If you’ve been following this blog or my Facebook posts you know we moved from New York to Montana. I don’t regret a minute, but there are a few things missing here.
This part of Montana was one of the last places to be homesteaded. Yes, Native Americans have been here for thousands of years. This blog isn’t about that. Non-natives started showing up in countable numbers in the late 1800’s. The area still didn’t see much settlement until the early 1900’s. As immigrant wagon trains rolled west most by-passed this part of the country. It’s surrounded by mountains and it’s not on the way to anywhere. To come to the Flathead Valley, you have to be heading here. With the Homestead Act people did begin to settle and develop the area. What has become obvious to me though, is that Italian immigrants either kept on going or didn’t think the place was worth coming to.
Why is that important? Because Italian immigrants bring Italian food.
I grew up in a second-generation Italian-American family. The Italian language was still spoken in the house, especially when my aunts didn’t want us to know what they were saying or who they were talking about. The conversation would start in English and, when it got to the good part, would morph into southern Italian.
Along with the language came the food. Dishes I just took for granted. Didn’t everyone eat like this? Christmas was a particularly special time. The aunts would start cooking in early December. Remember this was an Italian extended family set-up, I was surrounded by relatives all the time. From Thanksgiving until New Year’s, the house smelled like a street in Naples or Bari. Garlic, tomato sauce, various fish dishes. A deep breath was an orgy of the senses.
What does this have to do with my recent homesteading of Montana? One of the very few things I miss is that smell. Have you ever gone into a real New York or Boston Italian deli, the one that has the parmesan and romano cheese hanging in big rolls from the ceiling? The one where the guy behind the counter is cutting mortadella and prosciutto and then he wraps it all up in white paper, puts it in a brown paper bag and then adds up the total on the bag with a pencil from behind his ear? That smell isn’t in Kalispell.
The other day we went food shopping at a typical American supermarket. Imagine my excitement when I saw, stacked alone as if purposely distanced from the blandness of the rest of the store, a Christmas tree like pile of Panettone bread.
This stuff with its raisins, candied fruit and brown paper wrapper was a holiday staple. Lather it with butter, not margarine, and it was better than cake. Despite the pandemic and the crumbling supply chain, a small slice of Christmas memories had just fallen my way.
Now if only I could find a good cannoli.