Tag Archives: growing up Italian Australian

Polpette and peas in gravy…

Polpette and peas in gravy, such an ‘Australitaliano’ combination – meatballs and peas in tomato sauce. Comfort food at its best. Nanna Francesca cooked this a lot (and when I was a kid, I found it a bit confusing that, being southern Italian, she called the tomato passata or sugo – ‘gravy’ considering my Australian Mum called gravy a deep-brown liquid accompanying a roast). Nanna Francesca would’ve been 95 today so it seems fitting to cook her polpette e piselli in gravy. We always celebrated her birthday on the 12th, the day she was born though the official date on her birth certificate was the 19th (lodged late as her parents argued who to name her after). Tradition won, as did her father, and being the first-born, Francesca was named after her paternal grandmother.

This photograph of Nanna Francesca isn’t the clearest unfortunately, but she just looks so natural and happy in it, I couldn’t go past it. It’s from the 1960s and I love how the flowers she holds look like they’re from a garden rather than bought. It seemed all her life she worked so hard – at the farm, at home, in the fruit shop and milk bar, at the ANFE club and always looking after family. And she spent many hours at the stove cooking for four generations of us. It’s lovely to see her dressed to go out and given some flowers.

While it’s almost twenty years she’s been gone, I feel lucky to have had her in my life for the time I did and of course, the memory of our loved ones lives on, especially when we cook the dishes they cooked. (I’ve included the recipe that was printed in Delicious magazine and yes, the dish they made for the article photo is much more elegant than my at home version you see pictured here!)

Buon compleanno a mia Nonna, with love and recognition for all your love and hard work – and your polpette and peas in gravy! xx

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At the end of the year…

“On Boxing Day, Annibale, Francesca and the others loaded the back of the Chevrolet with cold drinks, some roast chickens and a couple of large watermelons. After several years of keeping the fruit shop and milk bar open almost every day, Annibale had decided they’d close for a couple of days over Christmas and the family would head to the beach for the day…

They chose a grassy spot in the stippled shade of a Norfolk Pine and set out the Esky on top of an old canvas tarpaulin. Maddalena and Vitale sat on fold-out chairs in the shade while everyone else headed for the beach. The sand was rough with bits of broken shell underfoot but it was a perfect day for the seaside, warm, with little wind, sunlight glinting on the water. Francesca hadn’t stood on a beach since her childhood in Palmi. Just the sound of the gentle waves breaking in little bubbly ripples around her feet brought a smile. None of them could swim but they only went in waist-deep, crouching and talking, ducking under at times to cool their heads.

At noon, Maddalena waved everyone in, and they traipsed up the beach for lunch. Towels wrapped about their waists, they sat on the edge of the tarpaulin, feet caked with wet sand sticking out onto the grass. Everyone devoured pieces of roast chicken, licking salt and grease from their fingers, before biting into slices of watermelon, the sugary juice flooding their mouths. Remo and a few of the young migrants who’d come with them competed in how far they could shoot black seeds from between their lips onto the grass.

After lunch, while the others went to get an ice cream or for another dip in the sea, Annibale lay back on the tarp snoozing, one arm flung over his eyes. The waves slapped with calming monotony. Children shrieked in their games along the sand. Seagulls strolled, squabbled and scooped water into their beaks at the water’s edge. With a chuckle, Francesca took a photo as Annibale dozed, unaware. Then she sat down next to him, watching Remo and Lorenzo building a sandcastle with a moat. There was no way the incoming tide would fill it until they’d long gone back to Brisbane. Francesca felt so happy being at a beach again she didn’t want it to end.”

From, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar.

(Nonno Anni at Suttons Beach, Redcliffe.)

Like so many migrants running their own businesses, for years, my grandparents worked every day, including nights and weekends to keep their fruit shop and milk bar open from 7am to 11pm, and after several years of no holidays at all, only had a one-day holiday at the beach each year for decades. I will forever be inspired by their work ethic and have so much respect for all those migrants working hard in the same situation today. Grazie con molto rispetto. Zoë xx

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Oranges and Christmas…

Nonno Anni told me when he received an orange for Christmas during his childhood in the 1920s, he treasured it. I knew he and his Mum were poor and village life in Italy was hard at that time, especially with his father far away in Australia to seek work, but an orange… I couldn’t quite believe it when I found this out as a child in the 1970s and oranges were so easy to get then. But fresh oranges were considered treasures before refrigeration and faster transport. Especially at Christmas considering that since ancient times, oranges have been said to bring joy, good luck and to ward off evil. (What must Nonno Anni have thought once he had a whole display of oranges at his fruit shop and milk bar!)

So, with Christmas oranges in mind, I decided to bake an orange cake since it’s that time of year and it wasn’t until making it that I realised, this one cake of simple ingredients is also made up of elements from several generations… the Christmas orange story from Nonno’s Italian childhood, the cake tin well-used in baking for countless cake stalls and Australian country shows before my mother-in-law handed it onto us, the orange cake recipe in her mother’s 1930s cookbook, also passed on to us with affection. (And I love how the recipe’s first line is, three eggs and their weight in sugar…)

If I’m honest, Christmas isn’t always the easiest time for me as it feels bittersweet with the happiness of those present mingled with the quiet of those unable to be or now gone. But food is so special in that certain dishes can trigger those lovely memories of people dear to us no matter how long it may be since we’ve seen them and this year, I feel happy that oranges can bring that little bit of sunshine.

Warmest wishes and thank you for your lovely support and messages throughout the year. May 2020 be filled with light and some happiness no matter what else it may bring! Wishing you tante belle cose – many beautiful things, Zoe xx

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When the past catches you…

Doing things like an Italian you’d never have thought you would when growing up…

“Putting on the tree net to protect the figs.”

Yes, I did this last weekend and those familiar with Mezza Italiana will know there was a time I would never have imagined myself doing so. (Not sure my modest tree and net is any match for Nonno Anni’s past efforts! Although I think Roger’s makeshift stake of a star picket and old piece of hose is in keeping with honouring making do and not letting anything go to waste – no matter how it looks!) 😁😊💛

 

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