• Thoughts and Italian Kisses

    IMG_9775January 2016Felice Anno Nuovo.  My gratitude to the National Organization of Italian American Women for an the award which honored Three Wise Women on Epiphany in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and Washington, D.C. Also enjoy Italian Kisses, my series for the Providence Journal.  And as always, visit my inspiration, Ed Writes. He and his wife Diane joined us for the celebration.

    (Photo by GLB Drummond)
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  • About: A Brief Bio

    Rita Watson, MPH,  became a columnist after many years at the New York Times and as Director of  Policy and Education at Yale’s  psychiatry department.  Her focus was on advocacy and informed consent based on studies at Yale’s Department of Public Health at the  medical school and the Yale Law School.  She is an Associate Fellow at Yale’s Ezra Stiles College and currently is an adjunct at Suffolk University.  (See Bio/Books link)

    ENJOY a favorite: Fiorentina Pears and a Bridal Bag 

    Grandma spoke of “Papa’s pears” with reverence. The fruit trees that lined the walkway to Grandpa’s garden created a canopy that overheard family secrets and stories including our favorite — the pears for newlyweds. Grandma said that in her Italian village when young people married and moved from the farms “to set up house,” her mother would bring them a basket of pears. Since pear trees live for 250 years, these were wishes for a long, happy life together.

    In this country, Gram kept up the spirit of tradition. Each fall she lined the pantry with jars for her pears in brandy. She made up a simple mixture of boiled sugar to which she added bay leaves and brandy and then the cored and sliced pears.

    Each year at pear time, soft-spoken Gram would raise her voice.

    “Anthony, Anthony,” she would call out. “That brother of yours was back in my pantry again. He knew I was making the pears and look at how much brandy he drank. I’m telling you, it’s time to talk with him.”

    “Aspetta, my little sweetheart. I bought more brandy just for you.”

    Grandpa’s little sweetheart was about 4 feet 10 inches tall and just as wide. They would kiss. She would smile then sigh: “Imagine he drinks the newlyweds’ brandy for their pears of long life.”

    Grandma believed “Papa’s pears” were descendants of the Fiorentina pears, which her mother had received as a gift from relatives in Umbria, about three hours from their village in the Avellino region. The Fiorentina pear tree is often depicted in Renaissance paintings.

    Since family weddings took place in the summertime, Grandma and Grandpa waited until the fall to visit newlyweds at their home. She packed jars of pears in a large basket and on top of the jars rested a small tray of her biscotti sprinkled with sugar-coated almonds and silver stands of tinsel — a miniature of their wedding tray.

    At Italian weddings newlyweds passed a large tray of cookies to guests. The bride always had a drawstring satin pouch swinging from her wrist. When relatives took the cookies, they handed the bride an envelope with cash, saying, “Put this in your bag to help you set up house.”

    Immediately after the exchange of cookies and envelopes, Gram nudged Grandpa. On cue, he stood up, lifted his wine glass and began his toast. “Here’s to the bride and the groom. I want you both to look around at all of your family. My wife just reminded me to tell you that marriage is for richer, for poorer. Even on days when you feel poor, remember this moment. Here you have surrounding you the riches of family. Salute.”

    Of Note: Pears in Brandy and Cherries in Alcohol were said to have “healing properties.”  But this could well be family legend.

    Copyright 2015 Rita Watson