Wednesday, June 25, 2008



In earlier times up until the beginning of the last century, The Butcher, The Baker, and The Candlestick Maker
were some of societies most respected and needed citizens. These artisans provided light, bread, poultry, meat, pastries, and cakes to the local citizenry. Even far into the twentieth century there were still many small villages in Italy and allover Europe where there were still families who did not have an oven To cook in so they would bring things such as casseroles, pans of lasagna, and stews to the baker for him to cook their food inside the bakeries ovens.
Since the advent of electricity the candlestick maker is no longer a necessity to everyday life. Because of convenience foods and supermarkets neither are the butcher and to some extent the baker. In this day and age the baker is still important for holidays and special occasions like birthdays and weddings. The butcher however is used by a very small percentage of the total population.
For those of us of Italian ancestry the butcher is of extreme importance, especially in the areas of fresh pork sausage, Braciole, and properly cut veal scaloppini.
There are usually two different types of butcher shops that we deal with. There is the very personalized tiny butcher shop that usually just sells fresh cut meat and poultry as well as fresh made sausages. Pino’s on Sullivan Street next to St. Anthony’s and Florence Prime Meat Market
also in Greenwich Village are two good examples of the small neighborhood butcher shops of which most spots in Brooklyn, The Bronx, and small towns and cities around the country still possess in the form of the local butcher. These shops are run by master meat cutters who will cut your steaks, chops, and cutlets to order, just the way you like it.
The other type of butcher shop of which are frequented by Italian-Americans is the Pork Store. Pork Stores have master butchers the same as the Butcher Shop, but in addition to purveying fresh meat, they sell many other food products such as items imported from Italy like; Imported Pasta, Prosciutto di Parma, olive oil, vinegars, porcini, Salami, Italian Cheese, Mortadella, cured olives, and numerous other precuts.
If you were ever pressed to pick one item sold at a
Italian Pork Store or butcher shop that is most important to Italian-Americans, it would have to be without question, fresh pork sausages. To most Italians it is like a religion and of great importance. There are not many self-respecting Italian-Americans who would ever even think of buying mass-produced sausage at a supermarket. Every true Italian has their own favorite Butcher Shop or Pork Store that makes the sausage just the way they like it. As for me, the “Best,” hands down, would have to be Florence Prime Meat Market on Jones Street in The Village. Their sweet sausage is perfectly seasoned with garlic, salt, and black pepper. I love it, as well as their tasty lamb sausage which not every butcher makes. Faiacco’s Pork Store around the block from Florence is also the other local favorite were I can get many of the items necessary to cooking a proper Italian meal.
If you want to make Braciola, whether it is of beef or pork, the butcher is of great importance. You need to have your meat cut and pounded in a specific way to make the braciola. Also, if you’re in a pinch for time to make the braciola yourself, most good Italian butchers make very nice braciola that are all tied-up and ready for cooking in your own sauce.
Also of great significance to Italians is good quality veal, especially when it comes to the subject of scaloppini’s and cutlets for making dishes like; Veal Picatta, Saltimbocca, veal and peppers, Veal Parmigiano, and Veal Milanese.
Now to the baker and I think we’ll forget the candlestick-maker, although if you want to get the most beautiful hand-dipped candles you’ll ever see, I can tell you where to get them. There is a wonderful little shop in the tiny village of Sugarloaf, New York, about a hours drive north of New York City where you can get the most beautiful Candles in the world.
Back to the baker. In many of our wonderful Bellino Family dinners over the years, my aunts would make delicious cakes and cookies sometimes but not always. It is more than enough just to prepare the antipasto, pasta, and main course if there’s one other than the pasta. You don’t always have all the time it takes to make desert as well. This is where the baker comes in.
At any of our family meals or ones with friends, desert and coffee is extremely important, for after we are finished eating the previous courses we usually sit around the table for another two to three hours drinking coffee and Anisette along with some sweets, Italian Pastries and cookies. We chat and tell stories, especially Uncle Frank. One or more guests would stop at the Italian Bakery and get all sorts of goodies to munch on with coffee. Things like; Cannoli, Sfogiatelle, Eclairs, and assorted Italian cookies, so the baker was and still is of extreme importance to us all year long, not just at the holidays and birthdays but practically every Sunday when we had the famed “Bellino Sunday Supper” at Aunt Fran and Uncle Tony’s house in Lodi.
I know that many people all over the country get together and have the same type of big wonderful family meals as our family does. Sadly I know that there are some people who never have. I hope this book will inspire people to get together with friends and family to share a beautiful meal and happy moments, whether you have never had the opportunity before or if you have not done so for a while, may you be sparked to organize a festive dinner for the first time or to renew a old tradition.

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