When the Green Mountain and Crescent Mills mines were active, Crescent Mills, California was a bustling place. Today there are 196 residents in this Northern California town. There are no more mills or mines. Most of the stores, restaurants and schools closed. My family has lived in Crescent Mills and Indian Valley for seven generations. Many of my relatives are buried on the hill above Crescent Mills. Driving through the quiet town, I often imagine what it was like in its heyday. When the town was filled with miners and loggers. I imagine my great-grandparents and great-great grandparents operating the local store–feeding hobos from the trains passing through the mill town, as well as neighbors and friends.
My grandfather, Sam Kingdon, grew up in Crescent Mills in the 1930s. His parents, Samuel Henry and Caroline Kingdon owned and operated the Kingdon General Merchandise Store in Crescent Mills. Sam Kingdon’s grandparents Louisa (Stampfli) and William Augustus Kingdon started the store and still ran it with Sam Henry and Caroline when my grandfather was a little boy. They lived behind the store, next door to an Italian family who had the Italian restaurant in town. My grandfather grew up eating a lot of Italian food. It is a big part of our family traditions today.
These Italian neighbors made the best raviolis, my grandfather told me. Lazani Sorscli, or “Ma Sorscli” ran the restaurant. They didn’t have a recipe. The women of the family would make raviolis for the restaurant everyday. They threw in a little bit of this and a little bit of that, he said. As a little boy, my grandfather was determined to figure out that secret ravioli recipe. He said it wasn’t easy. They were sneaky. He was welcomed into the kitchen, but they’d toss in ingredients when he wasn’t looking. So he followed them everywhere until he had the recipe down. He taught his mother, Caroline, to make these raviolis. She made them for her large Kingdon family, friends and neighbors. Then, when it became too difficult for her to continue, my grandfather made them every year. Growing up, I remember my dad saying, “Watch out, Papa’s making raviolis this week.” That meant the kitchen would be covered in flour and the house filled with the sweet smell of the sauce.
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My grandfather, now in his mid-eighties, spent two days recently with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren making these famous raviolis from his childhood. Just as he followed “Ma Sorscli” around in the 1930s, I spent two days covered in flour running around after my grandfather writing down each step of the recipe and his specific instructions. After we made the raviolis, we invited the whole Kingdon clan to Papa Sam’s house for a big family dinner. It is our intent to keep these raviolis at the center of Kingdon family gatherings for many generations to come.
Ma Sorscli’s Raviolis
(a.k.a. Papa Sam’s Raviolis)
8 cups flour
4 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Add flour to the dough until it is rollable (about 4 to 6 more cups). Flatten dough and cover with olive oil. Each hour, knead dough with more flour. Each time after kneading, coat dough with olive oil. Let dough sit at least 3 hours or overnight.
In a large, heavy, deep pot, cover the bottom with olive oil (or bacon fat or tallow), heat and drop in 3 minced cloves of garlic and brown them.
Add 4 lbs. ground beef
Add 1/2 cup butter
2 quarts whole canned tomatoes
6 cans tomato sauce (family size) or 10 smaller cans
8 sprigs parsley
1/2 cup dry sage leaves
1/2 cup rosemary
2 quarts beef broth
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon all spice
(note: more spices can be added to taste)
In a separate heavy skillet–bottom covered with olive oil or animal fat–brown 8 stalks of celery, chopped and 6 medium onions, finely chopped. Cook until tender.
Add to meat mixture above and bring to a boil. Simmer 4 to 5 hours. Add 1 quart fresh mushrooms, chopped. Cook a short time and cool. Can make ahead of time and freeze, if needed. When ready to make raviolis, heat the sauce in a large sauce pan as raviolis are boiling.
3 lbs. ground beef
3 cups Romano cheese-grated
8 sprigs fresh green parsley- finely chopped
7 slices bread- soaked in half and half cream (when used, squeeze cream out, shred the bread and mix it in)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 cups fresh spinach-finely chopped, cooked and drained
8 rolled crackers (saltine, roll the crackers with a rolling pin until very fine)
2 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pepper
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon all spice
1 teaspoon season all
Mix together in a (very) large bowl. Let set for 4 hours to let the spices incorporate and then set overnight in refrigerator. Coat with olive oil to keep meat from drying out.
Once the dough, sauce and filling is made, the next day is ravioli-making day. Supplies needed are:
- Ravioli machine, Papa Sam’s looks something like this (although much older!)
- Spreading knife, Papa Sam’s looks like this, but with wooden handles
- Ravioli roller and cutter
- Large table or working surface
- Canvas sheet to cover table for easy clean up
Break the dough into tennis-ball sized clumps. Roll in flour on large working table (covered with canvas), knead until elastic and not too wet.
Turn on ravioli machine. Set to 1 (this makes a thicker dough). Run the dough through the machine two or three times, until consistent thickness. Change the setting to 3 (this make a thinner dough). Run the dough through this setting until consistent. Change the setting to 5 (this makes long and thin dough) and run the dough through until consistent.
Lay dough out on the flour covered working surface. Fold dough in half and mark the seam with a crease (or your fingernail). Unfold and spread filling on half of the dough. Make the filling a quarter inch thick. Use the spreading knife dipped in water to keep it spreading consistently and thin. If filling is too thick, the raviolis will split open. We want nice plump raviolis!
Spread filling to a quarter inch from the edge of the dough. Fold the empty half of the dough over the filling and pinch the edges together, if needed. Run the ravioli roller over the dough with firm pressure to mark the raviolis. Using the ravioli cutter, cut along the lines to make each ravioli.
Using a spatula or large flat knife, transfer raviolis to cookie sheet. Layer raviolis with waxed paper. Repeat until all the filling and dough is used.
Place raviolis in the freezer. When frozen through, split apart each individual ravioli. Transfer to freezer bags. If there is left over dough, make noodles! Run the dough through the machine as described above, but go to level 7 on the machine. Pasta can be frozen or boiled immediately and served with the sauce.
When ready to cook the raviolis, first boil a large pot of water. Place raviolis in the pot (do this in batches to prevent over crowding) and cook until the raviolis float–about 5 to 10 minutes. Serve the raviolis with the heated sauce and grated cheese (we recommend Romano or Parmesan) on top.