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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

I married into a wonderful Italian American tradition.


Some Holiday Memories by Jim Smith

Nana in retirement in Florida


For Christmas, in our dreams we travel over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house. At present it is across town and along I-10 over several state lines to our house in Tallahassee the family comes. 

Christmas holidays remind me of dinners long ago at my Nana's house. She set a table that groaned with the weight of traditional Italian and American dishes.

These Italian grandparents on my mother's side really spread the holiday bounty. In attendance were family, friends, children, grandchildren, cousins, brothers, sisters and spouses. If you were invited to my grandparent’s table for Christmas, for example, plan on arriving early and remaining late. Plan to slowly, slowly, slowly eat, eat, eat from mid-day to dark.

          The repast was served in courses. I cannot recall exact menu selections, but dishes served went something like this:

Before beginning, fill all glasses with red wine, usually homemade from grapes gathered among relatives’ backyard vineyards or from the cool wine cellar in the basement. No respectable Italian home in America was without a wine cellar. But that's another story.

First Course—Antipasti including an assorted bruschetta plate consisting of roasted butternut squash and prosciutto ham, goat cheese, tuna in olive oil, black olives, fresh tomatoes and basil, assorted deli cold cuts and cheeses, hard-crusted Italian bread.


Ladies arise from table, gather dirty dishes. Retreat to kitchen.

Men refill wine glasses.


Ladies return with:

Second Course—Caesar salad or spinach salad with nuts. Toss it with red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.


Ladies arise from table, gather dirty dishes. Retreat to kitchen.

Men refill wine glasses.


Ladies return with:

Third Course—Traditional roast turkey with giblet gravy, cranberry relish and focaccia, sausage stuffing, plus (for those who didn't like turkey) baked ham with mashed sweet potatoes.


Ladies arise from table. Gather dirty dishes, retreat to kitchen.

Men refill wine glasses.


Ladies return with:

Addition to third course—Creamed corn, mashed potatoes, sauteed spinach.


Ladies arise, gather dirty dishes. Retreat to kitchen.

Men refill wine.


Ladies return with:

Fourth Course—Four cheese ravioli with pesto alfredo sauce, chicken and spinach manicotti all garnished with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.


Ladies arise. Gather dirty dishes. Retreat to the kitchen.

Men pour wine.


Ladies return with:

Fifth Course—Toasted Nonna's (Italian for grandmother) pound cake, warm apple crostada, chocolate zuccotto cake, tiramisu profiteroles, pumpkin praline cheesecake.


Ladies remain seated after dessert, take a short rest, then clear table.

Men retreat to basement wine cellar.

            It's about four hours into the meal, and of course, everyone is beyond stuffed. Ladies finish clearing table, then bring out their pennies jars and everybody plays poker including lone male grandchild, who is still in elementary school at the time. And, oh, yes. I had my own glass of wine too, extremely watered down, of course.

After several hours of poker, desserts reappear along with coffee. Whiskey replaces wine to enhance flavor of coffee. About 11 p.m., the party is over. Everyone bids a fond farewell.

My Italian grandparents had two daughters. Each daughter delivered a grandchild. I was the only male grandchild. My aunt presented them with the only female grandchild, eight years my junior.

In composing this family history tidbit, it occurred to me that no matter how many people sat at my grandparents’ giant dining room holiday table, my grandfather sat at one end, and I sat at the other. Everybody else sat on the sidelines—daughters, spouses and female cousin, in secondary positions. I'm sure it represented some old-world tradition. Had there been an oldest son of my grandparents, no doubt I would have been bumped.

At least 60 years have passed. I can see it clearly today—the house on the hill, the bright sun-filled dining room, the long and extended table, food prepared on the giant kitchen table, the family seated, the poker, the desserts, my grandfather and I at the table ends in command positions.

May your Christmas holiday be filled with memories that go over the river and through the woods, with family and friends in the grandest of your traditions.

       

The Italian Grandparents
Vincenzo and Esterina Coppo Grande

















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