Tag Archives: Roseto degli Abruzzi

Abruzzo and my mother

Abruzzo is never far from my mind.  I am planning a trip of my own later this year. But, as always in April, my thoughts turn to my late mother Louise Pergolini Tucker. She would have been 89 this week. Not only was she born on the 10th of April but she also died on her 81st birthday. So the date holds even more significance and bitter-sweet memories.

Ironically, our mother never visited Abruzzo, but she was our link to her parent’s place. We are connected by a long line of people with the names of Pergolini, DeAngelis, Mezzacappa, DiRocco, Fagà, Marini, Marani, Ettore, Tassone. Villages like Morro d’Oro, Rosburgo, Montepagano, Montorio al Vomano, Notaresco, Scoppito, Roio Piano and more.

Through the years photos kept our migrant grandparents in touch with their family. Travel was not easy, money was short.

The first picture below shows our great-grandmother Sofia DeAngelis with her youngest child Vittorio Pergolini taken in Roseto degli Abruzzi. Vittorio was born in 1910, a year after his older brother (my grandfather Giovanni – John ) left for America. The brothers met 50 years after this photo was taken. Four of Sophia’s six children emigrated to ‘L’America’.

The next photo is of our mother’s grandfather Nicola Mezzacappa,  from Morro d’Oro, Abruzzo, pictured on the front porch steep at Thompson Street, Philadelphia in the 1940s. He left his wife behind until he got settled, then sent for his family, which included my grandmother.

The third photo shows the brothers:my grandfather John, my grandmother Anna Mezzacappa and Zio Vittorio. It was taken in Rome when John and Anna made their one-and-only trip back to Italy in 1963. The brothers first met on this trip.

The last photo shows more of Louise’s Abruzzo influences. Her own mother, our grandfather’s brother’s wives and a neighbour at a beach house in Delaware, cleaning up after a clamming expedition and meal, no doubt.

Click for a slideshow of images.

Vittorio Pergolini Sofia DeAngelis

Vittorio and mother Sofia, Roseto degli Abruzzi

Nicola Mezzacappa

Nicola Mezzacappa, from Morro d’Oro to Philadelphia

Anna and John united in Rome with Vittorio, 1963

Anna and John united in Rome with Vittorio, 1963

Pergolini women

The women cleaning up after a fish dinner.

It’s almost unfathomable to us now, with ease of travel and modern communication methods, that brothers could not meet until they were in their 50s and 60s. But they wrote affectionate letters and sent photos back and forth to maintain the relationship. Thanks to the relationships they kept, some of us have been fortunate to meet our mother’s cousins and their children and grandchildren. The journey of discovery, not only of our family, but of the beautiful rich culture of Abruzzo, continues.

For all of our mother’s modernity, forging her way in the new world, there was no denying her Italian roots. Last year, before I started this blog, I wrote on my other blog about Louise’s love of Mussels. Soon after, on this blog I wrote about the connection with her heritage symbolised by the dish Scripelle ‘Mbusse. Food is surely the biggest connection to ones heritage.

I’m reminded of Louise’s resistance to make lasagne because it was so labour intensive. After all she had six children, a part-time job as a nurse and a home to run. But we always convinced her to make lasagne for special occasions. She didn’t make her own pasta though. No, she was a modern woman who knew where to buy the good stuff!

Her lasagne was truly worth the wait. She never used a recipe. Feeding a large family was intuitive for her. For quantities, she worked back from how many people she needed to feed on the occasion. Then she doubled it in case any unexpected guests arrived. Nothing could be more embarrassing than to run out of food!

Louise’s lasagne was a tightly packed, multi-layered affair, and in hindsight was more like a timballo. Traditionally a timballo from the Teramo region is made with super-thin crepes (screpelle) instead of pasta. However, Louise used layers of fresh egg pasta, mozzarella, a homemade tomato sugo (starting with ‘un soffritto’ of garlic, olive oil, carrot, celery, onion and herbs) with minced (ground) beef, some vegetables like zucchini or eggplant if in season and topped with more mozzarella and pecorino cheese.

It’s surprising that I don’t have a photo of my mother’s famous lasagne to show here. Maybe one of my siblings has a photo of the Christmas table to share. If you’re reading guys, send me your photos!

Instead of Louise’s lasagne I will show you our modern American mother of Italian heritage, caught between cultures and managing both with great legs, and a martini…or two. Salute!

Louise at age 38 or so, already the mother of 5.

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.

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.

Bringing Abruzzo Home

Saragolla wheat pasta and lentils from Santo Stefano

Sharing a meal of eggplant parmigiana accompanied by saragolla wheat pasta from Morro D’oro and lentils from Santo Stefano Sessanio

Normally, at home in Australia we pride ourselves on how lucky we are to have a great climate (mediterranean, in the case of Adelaide) which gives us access to a variety of fresh local food and produce, year round.  Living by the low food miles philosophy is possible here. Sometimes I break from the philosophy, particularly when I come back from Italy laden with goodies as I did this year.

Legions of migrants have enriched Australian food culture enormously. One of the earliest ‘foreign’ cuisines in Australia was Italian and it is still much loved here resulting in formerly exotic varieties of fruits, vegetables and other ingredients being quite common now. We have great producers of  Italian-style meats, cheeses, wines, pastas and sweets. Siamo fortunati! We are lucky.

My recent trip to Italy was impulsive,  brief (for me) and truly enlightening. I’ve been to the Abruzzo region in central Italy many times now but this last time I felt that I connected in a more meaningful way. It’s always my aim when I travel to immerse myself in all a place has to offer in the way of history, culture and local tradition. Nothing speaks more of cultural patrimony than what people grow, raise, produce and consume.

In Santo Stefano Sessanio, near L’Aquila, high up in the mountains of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga, we ate at a restaurant, Il Ristoro degli Elfi. The Lentil soup alone was worth the trip, and we complimented our hosts Anna and Silvan on its flavour and delicacy. After finishing our meal and settling the account, our hosts presented my fellow diners and I with a bag of lentils each.  We had eaten Slow Food designated lentils, and as well as being restaurateur, Silvan Fulgenzi was the grower of the lentils.  So we were eating at the source.

The lentils of Santo Stefano Sessanio

The lentils of Santo Stefano Sessanio – produce by Silvan Fulgenzi

At my wonderful and quirky little B & B in Roseto degli Abruzzi, my grandfather’s hometown,  I was lucky to befriend the owner, Lucia Simioni.  She is passionate about the Abruzzo region and all it has to offer in the way of art, historic hill towns, ancient ruins and interesting initiatives by local people. She has a wonderful garden full of flowering plants and herbs all of which she obtained from a local supplier –  a medicinal botanical garden and agricultural enterprise near the tiny town of Morro D’oro, where my grandmother came from. One day we made an appointment to visit the garden.

The beautiful Giardino Officinale (Orto Botanico Azienda Agricola) with its small classroom and shop, is run by the friendly and knowledgable  Filippo Torzolini.  If you have been to the Abbey at Santa Maria di Propezzano then you were very close.  Filippo opens the gardens, classroom and shop to students and visitors interested in learning about the medicinal value of plants. Products made from plants, such as essential oils and flower-infused liquors and cordial drinks are available.  Filippo also told us about their pasta manufactured from the ancient grain Saragolla. This grain had fallen out of fashion, but he is now growing and producing various pasta shapes. I bought a few bags to try.

Saragolla Pasta

Saragolla Pasta

Click the photos below to see a slide show.

When I returned to Australia I had a cache or lovely Abruzzo products to share with my loved ones. As well as the pasta and lentils I had saffron from Barisciano, also near L’Aquila. And I was armed with techniques and ideas for meals to share.

Other bloggers have sung the praises of Abruzzo producers who are passionate about retaining their long history of gastronomy and I want to add my voice to the chorus that salutes their efforts. I urge you to read my new friend and fellow blogger Michelle’s recent post on this topic at Majella Home Cooking.

We are fortunate to have wonderful products in Australia to cook with and we owe a lot to our Italian migrants who have kept up traditions that bind families and communities together. May we be fortunate enough to go back to the source often. Buon appetito e salute a tutti!

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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.