When my mother Livia came to Australia in 1950, she was 22 and recently married. She and my father came here on a sponsored migration program, together with thousands of other migrants in search of a better life, having survived the difficulties of living in the northeast corner of Italy in the aftermath of World War 2.
She and my father arrived at Station Pier in Port Melbourne and were quickly whisked away to the migrant camp in Bonegilla. One of her strongest memories of the start of her new life in Australia was the food – it was simply terrible! Dripping was used for cooking, you purchased olive oil at a chemist shop (for medicinal purposes of course!), coffee was a syrup that you diluted and wine was called “plonk” and clearly just for those with drinking problems! They found comfort in spending time with Italian friends – some met in Italy or on the journey to Melbourne and others met here in Australia. They got together often to celebrate their new found home.
Mamma needed a cookbook to help her to develop her cooking skills. She was not yet comfortable reading English and probably could not find a cookbook written in Italian in Melbourne in 1950. So when her brother, Fidenzio migrated to Australia in 1952, she asked him to bring her a cookbook. The book he brought with him on the ship, published in 1948 is called Il tesoretto della cucina Italiana – literally meaning “the little treasure of Italian cooking”. She still has this much loved and much worn book.
The book has about 600 pages and has 1,700 recipes which are “practical, cost-effective and tasty for family cooking”. Mamma let me borrow her treasured cookbook today and I could not wait to leaf through it.
There are recipes for almost everything in dedicated chapters – condiments, sauces, antipasti, soups, fried foods, eggs etc. There are sections on how to roll a polpettone, how to make puff pastry with diagrams; 60 pages of fish recipes including 14 recipes with baccala’, 14 rabbit recipes and 17 pages on how to use kitchen left-overs – it is an incredible compendium of italian cooking.
My mother says that this book taught her how to cook and gave her the knowledge to make her the cook she is today. I look forward to sharing some of these fantastic recipes on my blog over the coming months (probably years!).