My father loves talking about his childhood. He nurtures fond memories of the years he spent at casa vecchia, the old house, in the middle of the Venetian country. The house wasn’t a farm, but it was still surrounded by fruit trees, a vegetable garden, a small vineyard; it had a few courtyard animals, and a creek next to it where small freshwater fishes would go back and forth. It was a country house like many others you would find in that part of the world.
Most of my father’s memories of those years have food at their core. Sometimes it would be food that was missing; others, food that was repetitive – pasta e fagioli every day, or polenta with figs every morning, or apples as the only fruit for months. Others again, it would be about the satisfaction and the feeling of victory in fishing some frogs in the ditch, or some catfish in the canal, using his rudimentary equipment. One of the best stories he would tell is about ice-cream, gelato. As a kid growing up in the middle of nowhere during post-war times, he experienced modernity slowly, and later than other kids living in the northern industrial cities. Modernity meaning TV, a refrigerator, a freezer, a washing machine, as well as certain foods – gelato was one of those.
Gelato made its appearance in my father’s life in the form of a little truck, driving through fields and unpaved roads, announcing its presence with a bell. ‘Orthodox’ people wouldn’t even call it gelato, yet that was the name used to call the frozen creamy sweet thing in a cup or a stick that was sold from the van window. The kinds of ice-creams it would sell were coppette (cups with half cream and half chocolate), ghiaccioli (fruit popsicles), or moretti (vanilla ice-cream on a stick, covered in an iced chocolate glaze). The best part of the whole story was that, at times, my father would be able to buy his ice-cream in change for eggs; others, he would have to pull 10 liras out of his pocket, which he would earn working at the Saturday cine forum at the church. For years, probably until the late 1970s, this is the only form of gelato people living in those areas had access to.
Gelato is among the first foods tourists think they should experience once landed in Italy. Italy is indeed the land of gelato: it is where it has been invented, back in 1565, in Florence; and where the art has been brought to perfection by excellent artisans making a great product using only the best ingredients. However, artisan gelato has become ‘popular’ and widespread only in recent times. Before then, it was a luxury item available only to the upper classes which had physical and financial access to it. As for the rest of the people, the normal people like my father, who lived far from the cultural and economic centres of the country – Milan, Turin, Florence, Venice, Rome, Naples – gelato remained something obscure until after the war, and even then, it wasn’t the kind of gelato we all know about: creamy, luscious, in all its inflections of flavours, scooped out and gently unloaded on a colourful paper cup or a crunchy cone. No, it was the frozen cream, pressed in the little cup, or molded on a stick.
The subject of gelato is vast, somehow controversial, and yet deeply ingrained in Italian food culture. There is history mingled with technology, culture, language and sociology. We felt is was worth discussing; we felt we should dedicate an episode of Italian Table Talk to it. Each of us will narrate a little bit of the whole picture, without the presumption of covering it all, but at least trying to bring a better insight to the traditions and the culture linked to this beloved food so popular among locals as much as among tourists. In this episode, Giulia will share the recipe of a traditional gelato flavour, crema fiorentina; Emiko, the art of making affogato; and Jasmine, the recipe for a truly vintage classic, pinguino.
As for me, I wanted to share a recipe for pops – gelato on a stick like my father would have had. And in doing so, I got inspired by seasonal stone fruits, and by a traditional summer dessert from Piedmont, pesche e amaretti, or pesche ripiene. Peaches and amaretti (bitter almond cookies) are a true classic – they go heavenly together in their original form as well as in the form of frozen pops. In sticking to tradition, I thought to use mainly Piedmontese ingredients: Volpedo peaches, an heirloom variety typical from that part of Italy; and Piedmontese amaretti.
I am at a loss for words when it comes to describe these pops. It would be easier for me to use images rather that adjectives. To me, they taste of old, faded photos, of a summer of many years ago, of memories that don’t belong to me, but that I lived through the eyes of the storyteller.
Peach Amaretto Popsicles
In a food processor, puree the peach slices until you’ll have a smooth texture but with some small chunks of peach flesh still intact. Add the cream and blend until smooth. Finally, add the amaretti give the mixture a couple more pulses so that it comes together.
Pour the peach cream into the pop molds and freeze until solid, at least 6 hours.