Rosemary Campbell has always stayed true to her roots in Italy, returning to her parent’s home town every year to soak up the fine weather and sunflowers that adorn the hills…
My parents immigrated to Toronto, Canada in January 1952 from the seaside town of Pescara on the Adriatic sea. I was born a year later and have the honour of being the first born of the Canadian generation. I am Canadian by birth, but my roots are deeply planted in my Italian ancestry. Like an old grapevine, those roots remain stubborn and strong.
What makes our family unique is that my mother’s parents and siblings followed but only half of them remained in Canada and the other half returned to Abruzzo. Thus the family is divided only by geography not by traditions and customs.
What was it like growing up in your community?
Growing up in an Italian-Canadian community was a tug of war between the old ways and the new. I was always trying to fit in with the Canadian customs of my peers but still wanting to retain the Italian heritage of my family. Toronto in the 1960s was the largest Italian city outside of Italy. The entire neighbourhood where we lived was comprised of immigrants. This environment helped the newcomers cope with the huge social differences they encountered in Canada. However, this cultural enclave also caused problems for the next generation who were cocooned until we entered school – until then we only spoke Italian.
How did this lead to your love of authentic food?
My love of traditional Italian food has been part of my life since I was born. As recounted in my memoir Days of Wine and Rosa, I thought everyone kept a prosciutto in their bath-tub! As a little girl I relished seasonal rituals such as pressing grapes for home-made vino, canning tomatoes, preserving and making prosciutto and sausages. Perched on a little bench in my mamma’s kitchen, I learnt to make traditional dishes of the Abruzzo region. My two younger sisters and I were always encouraged to help and participate by both my parents in the kitchen who were very hands on and made everything from scratch.
My favourite two recipes are my mamma’s gnocchi and ravioli. Making gnocchi as a little girl was the Italian version of playdough – I would be handed pieces of the dough to shape into pillowy dumplings we called sorgetti (little mice). These were one of my favourite childhood dishes as they were as much fun to make as they were to eat! Ma’s ravioli was reserved for special occasions. They were a slice of paradise and the size alone made you swoon. Two were enough to cover your plate and fill your stomach. Filled with chicken breast and spinach and topped with meat sauce, the half moons provided sustenance for a small army.
Do you still visit regularly, and where do you most like to go?
I try to visit every few years and travel to all my favourite places: Venice, Siena, Florence, Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Umbria and, of course, my parents’ home town Pescara. The food, cuisine and vino there is amazing – simple, robust and fresh. Abruzzo is an undiscovered gem boasting sea, mountains and a landscape dotted with charming medieval hill towns, vineyards, olive groves and fields of sunflowers. The Italian word for sunflower is girasole. Perhaps the literal translation of girasole sums up our fascination with Italy: turn towards the sun.
Learn more about Rosemary at www.daysofwineandrosa.com
What’s your story?
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