Category: Memories

Memories of an Italian American Thanksgiving

italian style thanksgivingI will always have fond memories of celebrating Thanksgiving with my parents and our relatives. My Dad was born in Italy and came to America at the age of 13. He lived with relatives who also emigrated from Italy before the Great Depression.  My Mother was first generation American and she also had relatives from Italy. However, since Thanksgiving is strictly an American holiday, it was extremely important to my parents and relatives because they wanted to be everything AMERICAN.

Immigrants arrived at Ellis Island in the early 1920’s and they were shuttled by ferry across New York harbor to meet up with relatives who had already settled in here.  I loved to hear their stories of how they felt when they arrived at Ellis Island. They would literally have tears in their eyes as they explained the joy, excitement, and the anticipation of life in America when they first set eyes on the Statue of Liberty. I think they knew more about the history of that statue, our American laws, than most Americans born in this country.

They didn’t speak English, but worked hard to learn the language. Most of them settled in New York City and sought employment immediately. Some became bricklayers, bridge builders, street cleaners, cart pushing vendors selling their wares. Others were artists, craftsmen, chefs and tradesmen.

This was a wonderful time in our country, when immigrants came from all over the world to build their lives in this symbol of opportunity. All of them became American citizens, as soon as they were eligible. On the day my father earned his citizenship and pledged allegiance to this country, he said it was the most important day in his life. Those were the stories I would hear as a child around the dinner table at my Thanksgiving dinners.

Our dinner was a feast to behold.

The women would prepare every conceivable dish that would depict the tradition of Thanksgiving. Many of them had never fixed a turkey or made gravy for the turkey. Some of the dishes, like mashed potatoes and stuffing, would have Italian seasonings added such as Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese and homemade Italian sausage. You can see my Mom’s Italian Style Turkey Suffing Recipe.

The meal would start with Antipasto (Italian appetizer), which is a salad mixture of Italian salami, cheeses, ham, artichokes, mushrooms served with a vinaigrette dressing. Because some of the older men in the family missed their Italian meals, the women would even fix a pasta dish with meat sauce and meatballs and then we would start on “the turkey meal”.

It was fun to bring my American friends to our Thanksgiving dinners. Even though I would warn them not to eat too much at the beginning (I didn’t tell them ahead of time what the menu was) many didn’t pay attention as the Italian food was so delicious. Little did they know that the traditional American Thanksgiving meal was yet to come! Needless to say, we would be at the dinner table for a long, long time.

I feel blessed to have these memories and to have been raised in a family that instilled in me a devotion to the greatest country in the world, AMERICA!  A happy and bountiful Thanksgiving to you all!

Mother’s Day Message – A Tribute To “Ma”

mothers day messageMy Mother passed away seven years ago, just two months before her 92nd birthday and to this day I still miss her very much.

My Mother, I called her “Ma”, was born to immigrant parents from Italy on March 20th, 1910. She grew up in Hell’s Kitchen on Manhattan’s west side, a melting pot of immigrants at the turn of the century. I loved to hear her tell stories of those days growing up in New York City with gaslights, trolley cars, and food vendors pushing their carts on every street corner. Those were my bedtime stories that I fondly recall to this day.

She would tell me about her parents saving quarters to put in the light meters in order to have light for the evening.  I could also visualize her Mother, my grandmother, shopping for fresh produce from the food vendor on the street outside their tenement. Ma would depict for me how my grandfather walked everyday to his business (he was a shoemaker), in fact, he made my first baby shoes. Little did he know he could have been the first Ferrigamo!

Ma was the eldest of five children, two sisters and two brothers. Her oldest brother died a tragic death at the age of 18 in a drowning accident on the 4th of July. I grew up never being able to go swimming or be near water on that date. Interestingly enough, I chose the 4th of July for my wedding date which surely kept everyone away from the water hole that day!

Ma was a high school graduate and married right after graduation. She was a devoted wife and a wonderful parent to her two daughters. She was accepting of all people, tolerant of those who bucked the conventional culture, and extremely patient with the younger generation. This made her an exceptionally great grandmother to her 4 grandchildren who adored and respected her tremendously. Her greatest happiness was her grandchildren and she gave them unconditional love and they returned that love tenfold.

I contribute my love of cooking to my Mother who taught me at an early age the ways around the kitchen.

She never seemed perturbed or stressed if I made a mess, or over chopped or spilled something. If you made a mess, we would just clean it up and get on with it. “No big deal“, my Ma would say.

The aromas in her kitchen were tantalizing and tempted anyone in the house to eagerly go to the dinner table waiting to enjoy her meals. She used only fresh, just purchased that day, ingredients. She never heard of preservatives, non-fat, and processed. Even her poultry was bought straight from the chicken coop where she would pick out the chicken she wanted to roast that evening and the “chicken man” would slaughter the chicken right then and there and plucked the feathers and clean and dress the fresh hen. Boy, that was quite a sight for me to see as a young child, but she would explain that would be the freshest and best tasting chicken we could have and of course, she was right!

I attribute Ma’s longevity to her laid back attitude and the fact that she also walked everywhere. She never learned to drive a car and would walk for all of her errands.  In her later years she continued this practice and would love to walk her grandchildren to the candy store to buy treats. She loved gardening and truly had a green thumb and I was fortunate to learn from her a love of nature and gardening.

My Mother’s favorite things in life were her family, her children, her grandchildren and providing us all with her love and support. She brought such joy to our lives. Ma, Happy Mother’s Day!

Childhood Memories of Lent and Easter

easter eggs

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, which means it is 40 days until Easter Sunday. As an adult Catholic, I believe this is the most important holiday we celebrate. Without Christ sacrificing himself on the cross for our souls, we would not have a religion.

During Lent we fast, we abstain, we renew ourselves, we do penance and we pray.

The week preceding Easter is Holy Week, which consists of Holy Thursday, Good Friday (the solemn day that Christ was crucified) and then Lent ends on midnight, Holy Saturday, the day of penance. On Easter Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of Christ. This is a very joyous day for all Christians.

Being raised in a Catholic Italian home, Easter was a holiday that we joyfully celebrated.

Fasting meant eating fish on Friday and as a child who didn’t like fish, this was a sacrifice. Abstinence, to me as a child, meant giving up something I truly loved. Penance meant going to confession and confessing my sins. For me as a child it usually was “I fought with my sister and pulled her hair”.

It was a time of buying a very special outfit to wear to church on Easter Sunday. Mothers’ would be busy planning a special Easter meal and baking and cooking the once a year treats. Easter bread and sausage pie (recipe posted) come to mind. They also had to prepare meatless dishes on Fridays aside from fish and they would come up with some delicious meals. I plan to post several of our meatless dishes that Mom made and I think you will enjoy making them, not just during Lent, but all year round.

The most difficult part of Lent for me was giving up something I loved.

Like most children, that sacrifice usually it was candy. Just think, no candy for 40 days and the store shelves would be stocked with chocolate covered marshmallow bunnies, milk chocolate bunnies with long ears, and my all time favorite yellow marshmallow chicks. Oh, how I craved those chicks and wished they would be in my Easter basket. I would longingly gaze at the shelves with the marshmallow chicks. My Aunts would make Easter baskets for my sister and me. They would always be filled to the brim and, of course, my little yellow marshmallow chicks would be there.

When I became a parent, I lovingly made my son, John, and daughter, Allison, their Easter baskets and filled them with all their favorite goodies. Now that they are adults with children of their own, I know they carry on the same tradition and the heritage of our Easter Sundays.

I wish you all a joyous and Happy Easter!