Sitto’s Kitchen includes the original recipes and memories carried by the author’s grandmother onto the shores of Ellis Island in 1912. These treasures, taught to her grandmother in Aleppo, Syria, comprise over 100 years of traditional Arab cooking.
Author Janice Jweid Reed remembers, “In 1966, I started compiling my grandmother’s recipes in a little spiral notebook. Years later, as my worn and food-stained notebook captured the fruits of my own labors, I realized these recipes were too precious to lose. They’re a testament to all those cooks before me who faithfully preserved their heritage, mother to daughter, through the generations.” Over the years, knowing these time-honored dishes were an important part of her cultural heritage, the author’s notebook led to this cookbook.
Janice Jweid Reed grew up in the vibrant Syrian-Lebanese community of Paterson, New Jersey. Her grandparents, having emigrated from Aleppo, Syria, brought the Middle Eastern traditions, foods and Arabic language that were an integral part of her upbringing. After marrying, and moving to the Midwest, she was intent on keeping her Syrian heritage intact for her own young family.
My great grandmother and grandfather Kayal were shopkeepers in Aleppo, Syria. When great grandfather Nicholas died, great grandmother Amelia sent her two eldest sons, Naim and George, to America in hopes of easing their life. She later sent her eldest daughter, my grandmother Naima, accompanied by our friends, to join her brothers. Great grandmother promised she would soon follow with her remaining two daughters and two sons.
My grandmother Naima, whom I only called Sitto, meaning grandmother in Arabic, sometimes spoke of her trip across the ocean in August of 1912. She was just 14 years old, feeling alone and anxious about her journey and new life. She shuddered as she remembered that month aboard ship and being in the “belly of the ship.” She remembered how sick the ocean had made them and believed they would perish as the ship tossed them about during a bad storm. She’d been on that ship with people speaking many languages, away from her family and the country she knew, wondering what lay ahead as they docked at Ellis Island, New York.