Angie Gergen was just a babe in arms when her mother and father left the tiny Sicilian village of Cefalu and brought their family to the United States. They ended up in a Chicago Italian neighborhood off Halsted.
Growing up Italian means spending lots of time in the kitchen, and in Angie's case, this meant seeing her parents cooking together.
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"They would say 'Just watch us,' and that's how we learned," says Angie. "I never saw my mother or father measure anything."
Sadly, Angie's mother passed away when Angie was in high school, leaving her father with four kids to raise on his own. Despite his full-time factory job, he still cooked every meal and baked all their bread.
"He loved to cook," says Angie, recalling her father's layered eggplant dish that she would take to school for lunch.
"I had a friend who was Italian Catholic too, so we'd eat these weird things on Fridays when we couldn't eat meat. Our friends always wanted to know what we were eating."
On Easter, her father would make traditional Pupa Cu L'ova Italian cookies. See Angie's recipe at dailyherald.com/entlife/food.
"On Easter Sunday we couldn't eat breakfast before communion, so when we got home from church we would have the cookies -- it was a real treat. My father used to have patterns; he'd make baskets or horses. I just make circles, but he would make (the cookies) real pretty."
Another tradition Angie likes to keep is making homemade cannoli, an operation in which her husband (who is not Italian!) has a pivotal role.
"We wait until it's nice out and then set it all up in the garage. I make the shells and my husband fries them. It's a lot of work so we make a lot of them at one time and put them in the freezer."
Recently retired, Angie worked at Fremd High School for many years; first in the kitchen, and then the offices. No doubt her co-workers miss her -- Angie had a tendency to bring in lunch for everybody. One of the favorites was her hearty zucchini soup which she shares with us today.
"Every time I see them now someone will ask me, 'you got any food on you?' It was fun working there," she laughs.
These days, Angie loves to bake, especially when she knows how much her grandchildren enjoy the results.
"I'm glad my grandchildren appreciate the traditions. My granddaughter likes to cook with me, but the boys? I don't know. They'll say to their mother, 'Ma, why can't you cook like Nana?' or they'll tell me, 'Nana, she doesn't feed me!' and I'll say to them, 'do you know where the refrigerator is?"
There is one legacy from her father that Angie has yet to accomplish however.
"Dad made homemade ravioli. I haven't mastered that."
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