The tastes of Italy

September 12, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

The flavors of Italy are in the words as well as the foods of Edda and Aldo Della Mea of Hagerstown.

In beautifully accented English in their home in Hagerstown's North End, the couple shared their story of emigrating from their homes in northeastern Italy - first to Toronto, Canada, later to Maryland.

The couple, who married in 1964, met in Canada. Their families knew each other in Italy, but the pair did not, Edda Della Mea said. Their four children - daughters Georgina and Francesca and sons Carlo and Victor - were born in Toronto.

Aldo Della Mea worked as a construction engineer and came to Hagerstown to build a factory in 1972. His wife and four children followed in 1973.


In the early 1980s, the couple opened Edda's Deli on Northern Avenue in Hagerstown. For four years, Edda Della Meo baked and sold crusty loaves of bread, Italian sauces and specialty dishes such as her lasagna. The shop also stocked a variety of pastas, olive oils, cans of tomatoes and tomato sauces.

Victor Della Mea said he's gotten into cooking lately. His sister, Francesca, said he'll open a deli someday.

"He just doesn't know it yet," she said.

Staff Writer Kate Coleman recently joined members of the Della Mea family in their kitchen, which was fragrant with the bread Aldo Della Mea had baked that morning.

Who does most of the cooking? Do you both cook?

Edda: I think we do the same amount. When I'm tired of cooking, he takes over.

Who cooked when you had the deli?

Edda: I did.

Aldo: I made the bread sometimes.

Where did you learn to cook?

Aldo: It's the DNA, you know.

Edda: He was forced to work ... for the Germans. He was what? How old?

Aldo: Figure it out ... '42. I was 15 years old. I used to cook ... it was tough. It was the German occupation.

Did you cook with your mom as a kid?

Aldo: My father was an engineer. My mother, she cooked, but there was nothing to cook in the war, you know.

When did you learn to cook?

Edda: After I got married. Never cooked before. The kitchen was not my strong point.

What was?

Fix things. Knitting things. In a way, I'm like my mother. She was an excellent (seamstress). She used to make all our clothes and crochet and knit. But don't put her in front of a pan. She hated it. I learned a lot after I got married.

How did you learn? Did Aldo teach you how to cook?

Edda: A little bit. And I went to school, and my school was (home economics) in Italy. They taught us a little bit - basics.

Not Edda's lasagna?

Edda: No, I learned that from my books, from my sister in Canada. When I had problems, I used to call her up, and she'd tell me what to do.

What do we have here?

Edda: It's polenta.

That's a grain, right? Is it cornmeal?

Edda: Yes, cornmeal.

And prosciutto, salami, Montasio, Friulano Parmesan (cheeses).

Where do you get your cheeses?

Edda: Canada.

Do you still have family up there?

Edda: My sister and a brother.

Edda: During the war, that was our main meal. Cheese and polenta was the every-night meal.

Francesca: Now - for me and my sister - we go crazy for it.

Victor: You can use this ...

Francesca: In the morning, you can fry it up in butter.

Is it a comfort food?

Francesca: It was one of her (daughter Elena, 2 years old) first foods. All the kids like it.

Edda: I used to feed it to them when they were small - polenta with tomato sauce. And they loved it.

Do you have a favorite thing you like to eat?

Edda: Cheese and bread.

Aldo: Baccala! (Baccala is dried salt cod.)

What is something that friends or family like and request?

Edda: One granddaughter likes gnocchi. And one likes tortellini.

How is the food different in Italy?

Edda: Very nice.

Aldo: More elaborate. Over there, it is a culture. Food is a culture.

Edda: They like to have the table set, they like to sit down and have the first and second and the third (courses) and the wine and the coffee. It's not hit-and-run like here.

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