For years when I was a teenager the highlight of our summer was the annual picnic held at the county fairgrounds.
The grandmas spent three days preparing the food. They made loaves of fresh bread which they sliced thickly and inserted all kinds of Italian lunch meats: capicola, lardo, mortadella, salami, and prosciutto to name a few.
All kinds of pastas with secret sauces that the nonnie’s jealously guarded. They were passed onto the next generation only on deathbeds. And if you weren’t quick enough…goodbye secret recipe.
For dessert, there was fresh cut watermelon and anginetti cookies. These cookies are soft, not too sweet, and look like little knots. They have the most intense lemon flavored icing and are delicious with coffee. To drink there was wine for the adults and lemonade for the kids.
You could hear all the grandmas singing as they went about their catering duties. They enlisted the help of their daughters – the bella mammas, who because it was Saturday, had the day off from the factory.
Most fathers took advantage of their wives and kids being away to make a run to the racetrack. And this was good because it left the teenage boys in charge. But more about that later.
Large hampers were packed with ice and food and set on the kitchen table ready to be carted to the waiting bus.
Since the arrival of the bus was taking a little longer than planned, all of the women sat outside on the front stoop gossiping – my grandmother and mother included.
Eager to get started, me and my brothers, Tony and Carmen, ran up to the two women to hurry them along. And hurry they did. They grabbed their hats and fans and followed the excited teenagers to the waiting bus. And off we went.
We sang all the way to the fairgrounds…our favorite song being the picnic song, or what is more commonly known as Ella Fitzgerald’s, ” A Tisket, A Tasket.”
Little did we know that this song proved to be quite prophetic. As we arrived at the picnic table we realized that we didn’t lose our basket it, we forgot it on the kitchen table in our rush to the bus.
We weren’t worried. Since we’re Italian there was plenty of food to go round. There was enough to feed multitudes of people. In fact, for years we thought Jesus was Italian because he fed so many people.