Easter is one of my favorite holidays. Always was. I loved the change to Spring. The symbolism of rebirth through the resurrection of Christ. I even like watching the religious television movies, Jesus of Nazareth, The Robe etc.
What makes Easter such a special time of year is the deliciousness and sweetness of the pastry. My house of humble Calabrese origins, were never brought up on pizza ghiena, (pizza rustica) or wheat pie (grano).
We indulged in “Guti”. The sweet braided bread with an egg in the center.
In different parts of Calabria and all around Italy you will find different variations of “Guti” along with different names. “Cuzzupe, Cuddrura, Cugghuraci cuculi, etc…” I was shocked to go in bakeries and see these beloved breads encased around a colored egg. Although I found it pretty, my mother was skeptical of the dye that cold seep into the bread. I know that back in Calabria, in my parents’ day, the notion of dye didn’t even exist so why would they even consider changing their tradition to make us kids happy? Tradition is more important!
This year my mother and her friends made the “guti”. I walked in and saw that they were making “pitte” as well.
Pitte, if I haven’t already blogged about are fig filled pastry that are baked during the Christmas Season. I asked my mother’s friend Anna who incidentally is not Calabrese but is quickly becoming just as authentic as one can by association, what the deal is with the “pitte”? She said, “Hey we’re in America we can do anything, anytime of the year.” She’s right. Back in the day ingredients were sparse and only made available during the appropriate time of year. Now we can almost get anything we want even out of season.
I love “guti” especially the egg in the middle. Even though I always longed for an Easter basket I got “guti” instead. Hoping this year the Easter Bunny will bring me a basket of chocolate but somehow I think I’ll help up with “guti” 😉
Wishing fellow Italians and non Italians Buona Pasqua with a renewal of strength and spirit throughout the Easter Season. A very humble blessing and wish for my mother to continue on her road to recovery during this Holy time of year! As you can see she is back in action. Just the way we want her!
It’s the time of year after the holidays when we settle down for a long winter nap. Maybe for the average bear, but not for us Italians. While animals hibernate, Italians make sausages, sopressata, prosciutto and capicolla. It takes a few days during the month of January or February to prepare homemade sausage and salume. It takes about a month to dry cure and almost a year to consume.
As I document my parents homemade traditions, I decided to start a facebook page called Calabrese Nel Mondo so that Calabrese around the world can share their traditions and love of their homeland. I post photos from time to time and am happy to get a large response. Most comments are very endearing and it’s personally a sense of pride for me enable others to share.
One particular commentator passionately expressed his dismay that the process my family uses is not “authentic”. In fact the real method is to hand cut the meat finely instead of using a meat grinder. I loved reading all the comments including the remotely negative ones which I found to be inspiring instead of critical. It goes to show how passionate Italians are about keeping tradition alive.
I agree with the poster that the original method is the most authentic. I also know that in today’s world people are more apt to make life a little easier in every way. So if it means using a meat grinder makes us less authentic, well… I’ll accept if you find me blogging about hot dogs!
This past weekend my father and his apprentices as I like to call them went through the second phase of wine making. Two weeks ago they had already de stemmed the grapes and now the grapes were ready to be pressed. This particular day, we welcomed Chris Maggiolo a student writing his thesis on homemade wine making. He asked my father many questions about the process. Winemaking is one of my father’s greatest passions in life. He built a cantina for this sole purpose. Most would save their money for long vacations or luxury cars. For many Italian’s like my father they prefer this.
When he was growing up in Calabria, he couldn’t afford the luxury of making his own wine. He would join others and help. He said that when he goes to America and makes enough money he would make wine and share it with his friends. That he does. For the past several years a few guys including my brother have joined him; to watch, learn and indulge in one of life’s greatest pleasures. These guys are dedicated and work hard, probably not as hard as my father would like but hard nonetheless…:)
When Chris asked my father if he puts preservatives in his wine, my father scoffed at him. “Good grapes, a place like my cantina to store it and made just right is all you need.” It got me thinking of the process and how artificial additives are very common in wine and in life in general. Got me thinking about friends and wine and how it brings people together. With the right people, my Dad is able to make really good wine without any artificial substances because not only does he have the right tools, he has the right friends. How often can we say that when we encounter life’s up and downs?
Theoretically life is made of good and bad. A few bad grapes could ruin a batch but the good grapes inevitably overpower the bad ones.
My family has always been front and center in bringing people together. We open up our home and share our food and create memories that are far more important than anything I would ever imagine. How hard can that be when you have all the right ingredients in front of you? I hope Chris got what he was looking for this weekend, I know I did.
I love Fall. I love change of season. Recently it has been unseasonably warm and I love that too. My father has been cleaning up the garden and picking the remaining vegetables and fruit. The fig tree gave us this.
Everyone who knows anything about figs, know that they thrive in very warm climates. In Calabria, my family enjoyed the abundance of figs and according to anyone who has tasted a fig in Italy; it’s like nothing you ever tasted! These are a close second.
October is special month for me and my parents. They just celebrated 50 years in marriage. I’ll celebrate 6. Our wedding cake was decorated with figs, a special gift from our baker.
In Buddhist philosophy the fig tree has a sacred meaning for Buddhists. “According to Buddhist legend, the founder of the religion, Siddhartha Gautama or the Buddha, achieved enlightenment one day while sitting under a bo tree, a kind of fig tree.”
I’d imagine many Italians have experienced “Enlightenment” sitting under a fig tree. It may not be how Buddha did but nonetheless a profound sense of life and peace just sitting under a fig tree.
We have all heard that eating good food is great for your body and have various healing qualities. But I wondered today if that theory goes even further. Italian families typically bond over food and good old fashion Italian traditions. In my last blog I wrote about my father and uncle preparing the green olives. The next step was to soak the olives and rinse every day. Today my father was rinsing. My mother has always been in the forefront of the activities. However, as she has experienced some back issues her physical activities have been limited. She has gone through a lot these last few months and is slowly making her way back to herself. What I noticed is that today when she walked in the back yard, she came alive. Slightly. She ordered my father around on what he had to do and for at least ten minutes life felt like it was almost back to normal. You would wonder if a bitter olive can do all this. I believe that it can.
Which brings me to my original question. Is food healing in more ways than one? The answer. Yes. These traditions are about eating well but more for family and friends to spend time together and enjoy life. My mother has always been active and its important for her to get back to doing the things she loves. You won’t find her shopping at Barneys, drinking a cosmo, or flying to Vegas. Instead you will find her pressing olives, planting tomato seedlings from her last crop, jarring tomatoes and making sopressata.
This time next year she will back in the think of it with her good friend who incidentally has encountered health issues that has temporarily slowed them both down at the same time. Next year they will both be back! As any fellow Calabrese knows, we are made strong and tough!
Summer is officially over. The garden is producing far less vegetables but nonetheless some fresh tomatoes are still ripening. In fact my father has been preparing the seeds from the monstrous tomatoes for next year’s harvest.
But I digress. This posting is about two brothers; my father and my uncle. My father Vincenzo and his brother Domenic came from Italy together over 50 years ago. They married two sisters and owned a business together. Over the years they have experienced life like everyone else. The good, the bad and everything in between. What always stuck in my mind is how family sticks together and the theme of course revolves around food. However, it is not just eating meals together its about keeping their tradition.
This past week my father and uncle pounded and pitted bushels of green olives to prepare for the preservation in jars to be enjoyed throughout the year. Men of little words they were like two well oiled machines, cranking out pit after pit.
It got me thinking of how far people go to get the best and quality products and my Uncle is notorious for his great discoveries but it always include the participation of someone else.
It reminded me of the time he traveled from Arizona to Boston on a buddy pass. His bags made the flight. He didn’t. He called my cousin and said I am not on the flight but my bags are. He never told him what was in the luggage. He found out the hard way. He could barely lift the luggage which were neatly tied with rope (ya you real Italians know what I am talking about). He called his father and said what did you pack, rocks?? The luggage was filled with luscious green olives picked and delivered straight from the West Coast. After this experience, he offered to pay for shipment next time.
Yes, it is how far people will go for passion. Life’s circumstances can go either way; parting, distance, or simply choosing to live in your own isolated world. These two brothers chose family and their passion for good food is not just food it’s about sharing and keeping family close. I’d bet they wouldn’t realize the true meaning lying underneath all the work, but we do. Like my friend said years ago, cherish every olive because there was a lot of love put into each and every one.
Today is August 15, 2013. It’s Thursday. It’s another work day for most, a day of holy obligation if you are Catholic (Assumption Thursday), and if you are in Italy it’s a day of vacation and fun. Ferragosto is an important holiday in Italy. It is a day to spend with family and friends to relax, enjoy the sun and celebrate basically nothing – but life.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted, dealing with family and health and happy to say that things are looking up.
I realized that Ferragosto doesn’t exist in the States, no holiday really close to it other than Independence Day, perhaps? So I thought if we could have a day like Ferragosto, what would I do and what would we eat?
I’d definitely pack up the family and some friends and head out to the beach. Grabbing some fresh bread, garden tomatoes, cheese, sopressata, prosciutto, olives and homemade wine, and we are off to celebrate “nothing” but each other.
You don’t realize how hectic life is, especially living in the States. Personally I had to take time off and tend to family and it forced me to stop for a while. It made me realize how fast life is going by and how rarely we stop to appreciate each other. It also showed me who and what matters in my life and what really doesn’t.
There is something to be said about Italians. I understand that things are changing over in Italy as well, but holidays like Ferragosto will never stop. To relax is just as important as working. Spending time with family is as vital as breathing. So, every year when you look at your calendar on August 15. Take it as a signal like a Buddhist does when a bell rings – to stop, breathe and stay present. August 15 will remind you of what life should truly be about.