Antonuzza had to make the pasta everyday for lunch. When I say make the pasta, I mean roll out every strand by hand. Pasta was always the midday meal and the evening meal was carne (meat) and vegetables. To make the pasta Antonuzza and Gina (her sister) would go down to the mill and collect the doppio 0 flour or the double zero flour which was the finest. All morning the two girls would sit and chatter and roll the strips of pasta by hand while the rich tomato and meaty sauce would be slowly cooking for 2-3 hours.
The family would come home from school, the mill and the fields and gather around a big table. A huge platter of pasta is placed in the middle of the table and everybody has a fork and just tucks in. There was no place for the faint of heart. If you hesitated you wouldn’t get enough lunch. Everybody just twirled their forks into the mountain of pasta and ate till the mountain disappeared.
There was no time to twirl the pasta onto a spoon like the Australians or Americans did – only directly and deftly onto the fork. Salvatore always scoffed at people eating pasta with a spoon.
Gay Talese in 'Unto the Sons' , a memoir of his Calabrian tailor father moving to America remembers when his father said that he would have to learn how to eat pasta properly , without twirling it onto a spoon like other Americans did. Only uneducated people ate pasta with a spoon. I could never see the need to use a spoon as pasta so easily twirls naturally around a fork and it is such a great way to eat.
On feast days there was more work to do – cooking extra dishes like pasta et polpette (pasta and meatballs), melanzane ciene (stuffed eggplants) and of course preparing the goat. Nonno ( Monteleone) would kill a goat in the morning, Antonuzza would cook the meat into a thick pasta sauce with lots of chilli and by the afternoon it would be eaten. Nonna, describing the sauce would put her fingers to her lips and kiss the tips of her fingers saying “Beautiful”.
All the food would of course be complemented with the bread. Once a week was baking day down at the mill. There was an endless supply of flour from the family Molino. Thursdays was bread baking day and it took both girls all day to bake for the week. Nonna always was and aficionado of good bread. You always knew it was good bread when she gives the thumbs up. “Buono, questo pane es buono”. (Good, this bread is good_
Nonna worked very hard. Again it is hard to imagine when I drag Raffaela, my daughter out of bed at 11 on the weekends how a young girl had to work so hard from such a young age. One day she was so tired that she slept through the day which happened to be bread baking day. Her father came home to find that there was no bread. She of course got a walloping and there was no bread for the week.
After my years living in France and relishing the Parisian baguettes, I now can’t go past Italian peasant home wood fired bread. Many Italians in Sydney still have illegal wood fires in their back yards and reproduce wonderful bread. Now many Italian bakeries in Sydney provide, rosettas, mantovanis, ciabatta, foccaicia, crocannte but the Haberfield bakery is still the best. On a Sunday morning the queue of all the local Italians down the street is legendary.
Bread was baked down at the mill. Infact most things were made at the mill – bread, salami, wine, cheese, vinegar, dried beans, passata, curing olives and of course the flour was made at the mill. Everyday was a special day for some particular task. Each time I ask Nonna I get a different version of which day was for which activity, Monday and Thursday was bread baking day or just Thursday. Tuesday was for vegetables such as drying the beans.
I soon came to realise that the truth of these details didn’t matter. The only truth that mattered was the fact that these things were done. In the village in Nonna’s time, they made just about everything they needed. The vegetable garden and the terrano ( the farm plot) produced all vegetables needed – beans, bitter greees, potatoes, garlic, onions (Calabria is reknowed for its sweet onions), tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums, all manner of herbs – parsely, basil, oregano as well as fruit – oranges, apples, figs, and of course grapes for eating as well as wine. Nonna also made her own soap, spun her own wool and of course knitted all jumpers, shawls (without patterns) and made all clothes as well as curtains, bedspreds, sheets, talecloths, coats.
“What did you used to buy ?” I asked her. “Salt sugar, meat and fish” She replies. Hre father bought rock salt and sugar by the quintal (100kg) and there was a macellaio (butcher) in the vllage. Fresh fish would arrive for Fridays and of course there was always piscstock soaking. Pisstoc or baccalao or salted codfish was a staple and had to be soaked for eight days prior to cooking. The water had to be chagned everyday. It was then cooked into a type of casserole. All I remember of my father-in-law’s episodes of cooking pistoc is the very strong malodorous smell throughout the house. However,the end result was delicious.
For many years Salvatore and Raffaela and I lived in the Portguese quarter in Sydney and every Saturday one of the “Portuguese Chicken”places would bring out a huge tray of baccaloa cooked with potatoes, onions and olives ready for take wawy orders at midday. Salvatore was usually on the doorstep at 12.05 to make sure he didn’t miss out as they only made one large tray. It was delcicios. The Portuguese are well known eaters of salted cod fish.
The quintal of rock salt was just that - a rock of salt. Nonna said that they had to crush it up after going over to her fathers’s and chipping off a supply.
Other things were made such as soap and other cleaning products. kNowing the Italian love of bleach I presume that they also bought bleach.
When my mother-in-law moved into the Italian old people’s home my husband was having a bad run with his health and it was up to me to clean out her house – a very sad thing to do as one’s possessions when they are all laid out on the front lawn don’t ever really amount to much. However, I did retrieve bulk supplies of washing powder ( 5 kg) and 5 litre bottles of bleach.
Her freezer was always stocked to survive the nuclear holocaust. Even when there was only her and her husbnd in the house and when she was alone. There would be bags of dried broadbeans, chickpeas, frozen fresh beans, frozen basil, dried, salted codfish, veal chops, quails. The fridge would stock large amount of parmesan. The larder had bottles of passata, olive oil, cured olives, salami, many tins of tomatoes. There was always something to eat. You would never hear the complaint of my daughter “There’s nothing to eat”. Although I have learnt from my mother-in-law ( and my mother. I can always ‘throw something together’ from what is in the pantry. I always love the Puttanesca recipe which is hot and spicy like a prostitute – you can make the whole sauce from items in the pantry;tinned tomatoes, dried chille, anchovies, olives, olive oil and one always has a little garlic and some onions. I always have either a tub of pecorino cheese or paremesan in the fridge.
I feel I am becoming a mixture of my mother-in-law and my mother who was brought up with the use everything and don’t throw out anything attitude from the depression.
During a visit on a ‘festa’ day to The Scalabrini Village –the old people’s home where my mother-in-law spent her last years, my mother-in-law kept asking Raffaela why she wasn’t eating. Raffaela had eaten an Italian sausage on a huge breadroll with cooked onions followed by a large cannoli filled with ricotta. Raffaela was complaining to me that Nonna thinks I haven’t eaten enough! Nonna was sitting beside her when she was eating and ate the same things but that didn’t seem to make any difference. There does not seem to be any logic when an Calabrain mother or grandmother has an idea that a child hasn’t eaten enough.