Smells of Little Italy


Perhaps people will find it amusing, but the first recollection of my grandparents wasn’t a connection by sight; it was by the nose.  I remember the smell of soot.  Burning coal used to heat the house was the culprit.  Although the apartment my parents lived in – on 133rd Street in East Cleveland – was also heated by coal, the odor was different.  Everything was different.  The neighborhood was made-up mostly Italians, rightly so, for “gramps and nana” lived in Little Italy, and we lived in a melting pot.  The streets were narrower, the church was within walking distance for every family, Mike’s butcher shop, Prestis donuts and bakery.

The smells of Little Italy.  Walking up 124th Street to Aunt Lena’s house was aways an adventure for the olfactory gland.  Macaroni sauce – not pasta sauce – was the predominate smell.  Pizza and sausage lingered in the air, too, making me salivate even more.  Friday, though, is my fondest memory.  Nana always had canned tomatoes and peppers on hand.  She would pour two or three quarts into a stewing kettle and raise the flame on the stove to high.  When she determined the stew was almost ready to serve, she would break a half dozen eggs into the boiling mixture.  That was my introduction to poached eggs.  She served this up to whoever was home and dispatched me to deliver the balance to her parents who lived in the house next door.  The real treat though was when she would open the oven door and remove two onion and anchovy pizza’s.  People have referred to a dinner like that as a depression dish, I remember it as a banquet.

Grandparents, parents, a baby sister, uncles, all gathered around a small wooden table with the requisite oil cloth cover thanking the Lord for all we had.  So little satisfied so many.

By Carlo Orlando©

 Posted by at 8:59 pm