Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Celebrate Italian Style by Jacqueline Miconi

My thanks to Jacqueline Miconi for her heart-warming book Celebrate Italian Style, and for an insight into life in East Haven, Connecticut, in the United States, including recipes!  An unbelievable half of East Haven, Connecticut's near 30,000 residents are of Italian descent.  Italian immigrants came to the area around 1900, and many descendents of Italian immigrants moved there during the later exodus from the cities to suburbia.

As you can see from this map showing where those of Italian ancestry live today in the U. S., the North-East Coast, including the East Haven area, has the highest concentration.  (The darker the red, the higher the concentration.)

Jacqueline Miconi has compiled a book of family stories and Italian-American recipes which is a love-filled invitation for everyone to enjoy the best of Italian culture, the food, and to get a peek into what it was like to grow up Italian-American.

Here are some excerpts from her book (with some paraphrasing).

Sunday Dinner

"Dinner on Sunday began at around 12:30, when the antipasti would come out.  The main meal would be served around 2:00.  Then there was a rest period...the best time of the day, when we would all huddle to get a seat at the table, next to the table and many times for the kids, under the table.  Here we could enjoy conversation, tell stories of the previous week, and laugh...always lots of laughs."

The Italian Grandmother

"Whether it was the delicious food they filled us with, their humorous antics, or the extreme warmth and acceptance they provided the family, one thing is for sure, nothing could replace the love for and the love felt from Italian grandmothers."

East Haven (E' Staven)

"A town where everyone knew everyone else (or at least their business), where neighbors helped neighbors, and where those who grew up there, rarely left.  Generations of families lived and continue to live in this close-knit town.

'We had a town full of Nonni who made great pots of sauce, and enough tomato plants in gardens to supply a small cannery, and plenty of Joeys, Vinnys and Maries."

An Italian Wedding

"Nothing is more massive (other than the guest list) at an Italian wedding, than the array of traditional cuisine.  Beginning with an assortment of antipasti...followed up by a sumptuous multi-course dinner...concluded with the multi-tiered cake and assorted pastries served with espresso coffee and cappuccino.  There are lots of laughs, dancing, usually some drama, but most of all, treasured memories."

The September Fields

"It was usually the father or grandfather of the household who knew the age-old secrets of perfect wine-making.  "We need to makea da wine" was all he had to say for family members and friends to join together for the difficult process of crushing and pressing grapes, transferring them into barrels, then bringing the barrels to storage, until it was time for bottling. 

'And after that year of aging, when it was finally bottled, the wine was sure to flow freely and often, as it was an ever-present guest at family functions."

La Pasqua

"In New Haven Country, there is a predominance of Southern Italians.  And one of the most celebrated foods of the Southern regions is Easter Pie.  Every year we would go through the tedious process of cutting pounds of hams into bite-sized chunks to mix with ricotta and other cheeses and more than a dozen eggs.

'Even now, when visiting relatives on Easter, there are always a few versions of the pie.  Since my grandmother passed away, I have taken on the tradition of making the pies in my family. 

'It is always comical to hear the reactions from older Italian women when I order my ham from the deli counter.  More than once I've been asked, "Oh, you getta da apizza gaina meats for you Nonna?"  The look of surprise is always the same when I say I make the pies."

A Labor of Love

"Every so often, something happens to suddenly transport me back to those warm summer days in my grandmother's yard.  It could be a whiff of some basil or just cutting a tomato.

'It was full of huge, juicy tomatoes, zucchini, fennel and herbs.  You would walk out her back door and be greeted with fragrant basil and other aromatic herbs.

'For her, the garden symbolized...a simpler way of life.  It was her pride and passion.  It was her way of showing a piece of her heritage and what her own parents had taught her."

"In New Haven County, Connecticut, there were over 80 clubs serving over 10,000 Italians.  Immigrants from each region would form their own club to celebrate their own unique traditions and customs.

'Today there are many Italians that refer to their own regional identity.  The membership in one of these organizations helps to hold onto heritage and to share it with others. 

'Once in America, they slowly drifted away from the old country, until Italy was no longer a place they could call home.  Home for them was the new land they shared with immigrants from all over the world, and with fellow Italians who kept, and continue to keep, their heritage alive."

My Own Little Italy

"For those of us who grew up Italian-American, it was almost as if we were part of a secret society of sorts, that outsiders just didn't or couldn't understand. 

'We had tons of aunts and uncles.  The loyalty among friends and family in our culture is like few others.  Our lives truly revolved around our family, friends, food, tradition and the neighborhood."

An Italian Christmas

"La Vigilia Napoletana is a Southern Italian tradition in which individuals eat only fish on Christmas Eve.

'The number of dishes runs anywhere from 3 to 13, with the number 7 the most popular.  It can signify the seven sacraments, the seven utterances Jesus Christ made from the cross, the seven days of creation, or the seven virtues (faith, hope, charity, temperance, prudence, fortitude, justice)."

An Ambassador for Italian Culture

Jacqueline offers lots of Italian-American recipes for everyone to try, and provides suggestions for Italian themed events.  She's a one-woman ambassador for Italian culture!

Here she is on her local Connecticut television station on their style program's cooking segments.

 Another Recipe Demonstration

Another Cooking Visit

Please visit the author's website.

This review is by Candida Martinelli, of Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site, and the author of the cozy-murder-mystery novel AN EXTRA VIRGIN PRESSING MURDER, and the young-adult/adult mystery novel series THE VIOLET STRANGE MYSTERIES the first book of which is VIOLET'S PROBLEM.

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