By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News
Images of spicy food might not immediately spring to mind when considering the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, but for Kenmore resident Sandy McPherson Carrubba, her family’s love of a little heat in their food earned her a spot in the series’ latest incarnation.
Sandy, a freelance writer and poet, said she submitted her story “Tasting My Past,” about her favorite chili sauce recipe, to the Chicken Soup publishers in November 2009 when she heard they were putting together a food edition of the heartwarming books. She figured the publishers decided not to use her story and was surprised when she recently received an email about its inclusion in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love,” released in November.
“If you submit to Chicken Soup, stay healthy for at least 2 years because it may take a while to get out there,” Sandy laughed. “You learn patience in this business.”
And this isn’t Sandy’s first foray into the Chicken Soup world — a story about a sick little boy at St. Paul’s Church in Kenmore made it into “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living Catholic Faith.” She says writing has helped her fulfill a need to be creative.
“I was a first-grade teacher in Kenmore and I decided to be a full-time mother. Sometimes you want to do something that makes you feel creative ... as if having children wasn’t creative enough,” she laughed. “I started writing for children and that’s how I broke in with little children’s magazines.”
Sandy is also a poet, having published a poetry chapbook in her spare time, all while raising two daughters and regularly making a mean chili sauce.
The tradition of making and canning her own chili sauce was started by Sandy’s mother, who she says “wasn’t an adventurous cook.”
“She had certain things she was comfortable making and the chili sauce was a big thing,” she said.
Sandy started taking over the task of making the family’s chili sauce when her mother got into her 80s.
“I’m the old-fashioned type,” Sandy said. “I use the grinder ... my kids have all the modern gizmos. That way I just feel more in touch with the past. I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t, it would feel weird.”
She puts tomatoes, an assortment of peppers and onions through that grinder and later adds other spices and ingredients for a sauce she says “gets your stomach juices going.”
The Carrubba family eats the chili sauce on just about everything, from eggs, hamburgers and hot dogs to marinades for fish or mixed with mayonnaise as a dressing. Sandy shares her creation with friends and family alike — her daughters call her up from their homes out of state to let her know when they need a refill, she says.
“When I give a friend chili sauce I tell them I will not give them another jar unless they give the empty jar back,” Sandy said.
For Sandy’s daughter, Joanne Carrubba, who lives in San Diego, the chili sauce is a connection back to her family and growing up in Western New York.
“It’s nostalgia for me. I miss that smell ... the whole house it’s just such a good aroma and it’s childhood for me,” Joanne said. “Some people think of baking cookies, for me it’s chili.”
“It’s cool that grandma made it and my mom made it and eventually my sister and I will have to learn to make it,” she added.
Joanne, an art history professor, said she and her husband place value in eating locally and find practices like canning their own foods — perhaps chili sauce? — a way to do so.
“It’s a good way to keep yourself self-sufficient,” she said. “There’s just a better flavor, (and you’re) more environmentally aware.”
Joanne says she’s proud of her mother’s writing accomplishments and believes this particular story is important for passing down her family’s traditions.
“It’s good to have a legacy, whether it’s cooking, crafting or whatever it may be.” Joanne said.
Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.