Serving Up Italian Traditions in Sudbury

With fall comes winemaking & jarring tomatoes in Sudbury.

The kitchen is the heart of the home, where food traditions are passed from one generation to another. But for Italians, the garage can serve the same purpose.

With fall comes winemaking and jarring tomatoes, annual rituals that ensure there is enough vino and sugo – the main staples of any good Italian meal to last the winter.

Each wave of immigration to Greater Sudbury brought new food traditions. And for Italians who arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax (many who boarded the train for Sudbury), it was not uncommon for them to bring a leg of prosciutto or gallon of vino. Despite having their food confiscated at the border, these new Canadians were not deterred.

Like many Europeans, Italians arrived in Sudbury to work as labourers. By day they congregated in neighbourhoods like Copper Cliff and Gatchell creating their own Little Italy. As Italo-Canadesi they adapted their own traditions to suit the climate and geography. They planted gardens and purchased food from their neighbourhood grocer like Tarini’s, Dominion, Pianosi’s or further downtown to Bonimart.

Come fall, the garage and basement became a makeshift kitchen and dining room. It was (and still is) the place for winemaking, jarring of vegetables and dry-curing meat.

These days, driving through any Sudbury neighbourhood in October you can find the garage door wide open, boxes of Californian grapes piled high, with men, women and children each taking a turn with the grape crusher and press.  

With the help of his father, wife and neighbours, Giovanni Rocca spent one Sunday morning making wine, using equipment that’s been in his family for 50 years. His neighbour eagerly joined in, commenting that the last time he crushed grapes, he was seven years old.

Passing down food traditions to the next generation was important to many new Canadians. And in 2019, it’s important for Diandra Cacciotti Zafiris, too.

Along with jarring tomatoes, making prosciutto and wine, Diandra grew up making all the delicacies of the two Italian regions her parents are from – pasta like gnocchi and lasagna, soups like mintestra di pa and passatelli in brodo, along with sweets like ciambelle and crostili.

Now with four children of her own, Diandra wants to ensure those traditions continue.

“We have Sunday dinner every week at my parents with my siblings and their kids and my Nonna Rosa,” she said.

“So, when it comes time for jarring tomatoes, making prosciutto, sausages, lasagna, gnocchi and pasta, all the kids help. It’s such an amazing experience for them and they have a blast!” Her children also visit their Nonna Rosa for cooking lessons.

Diandra keeps in contact with relatives back in Italy and can’t help but notice that despite the distance, Italian food traditions remain strong in Sudbury.

“My cousins my age in Italy don’t know how to make some of the things, like ciambelle, that I know how to make because some items became easy to buy at the stores in Italy,” she said, “whereas here they were not available so traditional recipes got passed down.” 

Did you know?

Italy has 20 regions, with just as many cuisines and many more dialects. Just like the dialect spoken in one village is vastly different from the one spoken in a town just 20 kilometres away, so does cuisine vary from town to town, region to region.  

More on this in a future blog post.

Find your favourite Italian dish at one of Sudbury's great local Italian restaurants:

- Verdicchio Ristorante-Enoteca

- Respect is Burning Kitchen + Bar

- di Gusto Pizza & Pasta

- P&M Kouzzina

About Laura Stradiotto

Laura Stradiotto is a writer and editor based in Sudbury, ON.

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