November for many Italian American Families is the start of the holiday Season, especially when it comes to family get together, and FOOD. Being in the food business most of my life, I’ve learned there is diversity in many Italian American traditional meals but no matter the menu the common ingredient is always Love.
Growing up and even when we got married, we always did things around the meat market schedule. In our stores the 3 main food holidays were of course Thanksgiving, Christmas and the granddaddy of them all is Easter. Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions didn’t have that much diversity, while Easter traditions were incredibly diverse, from Pork to Apizzagaina to lamb to kielbasa. The main course on Thanksgiving was almost always a Turkey. There is some variation, but usually still poultry like a Capon or Roasting Chicken. The antipasto, first course or other courses and the sides are what varied the most.
Finocchio or Fennel is very popular vegetable at Thanksgiving time. If you don’t know what that is, it’s in the celery family and tastes like licorice. It’s not anise, that’s a much stronger flavor of licorice. At Thanksgiving time, we would sell about 10 cases (240) and the rest of the year it wasn’t available. We also would get some orders for some Italian Sausage with made with finocchio instead of fennel seeds. Italian Sausage and our Store made stuffing would be our next best sellers after the Turkey or Poultry. On a regular weekly basis, we would sell between 16 and 18. cattle. (That’s Beef) on Thanksgiving week would sell only 2 or maybe 3 cattle. Thanksgiving sales of Turkeys amounted to almost 400!
At home our Thanksgiving was always over my Maternal Grandparents home until they were not able to do it any longer. Then we were at my Parents or one of my Aunts houses. My Grandmother/Dads mom passed away when I was pretty young but I do remember going to family parties there too. My Grandfather Dads dad was with us lots of times.
Because of the store we would sometimes have whatever size turkey there was left, if it wasn’t big enough, we would have 2. My grandparents had a large home with a finished basement, including full kitchen, a wine cellar and bar with 4 stools, on Kneeland Rd. in the Annex section of New Haven.
My cousins and I used to play in the bar and I always imitated Frank Fontaine. The parade or football was on until the march of the wooden soldiers with Laurel and Hardy came on. Always a bottle or 2 of chianti for those who didn’t drink the homemade wine. We started with Antipasto, made with Marinated Eggplant, Marinated Mushrooms, hot and sweet stuffed Cherry peppers, Italian Olives, Regular Olives, Celery, Italian Sharp Cheese, Salami, Capicola, and Prosciutto. Then we had Lasagna, Meatballs, Sauce Meat, then we waited a little while. Then the Turkey and all the sides you could imagine. For dessert there was a Pumpkin Pie, mostly for show. The favorites were the Italian Pastry, Italian Cream Pie, and my favorite was Chocolate Lemon Pie. Everyone would sit around the huge table and tell stories or play games. Around 10 or 11 pm we would load up the leftovers and head home. The Next day the phones at market would start to ring and people would order their Christmas Roast etc. No Rest for the weary! (more on Christmas next Month)