Today’s picture is one of my favourite things in my house – my chestillu or crivu. I’ve mentioned this Calabrese tool before in my recipe for turdilli. “Chestillu” is decidedly the name of this from my dialect, but I’ve also found them online called a “crivu.” Another blogger’s recipe for turdilli mentions them here or you can find a short description on the Italian Wikipedia here. While I’ve only ever seen this used to make gnocchi and turdilli, apparently it was originally for sifting flour, and is also used for drying tomatoes or olives.
As spring and summer approach, I’ve been thinking a lot about Italian preserving and canning techniques. Italians who went abroad, like us here in Canada, have maintained many traditions from our former country including preserving meats, vegetables and fruits. While preserving has come back into style due to economic conditions here in North America, Italian-Canadian families are blessed with the knowledge and experience of years of preserving everything including tomatoes and beyond.
It’s said that many in Italy have left this tradition behind, as have those of us that are now third generation Italian-Canadian. However, even I, as a young Italian-Canadian, am hoping to keep the preserving of our foods, and yes, our heritage, much a way of life. I have a few reasons for doing this…
It’s a must. There must always be biscotti in the house to snack on. These twice-baked crispy cookies are the usual Italian fare, but I’ve been looking for a recipe that’s a bit healthier than the sugar heavy recipe I’m used to (although I will post that one soon, as the taste is still my favourite). This low fat biscotti recipe is adapted from the Almond Board of California, since I prefer using a mixer and love the flavour of lemon.
My grandfather had a saying, in deep Calabrese dialect (such that I can say it but can’t figure out how to properly spell it), that “a full stomach, not a clean white shirt, makes you sing.” So many of his stories, and the stories of many other Nonni currently here in Canada tell, come from a place of hardship, from all the reasons why they left Italy.
There are many other stories told in my family that brought me to an interest in Italian folktales, that I worry sometimes are left behind in our memories. As a writer, I’m interested in the stories as they are told and the morals that are common in our culture. As with most folklore, Italian folktales focus on the religious or the mythical tied to an everyday experience. Italo Calvino‘s Italian Folktales, published in 1956, is a large collection of Italian folktales that range from simple country-side stories to ones that involve magic and royalty. While I’m still trying to decode the message in some of the stories, many of them echo sentiments I had heard from my grandparents about honour, struggle, distrust of leaders (whether religious or otherwise), and so on.
Giufà, fool that he was, never got invited anywhere or asked to honor anyone with his company. Once he went to a farm to see if they would give him something, but noticing how slovenly he was, they sicked the dogs on him. His mother then bought him a fine topcoat, a pair of pants and a velvet vest. Now dressed as a country gentleman, Giufà returned to the same farm. They made a big to-do over him, invited him to sit down to the table with them, and quite turned his head with all their compliments. When they served him, Giufà carried food to his mouth with one hand; with the other he stuffed food into all his pockets as well as his hat saying, “Eat your fill, my fine clothes, for they invited you, not me!”
I’m trying to teach myself the proper Italian menu or Italian meal structure. After hosting a six course wedding dinner last year, and starting to have people over our own house, we’ve taken to at least having 2 to 3 courses when we have guests. I know that in Italy at least, we were always have primi and secondi at restaurants, but its not often that you see that here in Canada (unless you are at a relatively authentic Italian restaurant).
I came across this piece of artwork above (that I’m hoping to order to have in my kitchen, you can order it here) that got me thinking about just how much I know about the traditional Italian dinner courses. Here they are defined:
Another blast from an Italian past with this vintage Italian postcard. This muted watercolour print postcard was a great find at a local (Canadian) vintage paper show. Originally sent to an address in the States, it ended up with Canadian collectors. Here’s the inscription:
July 15, 1902
Think of a night in Venice as you read about. If this is a dream of Venice to you, but to us it is real. Ah if you could only see it. Brother, Joe.