I was fortunate to have grown up in the culture of Boston's North End, a wonderfully unique Italian neighborhood. Although only a square mile in size, it was densely populated with over ten thousand people. Our parents were first and second generation Italians. Residents rarely moved. Families mostly lived in three and four story high apartment buildings lining very narrow streets and alley ways. We knew almost everyone and our closest neighbors became extensions of our families.
Family heads emigrated from different parts of Italy. They each brought their regional diversity and values with them. The North End was a working-class community. Men took hard jobs while their wives took care of households and children. It was all about family and family values. Meal time was important, a time to wind down and simply talk about everyone's day, sharing whatever anyone wanted to talk about over simple but great food.
Saturdays were for chores and Sundays, like holidays, the day we spent together with mom and dad, my sister Rita, grandparents, aunts Julia and Helen, uncles Jimmy and Jiggs, cousins Carmen, Sandra, Nicky and Rosalie. It was the day for talking, laughing, and feasting over several fun filled hours. Meals always began with an elaborate antipasto followed by pasta, homemade ravioli, lasagna and/or gnocchi. Next, the huge tray of meatballs, sausages, and a variety of braciola, pork, beef, veal and yes, pig skin that simmered in a red sauce for hours. The main course, perhaps roast beef, ham, lamb or chicken was next with all the vegetables. Of course, home brewed wine was liberally flowing. Meals were topped off with Mom's deserts. Lucia was the baker of the family. If that wasn't enough, guests always brought a variety of Italian pastries, cannoli, sfogliatelle (clam shaped, ribbon pastry around a sweet cheese filling), mille-feuille (actually a French Napoleon' translation "thousand leaves") and rum cakes. Conversation and laughter continued and we noshed for hours. Collectively, we were the day's entertainment and in reflection, we were blessed with the very best of memories. Life seemed so simple back then and happiness was abundant and came from within.
Along with cultural diversity, we were introduced to foods from all the different regions of Italy. Core ingredients were dictated on their local abundances. Interesting, even the simplest and most common dishes varied greatly by their origins.
The North End didn't have any big grocery store chains. Instead there were many specialty stores catering to the neighborhood's often unique demands. One store was noted for their wide selection of imported olives that were on display outside on Salem Street in wooden barrels. Another provided many varieties of mostly Italian cheeses and Italian jug wines. Bakeries baked breads overnight for morning deliveries to restaurants and grocery stores throughout Boston. Restaurants bragged about serving only fresh North End baked breads. Depending on the bakery, hot artisan breads were available most of the day. It was common to see clusters of people tearing into hot crusty loaves as they walked.
Neighborhood butcher shops specialized in different and unique cuts of meats, pounded veal scallops and thin rectangular cuts of beef and pork for stuffed braciola. It was also common seeing whole lambs or rabbits hanging on hooks for display. Close to the fishing piers, freshly caught seafood was also readily available, especially on Fridays. The North End was mostly Catholic and eating meat wasn't allowed on Fridays.
Probably the most popular was the many Italian pastry and coffee shops. They were hangouts for locals and magnets for outsiders.
The North End is a historic district as well. Paul Revere's House, the Old North Church and Copp's Hill Burying Ground are part of Boston's Freedom Trail. The area became widely popular with neighboring communities, tourists and students, many attracted to the vast number of Italian eateries, the areas character, shopping and the open markets on Fridays and Saturdays on Blackstone Street.
Mom was a great cook and baker. Dad died at a young age. I was only 13, he was 51. When mom passed in her 70's, she left me with my greatest possession, all of her hand written cooking notebooks. Her collections are loaded with her recipes and collages cut and pasted from newspapers magazines and from food packages. There are also many notes to remind her which ones her son Peter liked best.
Lucia Tramonte was mom's maiden name. This site is dedicated to her. No son could ever love their mom more than I did. So you know I cannot post anything that will cause her to look down and frown.
Please visit us often and check out Lucia and Peter's blog. In time those pages will be full and we'd love to hear from you. Thank you.