Add Italian flare to your summer activities

By Caryl Clem:

Imagine any favorite fruit, strawberry, watermelon, mango, lemon surrounded by sweetened ice ready to burst into flavor inside your mouth on a hot summer day.   An Italian treat for centuries, Italian Ice can be located at over 30 locations in the Chicago area according to the updated August 2020 Yelp cite.  Foursquare  released in July their top choices for Italian Ice with critic reviews to inspire your next taste bud adventure.

The original Italian Ices’ basic ingredients are fruit, cane sugar and ice In Sicilian granita recipes. Traditional Italian Ice is healthier as a summertime dessert because it contains no dairy butterfat which intensifies the taste of fruit. The sugar ratio is low compared to other ingredients, a plus for anyone counting calories. Another advantage, tart fruit in Italian Ice will trigger salivation resulting in a thirst quenching feeling.  From the Food Network Kitchen, a simple recipe for Italian Ice contained 3 cups halved strawberries or pineapple, 2 Tablespoons sugar, 2 Tablespoons honey, 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice first blended with 2 cups ice, and then blended with 1 more cup ice.

From the mountains as historian food writer Jeffrey Steingarten has documented the snow from Mount Etna created the frozen stage for the birth of ice cream concoctions. By the 16th century, the influential families in Florence, Italy were delighted by the frozen sensation invented by Bernardo Buontalenti, a native of Florence. He had his own version of an iced dessert  His popular treat made it to Paris where it was called Sorbet, while in Italy it was named, Gelato. This version of Italian ice cream does contain egg yolks and milk.

Another Italian custom, vacation time is expected.  Ferragosto on August 15 is a national holiday celebrated by festivals. Originally a custom started by the Emperor Augustus, it signaled a “break” from hard labor in the fields before harvest time in late September.  The Catholic Church declared August 15 as a day to honor the Virgin Mary and her assumption into heaven. Before modern technology, relaxing the entire month of August was commonly practiced.

In Chicago, over 10 Italian churches stand, testaments to customs and traditions still practiced today. The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, built in 1910 on Lexington was threatened with closure in 1993, A committee was set up to save the church involving alderman, prominent businessmen and a hospital administrator raised funds to save the church that hosts Italian events throughout the year. This is still the oldest continuing Italian church. If you love Italian architecture, visit the churches and experience history.

Italians shaped many sections in Chicago we love today. Whether you travel down Harlem Avenue, go to Highwood, Blue Island, Chicago Heights, Melrose Park, Maxwell Street Market, or Taylor Street in Little Italy, ;  relish the experience of Italian traditions in summer.

Epiphany Day and other Italian flair in Chicago

By Caryl Clem

Grace, charm and simplicity were evident in the Nativity scene that was a treasured Christmas decoration sitting on the fireplace mantle. Baby Jesus and family was the honored first symbol of Christmas to be placed inside our home.  Above the manager scene is a handmade star spreading rays of light.   The revered Christ child display derives from Italy. Naples was the first crib maker, Presepe Napoletano, dating back to 1025 before St. Francis of Assisi in 1225 included scenes with a crib in the Christmas story.

In Italy, Christmas celebrations start with prayer and a service to commemorate the Immaculate Conception of Mary on December eighth. Festivities include open Christmas markets, Father Christmas and the custom of setting cribs out in yards awaiting the arrival of Baby Jesus who is placed in the crib on the 24th of December. Constructing a pyramid of shelves above the Nativity landscape base includes common animals with a mix of the famous and ordinary is a custom practiced across Italy. Naples features a Nativity scene with over 600 items featuring an entire street dedicated to this business.  Novena is nine days before Christmas to honor the shepherd’s journey to find Baby Jesus.

Christmas Eve has several traditions including children dressed as shepherds, wearing robes and sandals, singing carols, while playing shepherd pipes. Adults parade as shepherd bagpipers in costume of former times. Especially in Southern Italy, on Christmas Eve “ Estra dei sette Pesci” or the Feast of Seven Fishes offers seafood which has become very popular in America by Italian families. A light meal avoiding meat is served before going to a midnight Christmas Mass; afterwards a Christmas cake called Panettone is served .Christmas Day is spent eating during the entire day.  Modern Italians exchange gifts on Christmas day. Children write letters to Father Christmas for gifts and to their parent to tell them why they are loved.

As songs fill the air during the Christmas season, I start humming along anytime The Twelve Days of Christmas plays.  As I visualized ladies dancing while lords are leaping, I am clueless that the 12 days of Christmas has religious origins. In Italy and 11 countries around the world, Epiphany is a public holiday, celebrated on January 6th,   a religious event celebrating the Three Wise Men and the baptism of Jesus. Throughout Italy, customs vary, while rural villages open gifts on St Lucia day, December 13 th or on January 6th from the good witch, Befana or the Three Wise Men. The Christmas season ends as the Carnival season begins that finishes with Mardi Gras.

In the Chicago area, by the year 2000, over half a million can claim Italian ancestry. Taylor Street to Ashlan and then to Morgan are referred to as “Little Italy”.,  sometimes called University Village. The neighborhood is just between the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) campus and the Illinois Medical District. Little Italy continues to thrive with some of the best restaurants as well as Mario’s Italian Lemonade on Taylor Street. Scafuri Bakery opened in 1904 after the Scarfuri family immigrated in 1901. Luigi used to give out free bread during the Depression which may account for the family’s success today. Besides being known for its bread and pastries, the Italian cookies are very popular. Als Beef goes back to 1938 and offers several locations throughout Chicago and its suburbs. The Rosebud restaurant is named after the Sicily flower on Taylor street and serves some of the best Italian pasta, chicken, and veal cuisine with several locations.