus a $50 gift card to Riccardo’s Market, 1219 Wheeler Ave., Dunmore, came over with Remakus’ ancestors on the ship from Sicily to the United States. It wasn’t written down but rather passed on through word of mouth, she said.
The cookies also have some Arabic roots with the cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and raisins, something Remakus said is common in Sicilan recipes thanks to the Arab invasion of Sicily in the 10th and 11th centuries. And the recipe yields big batches — upwards of 250 to 300 cookies. While bakers can cut the ingredients down to scale for smaller batches, Remakus said it’s in her culture to do things big. When Remakus made the cookies for her daughter’s wedding out of town, the venue staff was shocked at the amount of cookies she showed up with.
“They filled up a whole room,” Remakus said, laughing. “The (staff member) looked at us like we were nuts. He said, ‘I thought you meant a tray.’”
Remakus loves to bake and cook, not only recipes passed down through generations such as her mother’s Banana Cake but also her own creations. Her husband is Lithuanian, so Remakus also makes dishes from that culture, such as Pierogis, Cabbage and Noodles, and Pigs in the Blanket. Her best taste-testers are her children, Christopher, Alexandra and Matthew, and her four grandchildren.
In addition to cooking, Remakus is fascinated by genealogy and wrote a book, “From When We Came,” which explores her Italian heritage, her ancestors’ immigration and more. Last year, Remakus’ journey culminated in a trip to Europe with her family, where she explored her Sicilian roots.
“I was on my grandparents’ street. To be able to touch the church they were baptized in and married in, it was amazing,” she said. “My next book will be all about my travels.”
When she’s not writing, Remakus can be found cooking, baking and keeping her family’s traditions alive.
“We’re Italian,” she said. “This is what we do.”
Charlotte Amorebello Remakus’ Italian Pepper Cookies
Yield: 250 to 300 cookies
- 5 pounds flour
- 2 cups olive oil
- 4 cups sugar
- 1 cup powdered cocoa
- 2 boxes raisins
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon cloves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- Mix all ingredients well in a large bowl. Take small portions and roll into long cigars 1 1/2 inches by 18 inches long. Cut cigar rolls into 1 1/2-inch cookies.
- Grease cookie pans and bake first batch for 20 minutes at 400 F. (Do not grease the pan for remaining batches.) Bake each remaining batch at 400 F for 15 minutes. Let cool.
- 1 box powdered sugar
- 8 ounces (or more) milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Mix all ingredients together until consistency of a milkshake.
- Dip each cookie in the glaze and set on wax paper to dry.
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT