Mom’s First Thanksgiving…..
In 1621, the first immigrants to the America, the Plymouth colonists shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies, with the Wampanoag Indians. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn't until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November. Thanksgiving Day is traditionally a day for families and friends to get together for a special meal. The meal often includes a turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, pumpkin pie, and vegetables. Thanksgiving Day is a time for many people to give thanks for what they have.
Many Italian immigrants have come to embrace Thanksgiving because of their good fortune to have come to this great country. My parents are no different and to this day, they go to church on Thanksgiving Day morning to thank God for delivering them from the poverty they experienced after World War II and giving them the opportunities they have had in the United States.
Both of my parents emigrated from Italy. My father came over as a merchant marine from Monte di Proscida, just outside of Naples and my mother came from an island off the coast named Ischia. Both immigrated just after World War II
Ischia is a small volcanic island about 30 kilometers from the city of Naples. Today it is know as a very chic tourist destination catering to German visitors eager to bathe in the natural thermal hot springs and enjoy the spas that use the volcanic mud in there treatments. However, in the late 1940’s, Ischia was trying to recover from WWII just as the mainland was. Because of that, many Ischiola, residents of Ischia, were leaving for various other countries looking for work.
My mother, Francesca was one of 8 children of my grandparents Giovanniguiseppe and Concetta Mazzella. The oldest being Maria followed by Raphaelina (Lina), Vincenza (Enzy), Francesca, Imaculata (Tina), Antoinette, and Luigi.
My grandfather, Giovanniguiseppe left Ischia around 1948 and moved to Argentina looking for work. He left his wife and children behind hoping to make a better future for them. At first work was plentiful as the economy of Argentina was booming selling beef and sugar cane abroad. However starting in 1950 the economy began to falter. By 1951 inflation was so high that Argentina money was worthless. What little money he was able to send home did little to relieve the poverty his family was living in. Concetta had her daughter Maria write a letter to Giovanniguiseppe, begging her father to come home. They were all starving. No one had enough even for one full meal a day. The children helped as much as they could, tending to the gardens but were unable to do much. At least if he came home, he could help farm what little land they had and thereby at least feed his large family.
To make matters worse, when he left for Argentina, Concetta was pregnant with baby Luigi and he had never even seen his father. Many a night Concetta would sit in the dark crying and praying for a miracle. In the spring of 1952, Concetta received a letter from her husband that he was coming home. Her many prayers were answered. Giovanniguiseppe rolled up his mattress boarded a steamer and made the long trek home. Hidden inside his rolled up mattress was a giant bunch of bananas.
Upon arrival, he immediately set out to feed his family and make them as comfortable as possible, with an eye towards immigrating to the United States where his brothers and sisters-in-law were already settled. He would fish everyday on his father-in-law’s boat bringing home a portion of his catch to take care of his family’s immediate needs. He would then work in the various gardens to make sure there was plenty of other food when the fish were scarce.
Finally in 1955, my grandfather immigrated to the States with three of his daughters Maria, Enzy, and my mother Francesca. The plan being that he would get settled, both with work and a home, then send for the others as soon as possible. They left port, November 21, arrived on the shores of New York City aboard the steamer, Saturnia, on Thanksgiving Day morning 1955. My mother was 15 years old.
My great Uncle Antonio, my grandfather’s brother, was waiting for them at the dock. After many hugs and kisses, he packed them into his car and brought them to his farm in Marlboro, NY where he lived with his wife Josephine and their children. Waiting for them was a Thanksgiving feast that my great Aunt Josephine had prepared. They had never seen nor ever had turkey before. Knowing that they would be cold from the trip, my Aunt Josephine had placed on the table hot steaming bowls of Turkey soup.
My mother often talks about that bowl of turkey soup that they had as an appetizer and how it was by far the best soup she had ever or would ever taste. It was filled with slivers of turkey as well as vegetables and pasta. There was a huge loaf of warm crusty bread on the table. She dunked the bread into the soup. It warmed her belly and for the first time in a long time, she felt safe.
Prep time ¾ hours serves 4-6 people
Ingredients:1 lb Turkey meat cut into chunks
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 medium sized carrot chopped small
3-4 stalks of celery chopped small
1 bay leaf
3-4 rosemary leaves
1 qt. chicken or turkey stock
¼ cup Marsala wine
1 tablespoon Pepper
1 tablespoon Salt
1 tablespoon Sugar
3-4 tablespoons Olive oil
½ lb Spaghetti
In a large pot heat up olive oil on low heat and add all vegetables, placing the onions on the bottom of the pot with the spices on the top. Slowly sautéed the vegetables for 15 minutes occasionally stirring them to prevent them from sticking. After 15 minutes add turkey, stock and Marsala wine and bring heat up to high. Allow to boil for 20 minutes. Take your spaghetti and carefully break into 2-3” pieces. Allow spaghetti to cook in the soup for 8-10 minutes until the pasta is tender. Serve with a warm piece of crusty Italian bread.