Cooking With Chef Silvio and Farms, Factories and Families

13 Apr 2010 4:35 PM | Posted by GNHLHA

From Newsletter Volume 6, Number 1

By Anthony Riccio

Come this July, I anticipate the publication of Cooking with Chef Silvio: Stories, Social History and Authentic Recipes from Campania, by SUNY Press, which looks at the fascinating social history of Italy’s Campania region through food and oral history stories.  The book highlights the cuisine our ancestors brought from the farmlands of Campania to the city of New Haven – those hearty and delicious meals our grandparents made from simple, earth-based ingredients.  Highlighted in this book is the unknown history and unheralded role of the Italian woman whose resourcefulness and ingenuity in “la cucina della povera gente” the kitchen of the poor, often meant survival for large peasant families with few resources in the poverty-stricken south.  

A second book in progress, also by SUNY Press (Spring ’11), is Farms, Factories and Families: Italian American Women of Connecticut, a woman’s history woven together by oral histories from elderly Italian American women storytellers from many cities throughout Connecticut.  The book begins with recollections of small village life in Italy through the eyes of young women who reconstruct the social history of the south through their experiences at home, in schools, at work and during their arduous journeys to America.  This Italian woman’s history documents the sewing tradition beginning with the ancient Samnites of Campania and how the centuries-old craft was absorbed by New Haven’s garment industry when the city was an epicenter in the 20s and 30s, employing thousands of Italian immigrant women and their daughters who were eager to support their families at the cost of foregoing their dreams for professional careers.   The book chronicles the union movement of the Amalgamated in New Haven, tracing its origins as a woman’s movement whose outspoken leaders – Jennie Aiello, Jill Iannone, Carol Paolillo and others profiled in the book – broke the traditional role of the subservient southern Italian woman and stood up to male factory owners and the barbaric sweatshop conditions they imposed to form their own union.  Through their organizing efforts and willingness to risk their own livelihood, these gallant women turned the tide in favor of the common working person, gaining better working conditions and fair pay, setting in motion a union movement that reverberated through the city for generations. 

Several of Anthony Riccio’s photographs of Italian American Garment Workers are featured in the GNHLHA exhibit, “New Haven’s Garment Workers,” on display now at Fairfield University.

Greater New Haven Labor History Association  •  267 Chapel Street, New Haven, CT 06513 • •

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