75-year-old Christmas ravioli tradition continues
In a tradition that dates back decades, descendants of Grace Picciano Moffa of Jeannette gathered Dec. 16 to make about 500 ravioli for Christmas dinner.
“My mother made ravioli probably since I was seven years old, and I'm 82, so that's 75 years that I can remember,” Gloria Paluka of Hempfield said.
Grace Moffa was born in New York but spent about the first 10 years of her life in Italy before moving to Jeannette, said her daughter, Clara Ranier, 89, of Hempfield.
Her own mother died when she was five, so Moffa had to teach herself much of what she passed on to her children and grandchildren.
A lot of the families in Jeannette make ravioli for Christmas, and that's probably where she got the idea, she said.
“All these families have these traditions,” said Nannette Luther of Hempfield, one of Moffa's granddaughters.
Grace Moffa firmly established it as a tradition in their family, her descendants said.
“Every tradition that we have, every holiday that we have, whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter — all of our traditions started with her,” said another granddaughter, Karen Peltier of Hempfield. “So every time we do something, it's in honor of her.”
Part of the tradition is having fun, and that manifested itself this year in the pepper pants that they all wore while making the ravioli.
“My daughter saw them in a store somewhere,” Luther said. “So she called all her cousins and said, ‘Hey, let's buy these for our moms and grandma and Aunt Gloria,' and so they did.”
Although a few advancements have made some steps easier over the years, the basic process is the same and the recipe is still the one Grace Moffa used.
They make the dough and fillings ahead of time. Half of the ravioli have meat; the other half have cheese.
When they gather to make the ravioli, they start by running the dough through a press that thins it out. Until about three years ago, the men in the family would take turns turning the crank on the press, but they have a motorized press now.
They lay one layer of dough down, form the filling into balls and put it on the dough and then put another layer on top. Originally, this was done on the table, freehand.
“They would hand-make each one until they came out with a form where we could do 10 or a dozen at a time,” said Amy McHugh of Murrysville, another of Moffa's granddaughters.
With the mold, they press the bottom layer into the holes on the mold, put in the filling, put on the top layer of dough and then use a rolling pin to press the layers together.
Then they turn the mold over and pop the ravioli out of the holes and put them on trays for freezing. On Christmas Day, they pull them out of the freezer and cook them.
This year, they made 500 ravioli in about four hours.
They look forward to making the ravioli and start planning in November, McHugh said. A seventh-grade family and consumer science teacher for Norwin School District, she uses stories of making ravioli with her family to illustrate that food can be more than just something you buy at a drive-through.
“It's a lovely tradition that our children have enjoyed year, after year, and we're hoping that they carry this on for years to come,” McHugh said.
Brian Bowling is a Tribune-Review staff writer.