Monday, June 15, 2009

Is That Meatballs I Smell?

I think I was probably sixteen years old before I figured out that not everybody awoke on Sunday mornings to the smell of frying meatballs. If you were Italian and living in Brooklyn, Sunday was “gravy” day. For non-Italians, gravy is not the brown stuff you put on your turkey, but the rich, red gravy made from fresh tomatoes, tomato puree, and spices, bubbling on the stove and filled with meatballs, sausages, braccioles, and pork. 

The wonderful scene from the movie "Fatso" showing Dom DeLuise dipping the heel of a loaf of Italian bread in gravy and Parmesan cheese while his poor cousin Sal lay in repose in the living room lovingly portrays just how comforting gravy can be to Italians. With all due respect (as the wiseguys say) , no cuisine anywhere can compare to Italy’s, period. We thought cholesterol was what they put in swimming pools to keep the water clean. Our celebrations for holidays, birthdays, baptisms, Communions, Confirmations and any other reason we could think of revolved around eating and drinking wine, as they do to this day.

An Italian holiday meal typically consisted of soup, antipasto, and maybe a lasagna or manicotti with all the aforementioned meats on the side. (Full yet?) Then came a turkey or a pot roast with all the trimmings. We would take a break, like a boxer between rounds, while fruit, roasted chestnuts, and assorted nuts were served. Then, after regaining consciousness, we would tuck into dessert which might include Italian pastry, cheesecake, pignoli cookies, blackout cake from Ebinger's Bakery and assorted homemade pies. After a pause to play poker for pennies, the chocolates and liquers would come out. Even had it been invented back then, Lipitor wouldn't have stood a chance.

There were no supermarkets in an Italian neighborhood. There were bakeries, salumerias, fish stores and fruit stores. The man behind the counter knew you by name, and added up your purchases with a pencil on the side of a brown paper bag.
Our extended family was concentrated in a small area of Brooklyn. We saw our aunts, uncles and cousins all the time. When my Aunt Mary moved to Suffolk County, Long Island in the early sixties, it was like she moved to Australia. How would we get there? Did we need passports? Cars were scarce; when we did go, we usually piled into one car...every adult lap held an excited cousin looking out the windows on the wonders of the Belt Parkway. We looked like that circus car full of clowns.

The old neighborhoods are changed now, but any kid who grew up Italian in Brooklyn will tell you they wouldn't have it any other way. My uncle Nick used to say that there are two kinds of people, Italians and those who wish they were. A little chauvanistic maybe, but Italians believe it in their hearts.


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1 comment:

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

Tell your Uncle that if I weren't Italian, I would have somehow become one! Just for the calamari!