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Little Hollows

(by Aimee DeMartino Tapia)

My parents were of 100 percent Italian descent, and my grandparents remembered a time when their ethnicity, food, and customs were not so beloved in America. But that changed in the post-World War II era, and although our New York City community was (and is) known as Little Italy, with relatives on every corner, it was a happy pastiche of Jewish, Irish, African-American, and Italian neighbors living in harmony—middle-class people with mid-century tastes, aesthetics, and values.

We had grape vines, fig trees, and basil plants in the yard, and ate huge meals served late in the evening, starting with salads and antipasti, ending with fruit and sweets—all homemade. Anything “prepared” (except maybe dried pasta, or a potato chip) was sacrilege. When there was a warm early spring, we’d clear the yard with a hose and bucket to eat outside.

My parents were open-minded, curious, and cultured. I was taught about music and art, fine fabric and blown glass, and I was taught that these are things to be shared and celebrated. The same held true for food.