Tag Archives: family

Roseto degli Abruzzi – finalmente

Reaching Roseto degli Abruzzo is easy from Rome. There is a Baltour ticket window at Tiburtina Station. Buses depart in morning, midday and late afternoon and take about 2 and a half hours.

On departing Tiburtina, you’re soon out of the built up urban area and the scenery changes from light industrial to rural. The Apennine mountains appear quickly in the distance then suddenly you are amongst them, going through tunnels and coming out to a different world on the other side. It’s wild and rugged and lush and green. After a while, the scarred city of L’Aquila appears with more cranes on the horizon than I can count. Signs of the ‘terremoto’, earthquake, of April 2009 are clearly visible.

Soon the mountains give way to hills and I get my first glimpse of the Adriatic Sea. My grandfather, Giovanni Pergolini couldn’t talk about the bounty of the Adriatic without welling up with tears. I smile remembering him.

I am greeted by my great friend Lucia at the station where the bus me off, and we go to her B&B for an aperitivo and spuntini (a glass of wine and some nibbles).

After a swim and a shower I wander up to the centre of Roseto to see my cousin Walter at his shop, the Cartolibreria D’Ilario. Near closing time, Adriana, Walter’s wife, arrives to ride home with him. We chat. I ask her where to get the best gelato in town and she points me in the direction of her favourite, a family business that is pumping with holiday-makers, even at 10.30 on a weeknight.

At Gelateria Mario Magrini, undeterred by the crowd, I wait until my number comes up. I choose lemon, a classic benchmark for gelaterie everywhere, and a local seasonal flavour called Fichi di Montepagano which is fig from the local hilltop village where my grandfather and generations of the Pergolini and De Angelis families were born. The lemon is perfectly tart and the fichi rich and creamy, but not overly sweet. I ponder the number of trees that must be on that hillside surrounding the medieval village of Montepagano.

Walter has told me that his sister is in Roseto for a few weeks to enjoy the end of summer with her daughters and granddaughters. I have never met Gabriella and I’m excited at the prospect of meeting more cousins.

The next day I pedal up to see Walter again and Gabriella arrives at the same time with her charming and cheeky little granddaughter. I promise to go to the house later and meet the rest of the family who were holidaying together.

I have now met six more cousins: Gabriella, who is my mother’s first cousin’s daughter, plus her two daughters, two granddaughters and a son-in-law. We share family stories, look at old photos and dine on pizza and beer. I return to Lucia’s tired and happy after a short stroll along the beachfront. The moon is full and I have a stupid grin on my face. I really like these new cousins and I’m more motivated to continue to improve my Italian.

It’s so comfortable staying with Lucia, who makes all her guests feel at home with lovely touches like cake on the breakfast table! ‘Il ciambellone’ is a typical ‘dolce delle nonna’, a real nonna specialty. The recipe varies in each family. Lucia’s is divine. I’ll post a recipe soon.

Click any picture for a slide show.

I’m ready to settle in happily for a few days. But I’m registered to attend Athena International Italian Language School and the Abruzzo town of Lanciano is calling me…

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Return to Italy

Flying across to Rome

Flying across to Rome

There’s a sense of excitement when you look out the window and can clearly see the place where you are headed, like flying into Sydney and seeing the iconic Opera House or into JFK and seeing the Manhattan skyline. And two weeks ago when I flew to Rome, we crossed over southern Greece then headed up the Adriatic coast of Italy.

The heel of Italy was clearly visible and I could see small settlements where all of the building looked white. Soon I could make out the Gargano Peninsula which is in the northern reaches of Puglia near the border with Molise. Just north I could then see the mountains of Abruzzo as the plane banked left towards Rome. My face broke into a grin that I couldn’t wipe off. I thought, “Che fortunata”, how lucky am I.

My sweet cousin Marina and her daughter Giulia met me at Rome’s Fiumicino airport. Giulia had to go to work soon so we dropped her at the train and continued to Marina’s apartment on the ‘periferia’, the outskirts of Rome. Their apartment is large and airy and so welcoming after the long journey.

Flying across to Rome

These trees tell you that you’re in Italy

As luck would have it Marina was able to settle me in before she had to go off for a late shift at work. She needed to pick up some groceries so I went with her to the supermercato. I was like a kid in a lolly shop, checking out all of the pasta brands and salume and cheeses.

After a good night’s sleep and a strong cup of coffee, I headed into the centre of Rome to buy an Italian SIM card for my phone since I am in Italy for 2 months.  Then, after enduring the 36 C heat (102 F) I managed to cool down for a bit in the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, the National Gallery of Modern Art, just to the north and west of Villa Borghese.

Amongst other things, the gallery includes Renato Guttuso’s black and white study for ‘La Vucciria‘, a painting that evokes all the colour, sights and smells of the marketplace of the same name in Palermo. I was temporarily transported to Sicily.

On the way out I spied another painting, this one quite sentimental in its style and subject, Gli Emigranti or The Emigrants, by Angelo Tommasi. The picture represents the great era of Italian Emigration when millions of Italians were desperate for a new life due to poverty and political unrest. My mother’s parents were both part of this great exodus from Italy and it’s easy to imagine the little girl in the centre of the painting as my nonna Anna Mezzacappa from Morro d’Oro in Abruzzo.

I felt profoundly sad looking at Gli Emigranti and rested on a bench in the museum until I could contain my tears. Part of that sadness stems from the knowledge that there is another crisis for young people in Italy today. I have spoken with many (including young Giulia in Rome) who are looking to leave for mostly economic reasons. We in the new world have a romanticised view of life in Italy.

So here I am in Italy once again, on a voyage of discovery of the language, food, lore and traditions of my mother’s family, but also to better understand modern Italy. A few months will not give me a deep understanding, but I know this isn’t my last trip…

Andiamo. Let the adventure begin!

John (Giovanni) Pergolini – my grandfather the tailor

Two recent articles have inspired me to write about my late grandfather John Pergolini, longtime tailor.

First, a review of a documentary about Italian tailors, which I have yet to see (Men of the Cloth – a film by Vicky Vasilopolos). The review is written by fellow Abruzzophile Helen Free on the Abruzzo Blogger Community site.

Second, an article on Teramonews.com details honours given to the 105 year old Master Tailor (Maestro Sarto) Altobrando Rapagnà in the little village of Montepagano, in the Teramo region of Abruzzo, my grandfather’s and Maestro Rapagnà’s home town.

My big sister Ann and I have great memories of our grandfather (Pop Pop we called him) and his wonderful creations. Nowadays we live on other sides of the world from one another (thank heavens for Skype, eh) but we share a love of family history. Being close in age, we have many similar memories.

Ann recently told me that it was Pop Pop who encouraged our mother Louise to buy a sewing machine for us when we were pre-teens because Ann had already expressed a wish to learn to sew. We both took lesson from the local Singer Sewing Machine school but Pop Pop taught us the real secrets to good tailoring and how to properly finish our work. He would magically pull a bit of thread out and unfurl your morning’s work, telling you to do better if your sewing was not to his standard. He was incredulous that we had learned how to make buttonholes with a machine and not by hand!

Family legend goes that Pop Pop refused to make our mother’s wedding dress because he was worried he wouldn’t do a good job. The lace and other fabric for the dress had been a gift from a family friend in the cloth trade and was quite valuable. When Louise went to her final fitting the day before the wedding Pop Pop went with her. He was not happy with the outcome. They accepted the dress then once at home, Pop Pop took it apart and remade it, cursing in Italian that he should have done it himself in the first place.

Ann and I have been to Italy many times now, together and separately. We’ve met cousins and uncles and exchanged stories, picking up more information and language on each visit. Although we have both studied Italian, we are far from fluent. We were telling a cousin about our grandfather’s habit of always touching our clothing (or our friend’s clothing) to decide the quality of the cloth. If Pop Pop liked the fabric he would say in English, with his thick accent “nice-a  stuff-a”. We learned that day in Italy that the Italian word for fabric or material or cloth was ‘stoffa’.  All along he had been speaking Italian to us but we had never realised it! How much more did we miss?

When we were small, we would often have a new outfit of clothing at Easter and Christmas, mostly overcoats and snow pants made of wool which Pop Pop had leftover from big bolts ordered for his home tailoring business.  We might be lucky to have a bit of pale blue wool and some navy trim on a lightweight wool jacket, or a tweed winter coat, hat and snow pants that we could zip at the leg to put on over our shoes. I’ll never forget some of the great outfits we had and some of my mother’s fabulous coats and jackets.

Below I’m sporting a coat, pants and hat fit for a Pennsylvania winter!

Me at about age 3 in one of Pop Pop's creations. A winter coat and snow pants fit for a Pennsylvania winter.

Me at about age 3 in one of Pop Pop’s creations

After my grandparents were both gone, some of Pop Pop’s old artefacts such as tailoring tools, a button box and old photos from the Italian Tailors Beneficial Society of West Philadelphia’s annual dinner dance, ended up with Ann.

Being clever and an artist, Ann has made a few ‘oggetti d’arte’ to commemorate our grandfather and his ‘forbici d’oro’ – golden scissors. Click on any of the photos to enlarge.

A tailor can never give up his art and craft completely. Up to the age of 90 Pop Pop could be found at his local dry cleaner’s shop in Atlantic City New Jersey where he had retired after our grandmother died. Sitting by the sewing machine he would replace missing buttons and repair buttonholes by hand.

Right up to his death at age 93, Pop Pop put on his suit each day. Under his lapel he always had hidden two sewing needles. In his pockets were a thimble and a scrap of paper wound with some black and some white thread. He was always ready.

Now, the art and craft of the tailor may be endangered. Let’s hope it’s not.

The simple things

Out of sheer necessity, my mother Louise Pergolini, made simple meals at home. She was usually feeding anywhere from eight to 12 people each day.

When she knew she’d be home for a few hours, she’d often made a big stock pot of sugo, an all-purpose tomato sauce for pasta meals or braised meat dishes. It normally contained, depending on the season, whole fresh or tinned tomatoes, a soffritto of onion, carrot and celery (aka the holy trinity), a bit of fresh garlic, bay leaf, salt, pepper, dried oregano and basil plus a bit of red wine. Depending on what was in the fridge, it might have been enhanced with some spicy pork sausages or some pork ribs, or both. Or there may have been time to make meatballs, consigning a few of us kids to help form the little balls of pork and veal. Some of the sugo was for the evening meal and some was destined for the freezer to provide quick week-night meals.

Our stock pot was enormous and the long wooden stirrer was nearly immersed to reach the bottom. The smell was divine and us kids couldn’t resist nipping past with a corner of crusty white continental bread and dipping into the pot for a taste. I’m sure all mothers have ears in the back of their heads because Louise would sing out just as we dunked, “Hands out of the pot. There won’t be any left for dinner”.

Fast forward to 2014. The work week is busy for my husband and I, so when we have time in the kitchen together, we like to get a nice pot of sugo simmering. This weekend, it started with the soffritto of onion, carrot and celery. Then we browned some pork ribs procured earlier in the day from our Italian butcher, Marino Meats at the Adelaide Central Market. We added a few tins of whole tomatoes; some herbs – oregano, basil, thyme (both fresh and dried from our garden); a dash of Tempranillo (OK, it’s not Italian, but it was open!); garlic; red hot chillies from the garden and some dried pepperoncini. Everyone has a favourite recipe, probably like your grandmother’s with seasonal variations and accounting for heat.

While the sauce simmered away and filled the house with savoury aromas, Andrew got on to the pasta. A local grain grower Pankarra, stone mills their own wholegrain durum wheat. Combining the Pangkarra with equal parts of ’00’ flour from Molini Pizzuti we have found works well for different shapes of pasta. Add fresh eggs from our friend Ben’s chooks.

Salted water boiling, pasta in, garden-fresh parsley chopped, cheese grated and ‘voila!’, dinner.

Sometimes the simplest things are the most satisfying.

Uncle Mike’s Pizzelle

Our great uncle Michael Izzo married into the Mezzacappa family and acquired not only his wife, my great aunt Ethel, but four more sisters.  All potential suitors had to be scrutinised by our great grandfather Nicola Mezzacappa, who could be, by all accounts, somewhat frightening and very protective of his five daughters. So having passed muster, you knew he had to be a decent man.

My grandmother Anna, her older sister Maria Luisa and their parents were born in Morro d’Oro which is in the Teramo province of the Abruzzo region. The three younger sisters, Agnes, Filomena and Ethel, were born in Philadelphia after the family migrated in 1909. Like millions of migrants before and since, their food traditions were their connection to the motherland.

Uncle Mike was a warm man who loved food and his adopted family. From what I remember he was often in the kitchen helping his beloved Ethel.  It’s Mike’s pizzelle recipe that’s made its way from Abruzzo to Australia, via Philadelphia and Minneapolis.

Pizzelle are a typical sweet from Abruzzo. I have also heard them called cancelle or ferratelle. They are like a waffle but made thin and crisp. You can also form them into little cones as you take them off the iron (there’s a special wooden tool for this) while they are still pliable. But you have to be quick as they become crisp as they cool down.

My sister Annie acquired our grandmother’s pizzelle iron which had ended up with Mike and Ethel after our grandmother died. Uncle Mike dictated the recipe to Annie over the phone. She wrote it on a card and gave it to me on one of my trips to Minneapolis.

Irons for sale at the Wednesday market in Roseto degli Abruzzi

Irons for sale at the Wednesday market in Roseto degli Abruzzi

When we bought our pizzelle iron a trip to Roseto degli Abruzzi in 1998, we considered buying a modern electric one that makes two pizzelle at a time, but the single manual style was easier to transport around Europe and back to Australia.

On a recent Saturday we needed a light desert to serve with coffee and tea. August is still officially winter in Adelaide and pizzelle always remind me of winter, each one looking like a snowflake. So, my husband got out the trusty pizzelle iron and in no time had made the perfect post lunch treat.

Uncle Mike’s recipe calls for anise, and we usually split the recipe into two batches – in half the batter we substitute a splash of lemon and some lemon zest. I love both flavours.

IMG_2056

The master at work

With salted caramel ice cream!

Since we lack the tool to make cones (you can do it by hand) we just made ice cream sandwiches!

And here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

Uncle Mike’s Pizzelle

Ingredients

3 beaten eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup melted butter
2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-3 teaspoon anise seeds

Method

Heat the iron and brush or spray once with oil.
Drop a tablespoon at a time of batter onto the hot side of the iron (if using a manual iron).
Close the iron and cook for one minute.
Turn the iron over for 20 seconds or so to cook the other side thoroughly.
As the iron gets hotter, reduce the cooking time. You want each pizzelle to finish with a golden colour.
Place the cooked pizzelle on a cake rack to cool so they will crisp up.
Repeat until all batter is gone.
Once thoroughly cooled, pizzelle can be stored in sealed tins or containers for up to a month, if they last.

Italy ~ a nation of foodies

When in Italy, the conversation always turns to food. Whether on the bus, riding a bike along the lungomare (seaside esplanade), sitting on the train, waiting at the post office, at a coffee bar, with friends and family. It’s everywhere. There is talk about foods in season, the price of cheese, the colour of apricots, different types of tomatoes and their qualities, the preparation of a particular ingredient, legendary family cooks and their dishes, regional specialities. It is endless this talk. There is passion and memory and pride.

On occasion I manage to get photos of the foods I eat but sometimes I get so excited I dig right in completely forgetting the photos until after. Here are some images from my 10 days in my grandfather’s village, Roseto degli Abruzzi, in 2013.

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In one day as I went about my way in Roseto degli Abruzzo, I overheard these words:

Pranzo = lunch
Ai fungi = with mushrooms
Prosciutto = cured ham
Magre = thin (describing someone who did not ‘mangia’ enough)
Sale = salt
Mela = apple
Melanzana = eggplant
Salsicce = sausage
Frittura = fried, as in a frittura di pesce, a mixed fried fish dish (drool)
Sugo = sauce
Olio = oil
Piccante = hot (spicy)
Pasta = pasta or pastry, such as for baking
Limone = lemon
Pistaccio = pistachio
Alla braccia = on the grill
Al forno = in the oven

The speakers of these words were from all walks of life. Two men in business attire at a coffee bar discussed cooking salsicce alla braccia. An older woman and a young mother on the beach compared methods for making a torta di mela and the consistency of the pastry for the base. Two teenage girls expressed their love for the fritto misto (frittura di pesce) at a local beach restaurant. A vigorous discussion took place by the beach with three 20-something guys discussing the best gelateria in town. From the passion and the hand waving I was sure the discussion had to be about calcio (soccer/futbol), but no. A consensus was not reached in the end.

A friend waxed lyrical about her mother’s timballo and then invited me to lunch with the family. My Bed and Breakfast host Lucia and her husband Fernando have a penchant for the foods of Puglia and shared with me, amongst other things, the famous pasta and ceci. Simple, tasty, squisito.

Home cooks and restaurant chefs alike prepare food all over Italy with a long culinary history, simple ingredients and above all, pride. I am so fortunate to have shared their passion for good food, lovingly prepared.

Thank you Sabrina and her parents Elisa and Dorino, cousins Walter, Adriana, Stefano and Annamaria, as well as new friends and proprietors of Luci a’ammare, Lucia and Fernando.

I applaud the chef Carlo and staff at Il Covo del Pirata for being brave and serving raw fish antipasti. All dishes show flair and are well executed.

Also, mention goes to the old favourite, Lo Spizzico for great fried seafood and that Crema Catalan (Creme Brûlée). We’ll be back.

An Italian Obsession

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It started with a photo. My grandparent’s wedding photo.

I always had a sense that we were different. My mother’s parents had a funny accent when they spoke English and they talked real loud. My friends couldn’t understand our grandfather. I was used to it and explained that my Pop-Pop was Italian and that he was from ‘the Abruzzi’.

He did have a thick accent but we must have grown used to it. Mom-Mom not so much. Pop-Pop was only 13 when he arrived in America and he was already a tailor. His schooling lasted 3 years before he was taught a trade at age 9. Imagine that today. Mom-mom arrived with her mother and a one of her sisters to join their father who was already in Philadelphia. She went to high school and although Italian was the language of home, she was educated in English through her high school years in ‘l’America’.

But the photo. I was a little obsessed with it for some years. It seemed like something from another time and place than our rather normal Anglo existence, it was foreign and exotic and we just weren’t!

I don’t remember seeing the wedding photo until I was in High School, probably after my grandmother died and my grandfather sold up and moved to the Jersey shore. It turned up at my parent’s house amongst the possessions that Pop-Pop no longer needed in his tiny apartment on California Avenue, Atlantic City. He had been totally dedicated to Mom-Mom, Anna, who he referred to as ‘my Annie’. He survived another 18 years after she was gone.

But I digress. The photo was taken in 1922 in Philadelphia and I don’t know the other people in it other than my grandparents, the bride and groom. They were 9 years apart. My grandmother was only 18 and my grandfather 27 or so. The bride, bridesmaid and  flower girl have the best hats and the biggest flowers, but the little boy ring-bearer is just the funniest looking little fellow with wild hair that looks like he had recently tumbled out of bed.  They all look so serious.

I was reminded of this photo again when a fellow Italy obsessed blogger Debra recently posted a blog entry about a wonderful looking museum with equally great photos from the Museo Paolo Cresci in Lucca. Refer to the post here.

So, my lovely grandparent’s wedding photo started me on a journey to discover my Italian heritage. It encouraged me to visit Italy numerous times to meet my grandparent’s families and see their villages in Abruzzo and learn how to speak some sort of Italian!

I would love to hear what you think or if you have a story (or even an obsession) associated with a family photo.