Looking back on your childhood, there are certain things that stand out. There are certain things that you will never forget, and the one thing that I will never forget is Sunday dinner at my grandparents’ house. We went to visit both grandparents often, but had the big Italian American dinners at my father’s parents house. Their families came here from Campagna in Italy, specifically Controne and Albanella. Here are a few of the highlights of our Sunday dinners, which I am sure are typical of the common Italian American Sunday dinner gatherings.
The Food at an Italian American Sunday Dinner
A big part of Sunday dinner was the wonderful food that was prepared each Sunday, starting early in the morning. Grandma would get her pots out and start cooking first thing in the morning. When we pulled up to her house, you would smell the aroma of the gravy as soon as you got out of the car.
Every Italian-American family has its own specific menu, but we typically ate pasta and meat, which usually consisted of meatballs, sausages, beef, and pork (including brasciolla). My grandfather was a butcher, so the meat would always be fresh and prepared to perfection. Of course, there was Italian bread with the meal and a salad to follow.
Then after the cleanup was over, we would have a plethora of desserts, and the adults would have their coffee. The kids would grab as many different cookies as they could, before there were none left.
Sunday dinner was held in my grandparents’ basement, because that was the only space where we all could fit. There were 4 or 5 long tables put together, with the “kids table” being at the far end. On a busy Sunday, there would be 30 to 40 of us around the table. A room in the basement housed all of the tables and chairs, and everyone would help put them away at the end of the meal.
My grandmother, always busy cooking, rarely sat down. Everyone would offer to help, telling her to sit, take a break, relax, but that rarely happened. There were usually serving dishes for both the adults and the children, all of which seemed to be never ending. No matter how many people showed up, there was always food leftover.
Sunday dinner at my grandparents’ house allowed grandma and grandpa to see their children regularly; grandma and grandpa to see their grandchildren regularly; our parents to see their parents regularly; us grandchildren to spend time with our grandparents regularly; us grandchildren to spend time with our cousins regularly; and us grandchildren to spend time with our aunts and uncles regularly. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Most importantly, Sunday dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s meant FAMILY.
I have two brothers and sixteen cousins, and the nineteen of us share a bond that is much greater than a typical cousin relationship. Personally, and I am sure this goes for all of my cousins, I see all of them as brothers and sisters, and there is nothing I would not do for any one of them. From my brothers, who I see regularly, to my cousins who live far away, we all share a strong connection, which I believe was developed as a result of those Sunday dinners.
Unfortunately, as we grew older the trips to grandma’s became fewer, as all of us started our own families, but that is the progression of life.
So, Grandma and Grandpa, I hope you know that all of the early Sunday mornings cooking gravy and making meatballs, all the beef and pork that you cut over the years, produced a family recipe for the bond that holds us all together; a bond that will last for always.
Please post comments below with memories of your Sunday family gatherings, and click below if you would like to receive an email when we publish all future episodes of The Italian American Podcast.