Immigrant stories: Families worked together to put food on the table
John Scalzo’s family came from Calabria, one of the poorest parts of Italy, where many Calabrian families had to subsist on pennies a day. John describes how the strong sense of community and the ability to “make do” helped poor Italian immigrants succeed and prosper. Walter Gallacher: Was family important to you growing up?John Scalzo: Oh yes, yes it was. We had to pay attention. We had a lot of good food. One thing, though, what you took and put on your plate you ate. You didn’t say, “I don’t like this, I don’t like that.” You ate what you put on your plate.
And we had a lot of good food, but beef was a luxury. The only time we ever had any beef was when we had beef ribs that my mother would use for stew or spaghetti sauce. We raised rabbits and chickens for our meat, and we’d always buy two hogs a year. My dad would get together with other farmers in the area and they would help each other butcher their hogs. And then we would put up our own meat. I know they did it at my dad’s place. They had a tripod and a big barrel and they’d soak the pig and skin it and butcher it and everybody would come over with their pigs and that’s the way they’d do it. It was a family deal, they all got together and helped each other. And then everybody would take their own meat home and process it. It would take about two weeks to do it all, by the time we made the sausage, made the rinds and rendered the lard. My mother stored food in crocks and she would put lard over the top and the lard sealed it. And when we wanted to eat what was in the crock we would take the lard off. And, of course, if we fried eggs, we fried them in the lard that we made. We raised or made most of our food. We even made our own wine. We would place our order for grapes with Rosso or Longo who had grocery stores in Grand Junction. My dad and other Italians in the area would pool their money and buy hundreds of pounds of grapes. Then they’d all get together at my uncle’s house, because he had a big cellar. Everybody brought their own barrel, and they would make the wine together and store it in my uncle’s cellar for about three or four months. My dad had two 15-gallon barrels. When the wine was ready they’d all get together to pick up their barrels and lift a glass.
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