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French to Italian? Just Change the Vowel at the End

Tartine to Tartina

Carol did a wonderful story in this section called “Uncorking Memories” that tells the tale of how my Grandpa Martino shared his Italian recipes with our family and how my sisters and I have kept the memory of Grandpa alive by getting together and recreating those recipes for our kids and grandkids. We call them “Grandpa Martino Memorial Dinners” and they are probably the most important family thing we do. I’m so glad we’ve been able to share these tastes from our youth with the next generation.

What I’ve always found interesting about Grandpa’s recipes, is the fact that they seem to bSandra with Grandpa circa 1945e ones that only folks from our little town in Illinois, Roanoke, know about. Over the years, I began to piece together a theory about that oddity, one that was reinforced recently. My grandpa, and many other immigrants who settled in Roanoke, came from Venasca, a small village in northwest Italy. Venasca is perched in the foothills of the Alps, just fifteen miles from the French border. As so often happened during the immigration boom of the early 20th century, someone from a particular town or village made the courageous decision to leave their home and family and come to America to start a new life. For many Italians, including my grandfather, that meant coming to work in the burgeoning coal mining industry in the Midwest. So someone from Venasca, somehow made it to central Illinois and found work at the local coal mine. He undoubtedly sent word back to Venasca, telling friends and family of the opportunities this new world offered and some of them followed this pioneer, finding their own destiny in the process. My grandpa was one of those folks.

Anton Martino arrived in Roanoke in 1903 and did indeed find work in the mines. Much of my family’s early history in America is cloudy but it is known that sometime after his arrival, Grandpa sent for Katarina Costagno from Venasca, they got married and raised four children in Roanoke. My father was the third child. Grandpa and Grandma brought much of their heritage with them from the old country, including the recipes that my dad and his siblings grew up on.

Grandma passed away in 1945 at age 59. By that time, their children were grown and gone so Grandpa was left on his own. Fortunately for all of us, he lived right next door to our faTartinasmily and by the time I was born in 1952, Grandpa had learned to make all the wonderful dishes that Grandma made. And on Sunday dinnertime, we were usually treated to one them when we arrived home from church so my sisters and I were imprinted with these gastronomical memories just as our father and his siblings were.

Much has been written elsewhere about the recipes Grandpa shared with us but something came to light recently that I found very interesting and enlightening. I’ve suspected for a while now, that Grandpa’s “Italian” recipes were strongly influenced by French cuisine. This was reinforced when my sister Sandra ran across a French, open-faced sandwich called a “tartine”. One of our favorite appetizers at our memorial dinners is an open-faced, brick cheese sandwich which my dad called a “tartina”. I believe this to be the binding tie, lending credence to my theory that each of the recipes we’ve inherited may be a French-influenced version of an Italian dish and why they seem to have their own unique names. For instance, our potato dumpling recipe is called “cuyettas”, not gnocchi as every Italian version I’ve seen on a restaurant menu is called.

I envy people who have clear and solid information about their ancestry…especially about things that are important to them…like our grandpa’s recipes are to us. It would be nice to know all the details of how these wonderful dishes came to be but little revelations like the tartine story will have to suffice for the Martino family. I’m very pleased we uncovered this one.


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