The 80’s. My American versus Foreign Table ( excerpts of Convivio chapter )

One of the major differences I noted when living in France and Italy, food culture nations, is how the public before purchasing food to be consumed, often questioned what is in  it?  How it was made? Who made it? When was it made?  Where was it made? This is not common practice in America or maybe it would be if babies could talk.

f in k 1

In Europe children often shop when possible with their parents and gain an understanding of products, pricing and the history of the item which  are important factors that could  help children seek quality in their choices.

kids making gnocchi (2)

In many  foreign homes children are in the kitchen observing and often working together to help prepare foods  with family members. This can be beneficial in many ways.  The kitchen should be the center of home life. Cooking teaches children civility, table manners, what is in the food, as well as practical skills to use later in life. Households that have lost the soul of cooking miss out on the thrill of all senses in play to enjoy a daily necessity as it becomes a daily pleasure. How often does one smell anything appetizing in a fast-food establishment or a school cafeteria that outsources other than that familiar smell of reheated frying oil?

f in k 10

Kids can learn to cook real food, not just cookies.

f in k 4 (1)


Cousins making sushi for their parents.

Cousins making sushi

kids making gnocchi (1)

Mother and my sister teaching the Brownie class how to make gnocchi. They all took a bag home to cook for their family. Now that they know how to make them they are all hooked on eating gnocchi.


Kids making foccaccia

Kids making foccaccia

kids making focaccia

Italian mothers helping their children to make their own foccaccia.












Mom said  if you like to eat them, lets learn to clean them.  After cleaning it was time to cook those creatures, tentacles and all. For the first time the boys even ate the tentacles they cleaned.

f in k 6 (2) 2nd f in k 6 (2) 1st f in k 6 (1)


f in k 9

A child exposed to traditional foods that are made to satisfy and not just stimulate, may be a child less affected by the billions spent advertising small amounts of poison to add to appearance, prevent putrefaction, and be disguised as nourishment.

f in k 4 (2)

I realize the time factor and other priorities leave little time for children to experience preparing foods in the family kitchen. But there is a lot to be learned and shared if one could find the time, even if on a weekend day. It has been proven that children that have this experience, as do many ethnic societies, are more apt to seek quality with a better understanding of foods and less likely to be tempted by fast food establishments. I believe that the road to  healthier nation is the family meal and table. With food culture at home, children are most likely to make better choices of food when  out of the home.

 summer 2009 494

Unfortunately our  lifestyle in America has created kind of a  hostile environment for food and   nutrition  with an  excess of ready calories available and unfavorable choices made when genuine foods are not a priority or  not available. To quote Joel Fuhrman, author of Eat to Live, who coined the word “nutritarian,” referring to food choices stated, “The American diet could not be more effective in generating heart disease if we designed it for that purpose.” How sad In America that also time in the kitchen does not seem to be a priority. Besides the benefits of having quality time preparing foods together, it can be a most enlightening experience for family bonding and a healthier diet.  Just remember to also  have fun in the kitchen. That always brings everyone back into the kitchen, the heart of the home.

 f in k 8 (1)

Homemade pasta made with organic beets, no dyes or preservatives.   Yikes! Wondering if they served them.

Homemade pasta made with organic beets, no dyes or preservatives. Yikes! Wondering if they served them.

f in k 10 (2)

Charlotta wants to come back for more fun in the kitchen.

they all want to come back


With the arrival of family members joining me in Italy  for the summer, I shall  retire from blogging until September.

I would appreciate hearing from my readers as to which of the three subject matters they prefer: 1 artisans ( an educational subject matter); 2. fun at the villa (true international humorous experiences) or 3. Convivio ( a family legacy of an Italian-American’s experience comparing table life).


1970, our American-Italian table, continues… “Neophilia vs. Neophobia”

It is during the first five years that children basically accept what is given to them, and after age five, their environment begins to control their habits. It is in this environment that a child in an Italian or French family learns to use all of his senses, as parents encourage  him to taste a little of everything served at the table, working his way to becoming a neophile, a lover of the new and  unfamiliar. It is the food neophile who by experiencing a variety of ingredients and combinations of flavors learns to accept and perhaps even seek out new flavors. There should be no great distinction between adult and children’s food besides portion size unless for medical reasons.

Jason learned to enjoy chicken feet with his paternal grandfather and now ready to have  his children experience this specialty.

Jason learned to enjoy chicken feet with his paternal grandfather and now ready to have his children experience this specialty after a few hours of cooking and spicing.


Cleaning vegetables with grandpa.

Cleaning vegetables with grandpa.

Grandkids cutting vegetables.

Grandkids cutting vegetables.

When kids prepare genuine foods they tend to eat more of them.

When kids prepare genuine foods they tend to eat more of them.


Grandkids love their vegetables especially when they prepare them.

Grandkids love their vegetables especially when they prepare them.




All from grandma's organic garden.

All from grandma’s organic garden.


Picking them to can for the winter.

Picking them to can for the winter.

Lots of work but worth the time for quality canned tomatoes.

Lots of work but worth the time for quality canned tomatoes.

Some we roasted in the wood burning oven for pasta sauce.

Some we roasted in the wood burning oven for pasta sauce.












Wow wish we didn't pick so many cherry tomatoes.

Wow wish we didn’t pick so many cherry tomatoes.

So many so hung some for a later use.

So many so hung some for a later use.


Others we baked in our wood burning oven for a special  pasta sauce, It was worth picking.

Others we baked in our wood burning oven for a special pasta sauce, It was worth picking.


Many of my American friends are neophobes, not exposed to variety, having a fear of the new and set in their ways as to what they will and will not eat. There is now a movement to experience the new as a culinary treat by the trend-setting upwardly mobile class. Since eating is based on habit and tradition, certain tastes and pleasures have not been stored in memory and it is difficult for them to enjoy new flavor experiences.  A neophile rarely loses the tastes and smells registered in childhood and as an adult is able to recollect those tastes and smells and experience them all over again. Our foreign friends who often express their love of tripe comment that it is the chewiness of the item that they love. Serving tripe, the lining of the cow’s stomach to Americans may be met with rejection due to the unfamiliar texture.  The difference is only an experience stored in memory. It is up to parents to help their children develop taste buds and educate the palate by giving them new experiences.


Food culture must begin at an early age. Michelle at 3 months old.

Food culture must begin at an early age. Michelle at 3 months old. She continues to love quality bread.

Michelle enjoying convivio at age 3 months old.

Michelle enjoying convivio at age 3 months old and continues to enjoy time at the table.












In Italian and French families, these food pleasures begin in their youth. Food is tradition. Tastes and smells experienced in one’s childhood are recalled in adult life. Taste may be physically sensed on the tongue and palate, but after it is cultivated, it becomes a memory. If a baby is fed a bland diet and never experiences flavorful foods, it will be deprived of one of the greatest pleasures of life. Healthy habits formed and nurtured until a child reaches age ten often last a lifetime.

Coming from Argentina, Jorge knows well how to barbecue as well as how to roast a whole animal, He always has the kids give him a hand, marinating the meat, controlling the barbecue and of course relishing the meat down to the bone while enjoying convivio  with family and friends.

Advantage on the farm, you can eat with your hands, down to the bone.

Advantage on the farm, you can eat with your hands, down to the bone.

Love grandpa's Easter lamb,

Love grandpa’s roasted lamb.

Roasted in the wood burning oven.

Roasted in the wood burning oven.

 No meat left on this bone.

No meat left on this bone.

Love the meat around the bone.

Love the meat around the bone.

I  am saddened to see how in today’s hurried lifestyle, the pleasure of eating, the time at the table and the tastes and smells coming from a mother’s kitchen are often not experienced in youth. As Julie Child said once to me at a culinary meeting in San Diego, “In our society there is a fear of food that brings about the fear of pleasure.”  She noted that in France, as in Italy, there were no menus for children. What is its purpose other than to provide the child with a less expensive meal—a meal which was in fact, less nourishing and usually containing something breaded, salty and fried. Not being exposed to better foods, it is no wonder that they often continue to please their palates in adult life based on their food experiences in childhood. As adults, after learning about nutrition and the importance of eating genuine food, it is still often very hard for people to change. As noted earlier, eating right is like learning a language; the best and easiest way is total immersion in childhood, with the parents setting a good example.

Julia and Lucy

Julia and Lucy

Next week, children having fun in the kitchen.


OOPS!!! This week’s blog took off without picture captions!!!

OOPS!!!   This week’s blog took off without picture captions that would help  demonstrate  next week’s blog of neophilia versus neophobia .  Children raised with food culture, experiencing new foods  and  helping with food preparation are more likely to enjoy these experiences  in their adult life.

1. 1978 our children cleaning fish with their dad on a Sunday afternoon

1978 our children cleaning fish with their dad on a Sunday afternoon

2. Thirty years later, their children  cleaning fish with their dad and the children's grandpa on a Sunday afternoon

 Thirty years later, their children cleaning fish with their dad and the children’s grandpa on a Sunday afternoon

3. Children helped bake a  whole fish in the oven, ummm good

Children helped bake a whole fish in the oven, ummm good

4. Comparing the size of  heads.

Comparing the size of heads.

5. Cleaning mussels, for a great seafood pasta sauce

Cleaning mussels, for a great seafood pasta sauce

6. Laila and Bo buying fish they will clean and cook

Laila and Bo buying fish they will clean and cook

7. fresh this morning and now on the grill

Fresh this morning and now on the grill

8.1. preparing as grandpa taught our  mom

Preparing as grandpa taught our mom

8.2. ready for the barbecue

Ready for the barbecue

9.1. The kids bought, and cleaned the fish, now to enjoy the dish

The kids bought, and cleaned the fish, now to enjoy the dish

10. Laila sucki;ng the fish out of the shell

Laila sucking the meat out of the shell.

11. Raised with food culture, children learn early to  enjoy  snails,

Raised with food culture, children learn early to enjoy snails,

12. Grandma Lucy with Dante and Luca enjoying fried smelts.

Grandma Lucy with Dante and Luca enjoying fried smelts.

13. The kids ate it all from head to tail

The kids ate it all from head to tail

14. Dante and Luca will always love clams,storied food  memories

 Dante and Luca will always love clams, storied food memories

15. Yes, Dante ate them all and calls it his favorite food.

 Yes, Dante ate them all and calls it his favorite food.

16. Ok grandma says we should never deprive ourselves of occassional treats, especially when parents are not around.

Ok grandma says we should never deprive ourselves of occassional treats, especially when parents are not around.

Next Wednesday’s blog, neophobias versus neophilias.

The 1960s: My American-American Table—Minneapolis, Minnesota

“We are much more than what we eat, but what we eat can help us be more than what we are.”     ADELLE  DAVIS

It was not common practice for Italian parents in the 1960s to allow their daughters to go away from home to attend college.  I accepted with dismay the fact that I would have to go to school locally where I was accepted until my sister Rose gave me an opportunity I could not refuse. Because her husband as first violinist with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra was often called to travel for months on tour, she suggested that I live with her and keep her company while he was traveling. I had been accepted at Connecticut College for Women  but the idea of moving to Minnesota was too tempting and I soon found myself enrolled at Macalester College which later led to a transfer to the University of Minnesota. Rose took great care of me and she cooked as well as my mother. But my busy life at school and working every day after school left me weekends only to eat with her family. Taking three buses to school early in the morning, often in below zero degree temperatures, I would take my breakfast with me for the long bus ride. Now I was becoming a true American, eating on the go, as my parents would say. It was my college days that took me away from my Italian-Italian food and conviviality of the table. I was introduced to my first salad topped with strange, sweet, colorful, thick dressings. I had never eaten at a restaurant with my parents or friends and therefore, never experienced anything other than a dressing of good olive oil and vinegar. Initially I did not eat anything unfamiliar but eventually began to eat and drink whatever was available. At home, the only beverages on our dinner table were water and homemade wine. Now I had a choice of sodas, Coke, Pepsi, milk (yikes with dinner), and something called Dr. Pepper that I thought might be healthier. For me, they just didn’t go with dinner but unfortunately, I would soon adopt them into my diet.


Lunch at the  cafeteria introduced me to a new world of foods. Everything seemed covered with heavy sauces. I remember Dad saying if the food is good, you don’t need sauce unless used lightly to complement the dish or to hide something. Not curious to see what they were hiding, I just avoided those dishes completely. My choice often turned to bratwurst, which was a treat I had never had before and enjoyed even though when biting into it, I would sometimes recall Mom’s advice to never eat stuffed food prepared out of the house. I figured there must be government regulations so it could not be that bad. I became a sausage eater.

Monday night, a required weekly dinner with my sorority sisters, I would often sleep at the sorority  house  so as not to take a late bus home. For me, at the age of 18, it was my first experience eating  away from home. I did manage to eat what was served  but it all seemed strange to me. A small lamb chop covered with some sweet green wiggly sauce. I was told it was mint. One night I noted that the posted menu was pork chops, my favorite meat, and I looked forward to it. But when the dish was served, I wondered where was the meat. Apparently, a small piece of meat was floured, breaded, re-floured, breaded again, deep fried, and then highly seasoned with some starchy synthetic juice and sugar mixture accompanied by a mound of sweet brownish looking sauce. I was told it was apple sauce but I couldn’t taste the apple. I didn’t consider myself spoiled or fussy  just Italian, now eating all’Americana. I felt different and to fit in I just wanted to eat like them  but it was very hard initially.

Sleeping at my sorority house was fun. All the girls had cluttered rooms filled with books, papers, and clothing scattered about, which did not seem unusual. What I found to be strange was seeing snacks everywhere. Chocolates, potato chips, crackers, peanut butter jars, and many Coke cans and bottles to consume while studying could be seen everywhere. Their trash baskets were overflowing with empty soda cans and candy wrappers. I soon learned that students really snacked all day long.  It did not take long for me to adopt this habit of the “Americanas.”

When transferred to the University in my sophomore year, some classes took place in the auditorium that seated hundreds. I found myself in a different seat every day due to the large number of students. But one thing was for sure, wherever I sat, I could see students eating in class. He or she would be munching on a sandwich, a chocolate bar or bag of chips, which often had me salivating since my bus ride and quick breakfast were not that satisfying.  After class I would head straight to that snack machine down the hall. This  resulted in poor food choices being made due to what was available and what looked good. I really had no idea what I was eating.  Eating and snacking so randomly was an eye-opener for me, especially having experienced the caring ways of a mother who always determined what was best for me nutritiously. I longed for Mom’s cooking, and even more, I missed the ritual of our daily table. My diet had fallen into the hands of marketing companies who put fancy  packaging on products to make them attractive and appealing in the vending machine, yet the actual ingredients remained a mystery. I just wanted to be “Americana” so happily continued to feed the machine my quarters.


A habit I did adopt and found most difficult to change was eating while studying. Now on the way home, I would buy snacks for the bus ride, cookies for my evening snack and of course that drink I thought doctors might recommend, Dr. Pepper. Coca Cola and coffee I started to drink any time of day, something that was unheard of at home. I never saw a soda bottle on the dinner table. We did have cases of one-liter bottles of ginger ale in our basement to serve guests. Living in my warm-ups and winter clothes, I did not notice how much weight I had put on since arriving in Minnesota until the day I could not zip up my trousers and  decided that I should weigh myself. I have never seen my parents weighing themselves and I recall being weighed only at the doctor’s office.  Wow, imagine my surprise when I saw that my five foot four body that when last weighed was 105 pounds, showed a gain of 20 pounds in my first year away from home. I did not understand since I was eating less, skipping meals, and often went to bed hungry.

I began a roller-coaster ride of bad eating habits which was hard to control. I missed those long meals with my family when small portions, many dishes of healthy simple foods and happy times together never had me gain a pound. The breaking down of the family-structured meal and time together was, I soon ascertained, the cause of my weight gain. Although busy with school work and working after school, I was still lonely. It seems silly and few may never understand  but the lack of daily communication around the dinner table made me lose a daily ritual, one of life’s greatest pleasures. For my Italian family eating was fundamentally important, essential to life itself, and the most intimate act of our existence.

The desire to travel but lacking the necessary funds left me little opportunity until a notice of a scholarship to Italy presented itself. I applied and was happy to be accepted in my junior year to go to Italy. My scholarship study was the Catholic Communist Crisis. At that time, Italy had the largest communist party outside of the Iron Curtain, and there were fears that it would soon become a communist state. My research would have me going to communist villages from the north to the south. My father would not approve of his twenty-year-old daughter traveling alone in a foreign country. After months of pleading, my father finally gave his permission only with the persistence of my older sisters, and my cousin Rocky, who offered to be available to travel with me when needed. With Rocky, I managed to make a u-turn back to Italian food and life at the table.

On my way to attend a reunion with other classmates on the scholars program my luggage was stolen. I bought a change of clothes and tried to reconstruct  some of my notes which was difficult to do but I  had no choice. At the reunion, our  professor, Mitchell Charnley, became aware of my situation and suggested I go somewhere by myself and try to recollect all before returning back to the States. I chose San Marino, the oldest sovereign state and  small republic, independent of Italy, a place I wanted to see and felt might be safe and secure for a twenty-year-old female traveling alone in Italy.

In my little hotel room overlooking a piazza, I worked away. I was distracted every night by the music, singing and dancing of tourists and Italians enjoying eating al fresco below my window until the church bells chimed at midnight. I wanted so very much to join them but kept to my studies and did not go down to the Tavern.  I learned to eat my main meal at lunch time so that at dinner time I could eat a small snack in my room. I became  so attracted to life in Italy at the table.  I saw guests being seated at eight and while studying noted the same guests were there when the church bells chimed midnight, laughing, singing and dancing. No, I could not join them and went back to eat the piadina (flat thin bread) that I would  take from the lunch basket that day, helping  me stay within my budget.

san Marino Rocca Guaita Fortress in San Marino san Marino 3

Following graduation my experience with the hospitality of the Italians made me look for employment in the land of my ancestors. I was thrilled at having been accepted for an employment in Rome that would begin the following  fall.  I decided that summer to make my parents happy and find temporary work near home. I accepted a three month position at a hospital in Connecticut. Shortly after I began my employment  I met a physician  in the hospital cafeteria when discussing a patient.  I did not know at the time if we would ever meet again. But we did.

It was this physician that joined me for coffee many days, soon was to steer  my life back to the traditions and food culture that I treasured which he had experienced in his upbringing in Argentina.  Happily I returned to my American /Italian table to raise children and manage a household.


 Next month watch for  1970 – My American- Italian Table—New York, New York 

                                      Raising  children   (neophyte vs neophile)

Second Half of my Italian American Table 1950 – “Tribute to all Mothers of the world”

It was not an easy life for the immigrants. They left family and loved ones to settle in a strange country with a different culture, language and a society that often rejected them. Worse of all were the war years. Mom found herself in an apartment alone with three baby girls as Dad went off to work coming home late at night. She dared not go out having been warned to blacken the windows not to let light in and live by candlelight out of fear of bombardment. I recall Mom making her own soap and candles in our kitchen, making sure that my sisters and I would not be near the hot pot of lye, one of the main ingredients. She made all our clothes as well as cleverly recycling my sister’s clothes into new designs for me. She was never taught but being creative, practical and out of necessity, learned to do it all. She never complained even though in Italy these chores were fulfilled by a large staff employed by her parents, feudal lords. Now it was up to her to do it all. It was especially difficult during the war years living in an apartment with three babies in a new country. At the age of 20 she left behind a large loving family, many wonderful friends, gardens of fresh produce, and acres of the countryside all hers to enjoy.

Mother, me and my aunt, one of the many relatives she sheltered and cared for from Italy.

Mother, me and my aunt, one of the many relatives she sheltered and cared for from Italy.

Teaching cooking in the 50's. Never thought I would be doing it 60 years later.

Teaching cooking in the 50’s. Never thought I would be doing it 60 years later.

As a five-year-old, I remember little other than celebrating the end of the war. Mom and her friends filled the streets with American flags confirming their adoption of the new country and its society. Not that they wanted to ever reject Italy but wanted to make a better life for their children. We were told not to speak Italian and encouraged to live and do as the Americans. But the one thing we were warned not to adopt was the food of the “Americana” and to never forget the family, the core and foundation of Italian life. It was a tradition carved in each of us never to be forgotten and reinforced by the paesani, other transplants. Clustered together, these immigrants formed a community of their own, working together to solve any problems and considered themselves one big family. As a group this protected them, insulating them from the modern world of America. They were often criticized, insulted and faced prejudices as did other minority groups. What kept them going was their commitment to their extended family and their paesani, friends from the same place of origin. Most were willing to work long hours, accept low wages, rival other immigrant groups, particularly the Irish, who had the advantage of speaking the language.  Working hard all week meant they could revel in the simple pleasures of dance, music, food, and friends, sharing life and convivio at the table on weekends. We were to become Americans, learn the language, but reinforced daily to eat Italian and enjoy convivio with family and friends. It was a simple inexpensive pleasure that they could enjoy. As a typical Italian mother, Mom was deeply respected as the pillar of the family. Along with nourishing her family she was the emotional, spiritual, moral, and loving backbone of the family. Believing there is no greater role than the noble work of raising a family with devotion and great pride my Italian mother managed to always dispense food and advice along with love. This is a role that is losing its significance today and in the process has changed the family structure and way of life. Although affected today by the winds of change as many mothers are finding work out of the home the Italian mother still tends to fulfill the traditional role of being in control of the domestic sphere and maintain the stability of the family. My mother always worked but never allowed her work to interfere with her primary role of being the heart and soul of the family, nourishing and nurturing her family with genuine foods and table life. Although generations apart, it seems that my best memories and children’s best memories are most often of our experience of convivio and understanding the need to reinforce it.


Mother, cousins and daughter preparing the polenta board.

There is no question that Mom was a true Italian mother, cherished and essential to family life. Although a working mom she invested much time and effort  making sure we ate well and together. Waking up at the crack of dawn to start breakfast she managed to always include her rustic homemade country bread. None of that mushy packaged white spongy stuff ever entered our kitchen. For an Italian immigrant accustomed to freshly baked bread the commercially packaged product would not even be worth honoring with the title of bread. That is why the immigrants in the early twentieth century kept the tradition of home-baked goodies because of poor quality of products available outside the home. For those not exposed to quality it would not be missed. For those used to it nothing would suffice as a substitute. Italians have always had a heightened awareness of what they put into their mouths very much the opposite of routine mindless eating often seen in America.

tomatoes 2

I left Newport Beach California for this??? Mother taught me years ago how to can tomatoes.

Make tomatoesOur breakfast consisted of two eggs per person prepared differently unless oatmeal was served. On special days the aroma of Mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls would be our wake-up call, quickening our pace to dress for school. If too hurried to make her egg specialties, Mom could be seen beating two eggs for each of us with a shot of Marsala wine and a little sugar (never considering salmonella). Years later while making the gourmet dessert of zambaglione in my restaurant I had a flashback of my youth and realized that what Mom was giving us was a shot of wine with our breakfast eggs. When I questioned her about this a few years ago she assured me it was just a drop and added, “It didn’t do you any harm, did it?” I would not suggest this for others to do, but felt worth noting. Certainly there was no need to sneak a drink in our house when you have a mother who serves her elementary school child Marsala, sweet wine, in a crystal glass on her way to school. Today, in America, she would be reprimanded for doing so. Cereal, the breakfast of all my peers didn’t exist in our home. Mom did not know how to read the label but her motto was, “What you don’t see, you don’t eat.” I knew of nobody in those days that distrusted cereal. She could not understand how it could sit on the grocery store shelf for months. Something had to preserve it, be it salt or sugar. I never could understand why we could not eat like the Americans. All my classmates ate cereal promoted as a healthy and easy to prepare breakfast. Years later I learned that Mom was partly right considering the quantity of salt and sugar that is often hidden in cereal to keep it on the shelf. I remember  trying to convince Mom that there was nothing wrong with the new, frozen, ‘just add water’ orange juice in a green label can that became very popular in my youth. Her answer was “Just eat the orange,” pointing to the large bowl of citrus, a permanent fixture on our dining room table, followed by “Do you know what is in that can? If you want juice, here is the juicier, squeeze.” I never forgot that day. In fact, I recall so well, squeezing one night for the morning, and Mom asking me, “Why do it now? Don’t you have time in the morning?”  Did she know that it might be more nutritious freshly squeezed? My Italian lunch bag was always an embarrassment for me in grammar school. I used to hide my sandwich since all the others had peanut butter and bananas or for variety, peanut butter and jelly on their store bought spongy bread. Why did I have to be different? Mom also made sure we had variety. Besides prosciutto, salami, homemade sausages, and all kinds of cheeses, there were major varieties due to our dinner leftovers: roast beef, tongue, pork, sweetbread, or brain croquettes sandwiched between Mom’s homemade bread. On Fridays since we could not eat meat as practicing Catholics, our sandwiches might consist of grilled eggplant, zucchini, tuna fish, frittata, cheese, or greens, such as Swiss chard from grandpa’s garden, along with our dessert picked that morning from one of his fruit trees. On very special days, we had the treat of finding Mom’s homemade oatmeal cookies filled with raisins along with fruit from our garden. While eating I would try to hide the inside of the sandwich so that I would not have to answer that frequently asked question by my classmates, frowning with disgust, “What is that?” It was only in high school that my sandwiches started to become popular and I had a chance to taste my very first peanut butter sandwich on a trade. I found it to be strange yet wanting to be popular traded it occasionally giving up homemade sausage sandwiches covered with roasted peppers for this thing that came out of a jar, was smeared  on  soggy spongy white tasteless bread. I realized after a few trades that the soft bread and filling of peanut butter tended to leave me hungry the rest of the day. I missed Mom’s thick slices of crusty fresh country bread   with filling so good that never needed a dressing of hidden calories. She felt, as most Italians that if the product was good, you didn’t need to disguise it. If a filling needed a little help, a few drops of mom’s olive oil would take care of it. Dinner for us always included vegetables from the yard or if out of season from our family basement, our “personal supermarket.” Beans picked in the fall and put aside to dry were put aside for consuming during the winter months. They were commonly included in our dinner always a different variety and preparation. Beans were a necessity and the salvation for many. Besides meeting dietary needs it met the needs of a limited budget as well often called to substitute for the meat course during the week. Most Europeans consume a variety of beans in their daily diet, a healthy protein as well as carbohydrate. What was available and usually purchased in my youth by most Americans was a canned product marketed as beans yet having as one of its main ingredient, pork fat. Now there is nothing wrong with good beans or good pork, but when tasting it for the first time  at a dinner years later in my university sorority house, my mom’s words came to mind: “What you don’t see (in the can), you don’t eat.” As my sorority sisters enjoyed with gusto canned beans served before them, I realized how Mom was right. My sorority sisters never had Mama’s beans, didn’t know better, familiar only with the canned product. I, on the other hand, could not taste the bean only the sweetened , fatty, greasy, gooey  liquid that covered what I guess were beans. Did these ladies even know the taste of a bean? Leaving them on my plate caught the attention of one of my classmates who asked me if she could eat them if I didn’t want them and added, “Aren’t they delicious?” I didn’t answer but handed her my plate. I longed for Mama’s beans, freshly prepared without any of that added goo. Finally beans are being recognized in America as a most valuable food item. Once one experiences the simple preparation of the basic product, as confirmed by attendees in my cooking classes requesting my famous bean recipe, one can understand quality. A principal cause of bad eating choices in our society today is the lack of experience with genuine foods. Meat, usually a roast on Sunday  was always thinly sliced, dressed with natural juices, and complemented with the vegetables and onions that would cook along with it in the pan. Mom did not know about using flour to thicken gravy soups or sauces. She might chop a carrot or celery if sauce needed sweetening or puree if it needed thickening. Utilities being expensive when she used the oven she made sure she put the vegetables in as well to cook along with the meat. Pasta served only on Thursday and Sundays was always freshly made with good semolina wheat. Preceding the usual light soup course were nibbles of fresh fennel, carrots, and celery that mom had in the center of the table along with a little dish  of her sister’s homemade olive oil sent from Italy.  Waiting for dinner we would dip the vegetables into the olive oil while talking to Mom about the day’s events. As she finished preparing the meal the aromas of her kitchen would lead us to peek into the pot on the stone or in the oven to see what it was causing us to salivate in anticipation of her homemade meal.

mom and jason 1976

Mother the pillar of our family here with her youngest grandson Jason at age 5, and today with her youngest great grandson Dante at age 5. Passion for family is obvious.

Lucy phone 482

95 years difference, mom at 100 and Dante at 5.

Diet and calories were words unfamiliar to mom and never mentioned in our upbringing. There was no scale for daily weighing. Food was to be enjoyed. A meal was never skipped and no family member was ever absent from the table unless ill or out of town. No excuse. Even as a twenty-five-year-old dating my husband-to-be, he had to ask my father for special permission to allow me to be absent from the evening meal. Dad’s answer, typical of Italians, was “Why can’t you join us for dinner?” Such is the Italian family like a Chinese family always ready for an extra person. Just add another antipasto dish.  Never to worry our  cellar would always meet unexpected needs. It is unusual for an Italian to send someone away from the table. Etiquette says you do not bother a family during the sacred dinner hour but if you arrive at that time plan to stay. I recall buying chickens with dad at a chicken farm where dad knew of course the owner, knowledge of the feed, the environment, and the care given to each bird. He would select one and help with the killing and plucking followed by Mom singeing any remaining feather follicles at home. I am always reminded of this smell when singeing my hair on a curling iron stuck on my head as strands of hair fall to the floor.  When having to buy a chicken away from the farm, dad reminded me to always be sure to buy chickens with their  heads on. How else would you know how fresh it was? Just as he taught me to always check the eyes of a fish to be reassured of freshness. When I moved part time to Italy in the early 80s, chickens at our countryside meat market were sold with their heads attached. This custom began to change in the 90s with the coming of the big supermarkets, globalization, and foods from around the world. Holidays, a memorable event included all of the extended family. As with most Italian families, Dad might  have the big yard but there was always an uncle to supply  the homemade brew of grappa, another the wine, and Grandpa always with a  basket of fresh fruits from his garden. Aunts might bring  their specialties of homemade pastries all of which contributed to making the event a great success. Fresh pasta was always part of the meal made by Mother who seem to do it with such little effort which  for some reason never appeared to be work. I loved watching Mom with the yard-long rolling pin stretch the dough into a paper- thin circle measuring more than a yard in diameter. Mom would then roll two sides to the center creating a roll of dough soon to be attacked by her big knife creating thin strips of tagliatelli. As kids, we all helped put the pasta on mop poles balanced between two chairs to allow the pasta to dry. I eagerly anticipated the times when our entire family would work together on a project be it to make sausages, bake cookies for a wedding, prepare dishes for a funeral or a holiday family get-together. There was always some kind of music to accompany each work project. It might be my aunts singing out of tune some old Neapolitan song, a relative on the accordion, Dad singing an aria from an opera, or a guitar player accompanying the kids who would join in with the few Italian lines they knew such as “funiculà, funiculì, funiculà.”

Mom and her first friend ishe met in America in 1932, my sister's mother in law, going for a walk at age 100 and 102.

Mom and her first friend that she met in America in 1933, my sister’s mother -in- law, Amy, from Connecticut, going for a walk at age 100 and 102 in California, Wonderful ladies and mothers.

With the meal eaten, the table cleared, and the tablecloth shaken outdoors to free it from dinner crumbs the women would all work together to wash and put things away so that they could play their game of tombola, bingo, in the kitchen.  A large platter of fresh fruit and a bowl of mixed fresh nuts in their shells would now take the omnipresent role at the center of the kitchen table which was previously occupied by dad’s homemade table wine and olive oil. One of the women would start making espresso which would signify the end of the meal. Homemade cookies might join the fruit and nuts, as the espresso pot wafted the aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans. Coffee cups for the men at the dining room table would be placed in the center along with bottles of liquors, such as anisette, grappa and sambuca, so-called digestives. Money may have been scarce, but fun was always in abundance. Enjoying meals with family and friends was a ritual of pleasurable experiences for children. Similar associations in adult life often trigger fond memories and emotions that last forever in our memories. These cultural practices and experiences can condition one to seek them out in life but only if fortunate to have been enriched with these traditions in their upbringing. It saddens me to see the globalization of the world endangering these memories of gastronomical culture and begin to forfeit quality food for quantity and the “no time” virus for convivio. A few years ago, flying to the States to attend my fiftieth class reunion I was surprised how everyone remembered me as the Italian kid with the great cellar and garden. Memories came to mind of the end of the school day when my friends would walk me home and stop in the garden to enjoy the grapes from the vines that formed a pergola over our long garden table where we enjoyed so many meals, al fresco. Others told about picking great white peaches from an old but prolific tree in our garden and how they missed it when it was struck down by lightning. I still yearn for those peaches that no commercially sold peach can match in taste. Others remembered the big wheel of parmigiano cheese they enjoyed stabbing with the parmigiano knife found resting in its place on top of the 10 pound wheel. Friends mentioned how I had introduced them to real parmigiano. They were familiar with a grated cheese purchased in a green can that was labeled parmigiano. My parents and their Italian friends refused to call it anything but sawdust.


Class reunion, seeing friends for the first time in 50 years.

When leaving the reunion and saying our farewells, a classmate I did not recognize at first called me by name and commented how he had never forgotten how sad it was when I left for Italy that summer of 1949.  When I asked why, he explained in my absence he could not go over to the house and slice the prosciutto, which permanently took its place on the slicing machine in our kitchen, or break off links of sausage hanging in the cellar. He missed stopping by to see the family  sitting  at that long table in the yard which always led to an invitation to join the family at the table. I then recalled the man before me. He was the Jewish kid whose faith my mother had questioned some sixty years ago. At the time, he told my mother that if he didn’t know it was pork it would be ok to eat. I wonder if my classmates would have remembered me if it were not for my mom’s kitchen, grandpa’s garden, and my father’s cellar, our Mediterranean  Diet in Connecticut.

The 50s:  My Italian-American Table—Hartford, Connecticut (First Half)

“Let thy medicine be thy food and thy food thy medicine.”



“Mangia Mangia, non dare al dottore.” I think after learning to say mama and papa, the third word in my vocabulary was “mangia,” meaning “eat” in English. A popular phrase often heard in my youth was “non dare al dottore,” “don’t give it to the doctors.” They believed, as the saying goes, God heals and the doctor gets the fee. This was often emphasized by Italian immigrants years ago, who taught their children it was better to eat well than to pay the doctor later. Today statistics show that the portion of our income spent on food in America has declined by 10 percent, but at the same time, spending on health care is soaring. Maybe Italian mamas knew best.

My parents, hardworking, humble, Catholic Italian immigrants from the Abruzzo region of Italy migrated to Connecticut in 1933 with my sister Rose, then nine months old. At that time, there were no organic food markets. My sisters and I were fed the diet of the immigrants of the early 20th centurey who sought the natural and organic foods of quality that they were accustomed to in the old country. They were familiar only with organic farming which in Italy was a way of life not a specialty. Accustomed to foods that were fresh, local, in their purest state, unadulterated by artificial additives, sweeteners, coloring, and preservatives caused them to maintain high standards of quality.

They searched local products or imported from family members in Italy. Having no knowledge of dietary studies, medical research, or the advice of nutritionists, they understood quality of a product in terms of nutrition, freshness, appearance, taste, and source, only by following the habits of their elders who seem to follow the teachings of a man they most likely never heard of,Hippocrates.

A particular experience carved in my memory as a ten-year-old was a visit to a doctor’s office with my mother, who was not feeling well, apparently tired from overwork. She was given a prescription. On her follow-up visit a few months later, she was informed that there was no need to continue the medication due to the correction of the deficiency. Impressed with the results of the medication, I commented on its positive effect. “Ma che pillola?” (What medicine?) was her response, indicating she never bought or swallowed a pill. She explained that she had decided to eat more fresh greens from the garden. “Why should I feed the doctor’s kids when I have my own to feed?” Never have I forgotten that day which was an  influence on how I nourished my own family following her example and making an effort to let our food be the medicine and  medicine the genuine food.

The cuisine of my childhood in America seems to be what is known today as the Mediterranean Diet, but had no title in those early years. Vegetables and fruits had to come from one’s garden, or if one did not have a garden, there was always a neighbor or friend happy to share from theirs. Meat needed to come from a reliable source. If it was not from a friend’s farm, a recognized breeder, or a butcher of confidence, my parents were reluctant to purchase any meat. Ground meat had to be ground in the presence of my parents, who would approve of the meat selection before it entered the grinding machine.

Sometimes my mother would purchase meat and grind at home. Chickens were purchased at the hatchery with knowledge of how they were raised and what was their diet. Fish would be purchased by the sea, always fresh and often alive, as was the practice in Italy. If not available fresh, they would settle for one of the few canned items in their pantry, either sardines or anchovies. Surrounded by the sea, Italians are great consumers of seafood. If inclement weather or distances prohibited fresh purchases, a common practice was to buy smelly, salty, hard-as-rock baccalà, which could be purchased and preserved until ready to consume.

Salted cod known as baccalà was often served in our home being the most versatile of all fish. It is fresh cod that is beheaded, split whole, salted, and hung to dry for future use. It was inexpensive, could be stored for months, and after a good desalting soak could enrich various delicious dishes as the main ingredient.  Through the centuries it provided protein in time of war, famine, and when detrimental weather conditions prevented one from obtaining fresh fish. As a child I hated the smell of the kitchen when Dad would bring home the best of all, white and thick baccalà. Yet it was easy to tolerate knowing that after three days of soaking in cold water it would become one of my favorite dishes, commonly served on Friday, our meatless day of the week.

A must for Christmas Eve dinner were various kinds of fish, totally at least seven. Possibly due to the availability traditionally one variety had to be  eel. One unpleasant Christmas memory, often called to mind, is about Mom preparing eel. After killing the snake-like fish, Mom packaged the uneatable remains in newspaper and handed it to me to dump in the outside trash.  I was shocked when  I noticed as I was about to close the lid on the trash receptacle that the newspaper was hiccupping rapidly as if its contents were attempting to escape a fishermen’s net. I ran into the kitchen to tell my mother what I experienced. She wasn’t at all surprised and explained that the fish was dead but the movement was actually the quivering of the heart, no longer being fed blood. That explanation was enough for a ten-year-old. As an adult, when seeing live eel in our Italian markets, I was curious enough to ask my fish merchant and learned that my mom was somewhat right. Apparently, it is due to the peptide that isolated from the intestines of the eel, affects the atrial beat. Today I may maintain the tradition of eel at Christmas but thanks to that incident I leave the killing and cleaning to the fish merchant.

In Italy pork and lamb were also popular menu items along with fish since there was little land for grazing large beasts. They became common meats sought out by the immigrants as well. They were accustomed to raising small animals on their land for meat to be consumed by the family, and it reassured them of quality of meat. They knew and always wanted to know, what the animal ate. When coming to the new world, this requirement continued. My parents, like other immigrants, wanted to know the source, living arrangements of the animal, its diet, being it was for their family’s consumption. Purchases from unknown sources were not the norm, and this still is commonly practiced by many in Italy today. I remember a Thanksgiving turkey that Dad bought live, weeks before the holiday, so that he could feed it, observe it, and be sure it was of good quality. A few years ago, this memory came to mind in Italy as I watched our neighbor’s kids sneak out to open the trunk of their dad’s car to free a baby lamb that their father brought home before Easter. The cries of two young kids begging me to help them find and hide the frightened lamb that escaped into the fields was a déjà vu experience of my youth in America.

The custom of eating fresh products meant eating what was seasonally available. I recall that there was always excitement with the coming of every season, bringing about a change in our diet. Psychologically, there was the pleasure of anticipating seasonal products that would soon be available. The garden’s crop of fava beans in early spring would bring excitement with the first dish of the fava season: fava bruschette, fava pasta sauce, fava as our vegetable dish, fava in an evening frittata. I remember Dad putting bunches of fresh fava beans onto the center of the table after clearing the dinner table. We would all sit around shelling them and eating them as a dessert. It allowed more pleasurable conversation and family time at the table. When the sun-ripened tomato season began, Mom would incorporate them into every meal, from appetizer to main course, knowing the season would be short-lived. Never bored, our menu changes led to enjoy each gastronomical treasure. The pleasure of anticipating change is a joy in itself, knowing it would be short-lived, and a year would pass before enjoying a particular gastronomical treat again.

With seasonal eating, there is no room for boredom or routine. One cultivates a respect for various flavors which begins in childhood while gratifying one’s appetite. Children’s menus did not exist for children ate what was served and were given no options.

As hardworking immigrants my parents did not live in luxury but certainly made sure that we ate well. They worked hard for twelve years before they were able to purchase a home in a nice neighborhood. With both parents working, having three young daughters, they selected a home next door to an elementary school. Needless to say, it had to have a large backyard for Grandpa to convert into his vegetable garden, a must for every Italian family. It had a kitchen attached to the dining room, just as it was in Italy so that we could cook, talk and eat together. Our middle-class neighborhood in Hartford, Connecticut, was populated mainly by financially comfortable middle-class Jewish families. Knowing that my parents were different and could not keep up with the lifestyle of neighbors left me with a longtime inferiority complex of wanting to be Jewish.

When summer vacation came, the neighborhood kids would vanish off to camp, while I would pass each day around a bath-sized tub of boiling water, packed with ripe tomatoes from our garden. With burning fingers, my sisters, aunts, cousins, and mother would peal bushels of our garden tomatoes. We would fill hundreds of canning jars of all sizes, to supply us for the year until the next tomato season. Today we are assisted by our tomato peeling and juicing machine. As a kid, I could not understand why we could not do as our neighbors did and just buy cans of tomatoes. Mom would always provide the same answer, year after year: “What you don’t see, you don’t put in your stomach,” adding “What kind of tomatoes, do you think they put into the cans, when nobody can see the quality?”

Tomato season would be followed by the canning of our peaches, pears, vegetables, and mother’s fantastic giardiniero, vegetables in vinaigrette, of course, all from the garden. Even the green tomatoes, unripened and the last of the season left on the vines were picked, pickled, and added to other pickled vegetables in the canning jars. Mom’s pickled vegetables complemented our wonderful cold weather dish of bollito misto, a delicious meal of various vegetables cooked along with different types of meat in a great broth. Years later, when experiencing the end of summer and the first days of cooler weather, memories of my childhood winters would call to mind Mom’s three-liter jar of pickled giardinero at the center of the table to complement the selection of meat in its fragrant broth filling the room with its comforting aromas.

Halfway through the summer, some of our neighborhood friends would return. I remember being happy to see them only to ascertain that they would be off the next week for another camp or family vacation somewhere in the world. Oh, to be Jewish! Now the figs would be ripe so it was time to pick them to eat, dry, or make sweet jam. As the garden lost its colorful rainbow of ripe vegetables, and the remaining dried dead branches that once held fruit of nourishment bent over with fatigue, a truckload of muscatel grapes would arrive. The time to begin the process of making our homemade wine had come. Not growing his own grapes was no excuse for an Italian immigrant not to make his own wine. There was always an immigrant who grew grapes for all those that did not have the land to do so. The day the wine grapes arrived would always see our dinner hour complemented by a bowl of wine grapes to enjoy after dinner, separated from the others waiting to be pressed. Along with giving us a treat, Dad wanted to be sure they were good before pressing them into wine. Thus began another extended family project, involving many relatives and friends, which made each activity anticipated with joy and never looked upon as work. Needless to say, everyone would also get to share in the finished product.

As a child, I knew little of the process, other than the fun we had watching the men pouring crates of grapes into the top receptacle of Grandpa’s grape press. Then my sisters and I would watch as Dad and my uncles would turn the cicular medal handle that would lower a thick flat wooden piece attached to a vertical pole at the center. Our offer to help was always rejected, as it was too difficult to do the turning. That piece of olive wood would press the juice out of the grapes and into the bucket below the press. With a great deal of attention, patience, and care, the juice was later poured into oak barrels, where it would undergo the fermentation process. This would eventually lead to the house wine sitting on our table every night for dinner. No additives, no chemicals no added sulfites ever touched our homemade wines.

In the United States, a percentage of sulfites are required for preserving wine sold to the public. That’s possibly the reason I don’t recall my relatives ever complaining of morning headaches, usually experienced by indulging wine drinkers. Also wine consumption in Italy as in our home was always accompanied by food. Wine was consumed moderately and enjoyed as a food item as well as a beverage. Mom continued to make our own wine even after Dad died until my husband, who she admired and adored, explained to her that a popular inexpensive commercially sold burgundy was just as good as her labor intense homemade wine. Following his advice wine making in our family ended, at least, until I moved to Italy, twenty-five years later.

As children, we were always given a little wine that more or less colored our drinking water at dinner. Dad convinced us it was good for us. To this day, my sisters, cousins, and all relatives known to me are great consumers of wine. They always drink accompanied by food as we were taught and have never experienced negative results. My sisters and I, like most of the children of the immigrants, were introduced to alcoholic beverages by our parents in our home. Directed by our parents, we were taught to respect the beverage, its taste, and its complement to many delicious dishes. It certainly is better than learning from one’s peers or others outside of the home.

My children may never understand the memories Grandpa’s grape press, at the entrance of our home in Tuscany, brings to mind. My mother wondered why it was the only thing I requested of her possessions, when moving from Connecticut in the sixties. It traveled with me from our home in Connecticut to two different locations in California, then back to Italy when we moved overseas. Visitors coming to our front door see it as another artifact of yesterday, having no understanding of its significance to me. Seeing the old wooden level, reminds me of the years mom and dad’s hands worked hard pulling it back and forth to release the juice from the grapes knowing it would soon occupy the center of our evening dinner table, in the form of our drinking wine and the pride of our family’s labor.

9    1950

As the grape pulp fermented on its way to becoming a fine ruby wine, no time was wasted. My aunts and uncles would gather for another group activity, the making of our homemade Italian sausages. Pounds of pork shoulder would be cut by the men into small chunks, ready to meet the blades of our sausage machine, a must in every immigrant’s household. Dad would say, as many believed, “never buy anything stuffed since you don’t know with what.”  My mom and aunts would spice up the chunks of pork, but before they put it into the grinding machine, put samples in a frying pan to cook and taste to check for seasoning. As kids, we loved testing the spiced pork in the frying pan. Not that we understood spicing, but Mom would always leave some for us to enjoy. If the flavor met her approval, the raw pork would now start its journey into the machine’s funnel, circled with animal intestines, which my mother had cleaned and salted days before.

Being the youngest it was my job to needle every few inches as the spiced meat wiggled its way out of the funnel into the intestine casing. This would allow air to escape so that the raw meat could be dried in our cold cellar and become sausage. My mom and aunts would then tie it into links and form rows and rows of fifty plus links which would decorate the ceiling of our cellar as they hung to dry for our winter meals.

After school, our friends would come by and I would take them down to the cellar, breaking off links from the hanging rows to eat without using a knife. Never did I take into consideration, as we enjoyed the aged sausage, the hard labor of my parents and the cost of our after-school snacks. My Jewish friends and neighbors were jealous of my cellar as I was of their summer life. I always wondered if it was living through the depression that had led my parents to become self-sufficient, creating their private extensive supermarket in our cellar. It was in my teens that I learned it was because of distrust for American food in those days. Many immigrants experienced a lack of quality and availability that they had back home.  My mother also reminded me that in the old country they always knew what they were eating, how it was made, and where it came from. Early immigrants refused to purchase from unknown sources.

With our canning done, wine made, and sausage hung decoratively in our cellar, we were ready for winter. As cold weather appeared it was time for polenta, that thick cornmeal mush eaten throughout Europe in various forms. The cornmeal that  was cooked in simmering water until it became as firm as mashed potatoes saved many lives in time of famine and war. Today’s commercially sold fine grain and instant polenta cornmeal were unfamiliar to my mother. She used only the freshly stone-ground cornmeal that she might have received from her sister in Italy or from an Italian immigrant who had a source for the rustic, unrefined stone-ground corn. My aunt in Italy would send Mom packages of our favorite Italian products regularly and Mom in return would send her sister American cigarettes  and chocolates. Mom would pack her American products in an old white doubled-over-many-times bed sheet that she would sew to close over the products. My sisters and I would often be called to write out the address. Boxes were expensive, the white sheet more flexible, and our American penmanship more legible. Later in life, I realized it was also a means of making it difficult for customs officials to remove stitches and re-sew the package.

Polenta, a popular staple in Europe was served in Abruzzo in a very unique way.  As kids we would get excited when we saw Mom take out the long polenta board she had crafted only for serving polenta. It was a little smaller than our kitchen table. On polenta day there was no table to set since we would be eating off the board. The more people the more fun it would be.  Making polenta in our family was a family project, all taking part in the production and serving. My mother would start the process of slowly adding handfuls of the cornmeal to the polenta pot full of hot simmering water, letting it slide gently between the fingers of her left hand and making sure that the water continued to  simmer. If added in haste or into boiling water the result could be a solid mass of polenta, unable to absorb the water.

Pic4 Pic3 Pic2 Pic1

With her right hand she would begin stirring in one direction so as not to create lumps of polenta. After a few minutes she would allow my sisters and me to take turns stirring the stone-ground coarse cornmeal into the big copper polenta pot of hot water, always using a wooden paddle with a long handle so as not to be burned with splattering polenta. Mom reminded us to always turn the paddle in the same direction as she supervised the thirty-five to forty-five minutes of constant stirring required for the granular stone-ground corn. She always kept an eye on the pot as she was the one who could determine when the polenta peeled away from the pot and  was ready to be served. Dad would then pour the hot polenta all over the board as we youngsters would help spread it out to the edges. Mom would ladle the hot freshly made tomato sauce made from our summer garden tomatoes over the polenta.  Topping the hot polenta would be a variety of meats which always included our homemade sausage and meat on bones. Mom allowed us to use our hands to devour every last piece of meat off the bone, giggling at each other’s tomato-sauce-painted faces. Needless to say this was only with family members present!

Continue… May 14th


Grandsons Luca and Dante now playing 80 years later with my grandfather’s grape press.

Chapters of my book titled “Convivio”


Introduction to ConvivioBook index

   “a degree of civilization can be measured by a country’s cuisine” Escoffier

Cultural Differences at the Table                                          

The personal experience of an Italian-American suggesting that Italy not

lose its food culture and why America should adopt one.

The 20s and 30s: Before My Table—

                        Food–the new cuisine began with time saving devices

                        Convivio– at the family table

 The 40s: My Italian—ItalianTable—Abruzzo, Italy

Food–peasant’s diet, field to table.

Convivio–la panarda, the longest meal

The 50s: My Italian-American Table—Hartford, Connecticut

Food–immigrant’s diet—keeping with tradition fresh and seasonal

Convivio–parenting at the table, nourishing body and soul

The 60s: My American-American Table—Minneapolis, Minnesota

Food–university and the Americanization of my diet

Convivio–lost:  eating alone, wherever and whenever

The 70s: My American-Italian Table—New York, New York

Food–raising children (neophyte vs neophile)

Convivio–lasting friendships

The 80s: My American versus Foreign Table—Italy and France

Food–unexciting versus sensuous

Convivio–the French table

 The 90s: My Restaurant Table—Newport Beach, California

Food–love vs. the bottom line

Convivio–my financial disaster

The 2000’s: My B&B Table and food culture—Tuscany, Italy

Food–passion for culture, artisans and olive oil

Convivio–first experience for many guests

2014: My Back to Family Root’s Table—Abruzzo, Italy

Food–the culture of eating

Convivio–in the piazza  with new and old friends

The 2020’s:  The decline of the family table.

Food Culture– without it, there is a decline in health and casualty of pleasure

Convivio—without it, there is a decline in health and casualty of pleasure

1940 My Italian—Italian Table

Beautiful memories, one of the best legacies a parent can bestow on a child, is a lifelong gift. The fondest memories of my youth are with family and friends around the dinner table. Our doors in Connecticut were always open, our table always welcoming, even to strangers needing companionship or nourishment. But one of my greatest memories, a most influential experience in my life, was when my parents took me to Abruzzo, Italy, in 1949, to visit my maternal grandparents.



Continue reading

C O N V I V IO ( defined)

Convivio, a book dedicated to my mother, 100 years old, is written as a legacy for my family and for future generations of our family to understand a food culture that we have experienced . Unfortunately it may be a culture soon be buried into history books of tradition. It will be hard for future generations to understand how one could possibly spend an hour or two at a dinner table. I do not expect many to be interested in the eating habits of an italian-american family but for those that might have an interest I decided to give weekly exerts of each chapter to see the response before my attempt to self-publish. It is my personal experience from Italy to America and back to Italy, where my experience with food culture had its start and I regret to say may have its end.

C O N V I V IO ( defined)

A Degree of Civilization is often measured by its cuisine
“ In Italy the pleasure of eating is central to the pleasure of living.
When you sit down to dinner with Italians, when you share their food, you share their lives”.
Fred Plotkin, Italy for the Gourmet
Living and working in America and in Italy has convinced me of the importance of what the Italians refer to as convivio. The pleasures of dining with good food, wine, family, and friends lead me to the conclusion that if a degree of civilization, as defined by Escoffier, is measured by acountry’s cuisine, then the Italian cuisine, most popular in the world, can also be measured by convivio, life at the table. It is a word that has no English translation and in Italian translates to living together. But through Italian usage, convivio has come to refer to the hospitality of a pleasurable experience at the table. Eating in Italy means eating together, and as Plotkin noted,central to the pleasure of living and the sharing of life.

For Italians the meal is an art, the highlight of everyday life, a time of togetherness. In our family other than for illness, there was no excuse to be absent from the family table. Following the traditions of the old world, our family meal in my youth was a daily event, providing an opportunity for family and friends to nourish not only the body but also the soul. The family meal,a daily necessity, is made pleasurable by providing comfort, companionship, and a time to share the day’s events. Other cultures may also enjoy the tradition of dinner with family and friends at the table, but I shall leave that for others to discuss. My experience is in America and in Italy.The influence of my parents and later in life my husband, who was born in Argentina, reinforced in me the importance of time at the table as being just as important as genuine foods. The Italian dining experience I believe is worth noting, studying and adopting, for in many ways, it has the potential to alleviate or diminish many of the ills of modern society. It is this daily ritual whose significance is often overlooked, that plays a most noteworthy role in the civilization of acountry, its values, family life, mores, mannerism and social standing. The positive virtues of eating together at a table was practiced for centuries from Etruscans and Romans to the 21st century.

Today’s accelerated life style unfortunately has begun to create culinary blackouts even in Italy, butat a much slower pace then any other country in the industrial world. On a food culture scale Italy and America are at opposite ends. In Italy 90% of the families practice convivio, eating at least one meal at the family dinner table.
At the other end of the world scale is America which is quickly losing the sight of the table and where about 30% of its inhabitants eat at least one meal a day in a vehicle, often designed for eating.

Studies have demonstrated that an individual’s emotional, physical, and psychological status often can be correlated to their time at the dinner table. Delinquency, criminal acts, poor scholastic achievements, and even obesity show a significant universal orrelation to those that fail to eat at the family table. I often wonder when hearing of a crime, particularly of a lone soul shooting aimlessly into a crowd, if it would have occurred if that individual had a meal a day with family and or friends to share stories, life, and maybe even problems. I worry about the child who wants to discuss the happenings of the day, but finds no parent to talk to at the dinner table. Besides life at the computer or television, poor school meals, fast food establishments, lack of exercise, can one of the causes of the increase in obesity be related also to the decline of life at the family dinner table?
Do soccer games and piano lessons have to take place during the dinner hour? As studies are beingmade to determine why the world is suffering from a major increased in depression, maybe it would warrant a study of the societies were it occurs at a slower pace. Could individual problems be lessened, corrected, or eliminated, if one could enjoy table time on a daily basis with family or friends?

The positive virtues of the Italian dining experience as well as the negative results observed as they unfortunately gradually move away from the table, leads me to believe that it is time to get back to the table. Needless to say it is difficult with the demands of family, business, social obligations, pressures of society, and time factors. But for those that say, the family dinner is impossible, one should consider problems that may occur in the future which could be more time consuming then an hour daily at the table.It is not my intention to replace other activities one may do as a family, but the daily time at the table without tension or distractions can prove to be most rewarding.

Never would I imagine that the 500 year old abandoned farm house I saw while visiting Tuscany, Italy in 1985 would become a home, a cooking school, and a B&B, enriching my life with convivio. Unknowingly until recently, convivio in our family was a precursor for me to seek a life around the table with family and friends. The experience of sharing life adventures,companionship, along with social interactions and genuine foods leads many of our guests to express their desire to reinforce bonding with family and friends around the table when returning back to their country. Stories would never have been know if I gave our guests a key to their room along with coffee and croissants for breakfast instead of inviting them to our Italian table.

I feel fortunate to have been born, raised, educated and given the opportunity to experience freedoms of the most unique country in the world, America. I am proud to be an American and all that my native country has given me. But, when comparing cuisines and dining experiences, I feel fortunate to have had parents, immigrants from Italy, who allowed me to experience the two principle ingredients of their culinary traditions, food culture and convivio, ( table life) enriching me with the best of two worlds. My parents, and later in life, my husband, emphasized besides the need of genuine ingredients, an ingredient of the mediterranea diet often neglected in many societies, convivio, the pleasure of the dining table, so important in Italian culture.

It was this most important ingredient, often neglected today when defining the mediteranean diet that led me to share my personal experiences around the table and the difference between two cultures, with the emphasis on the joy of eating Italian style. As food cultures even in Italy and France are changing so are their problems augmenting which proves to me the importance of getting back to the table.Time to tell the soccer coach,”sorry it is dinner time”.