Food and migrant history are the themes of a special and unusual new book. The book, Food and Family – Tastes and Memories of Italy - reproduces the memories and food recipes of migrants from a small town near Naples who came to Wellington before and after the Second World War seeking a better life. When they came to Island Bay on the south coast of the Capital where many of them became fishermen they found a limited and uninviting food culture of beef or mutton and tasteless veg and so had to find ways of fulfilling their love of the rustic Neapolitan cuisine they had left behind. Back home in Italy they could not afford many of the foods they enjoyed but life in New Zealand from the 1930s provided opportunity and earnings they could only dream of back home. The problem was that in their new home country there were no Italian food stores, butchers or bakers and the greengrocers didn’t have the distinctive vegetables of home – zucchini, eggplant, artichokes, pulpy tomatoes, olives and fragrant herbs such as oregano and basil. So the Italian migrants addressed this in innovative ways. The mail home to friends and family in Italy told the tale of a country blessed in so many ways but lacking in the food department. So later migrants would bring in seeds to grow the vegetables; the men built glasshouses to accommodate their tomatoes, the women would share recipes and the rivalry over who could make the best pastries grew. Until the 1980s New Zealand’s restrictions on food imports were huge but, fortunately, olive oil, the lifeblood of Italian cooking, was sourced and allowed in, Australian Nanda pasta was sold but it took many years before cheeses and deli meats (prosciutto, salami) were allowed by the authorities. Food and Family is centered on the Cuccurullo family of Island Bay whose first generation sons have established the Mediterranean Food Warehouse chain of retail stores that stock many of the foods their grandparents missed. At the heart of the book are recipes from the wider Cuccurullo family and their Italian friends in Island Bay. Needless to say with fishermen and fishmongers in the family there is considerable emphasis on seafood dishes – but the variety of dishes is wide, ranging from how to make fresh mozzarella to the best way to make rum baba. The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs by veteran Wellington studio and food photographer Sal Criscillo whose parents were also migrants from Italy, but from the volcanic island of Stromboli, who came up the book idea over an espresso with the Cuccurullos. Food and Family – Tastes and Memories of Italy, is available from Mediterranean Food Warehouse outlets in Wellington, Lower Hutt and Kapiti and via their website, and from Unity Books, Willis Street, Wellington. Book costs $35.00.
From the back cover: Amidst an explosion of food and recipe books, many based around celebrity chefs, how can a new publication stand out from the crowd as deserving of the attention of readers and keen amateur cooks? Food and Family is more than just a food book. Its novelty and appeal is the way it canvasses and reproduces the food of Italian migrants who came to New Zealand before and after the Second World War. The book is about hardship in Italy, of surviving and prospering in a new land, of “making do” without many of the products of home (and their dislike of lamb, doughy bread and butter) and of learning from each other how to make many special and unique Neapolitan dishes while overcoming the absence of olive oil, herbs and much more. The basis of this book is the hand-written recipes from the Cuccurullo family and their friends in Island Bay, Wellington, and the drive and energy for sharing the cuisine of the Bay of Naples is the Mediterranean Food Warehouse chain of pizzeria and delicatessens established by the family.
It would be simplistic to call the recipes “rustic” in the sense that they are home-grown, unrefined and not out of any restaurant or culinary school, but many offer even the keenest of cooks a decent challenge – everything from the taste sensation of spaghetti with crayfish to a step by step guide to making fresh mozzarella to reproducing the most delicate of pastries.
From left to right, Nina, my brother Gino, our mum, Teresa and my brother Joe. Photo taken at the Mediterranean Food Warehouse.