Nona’s story began in July of 1990 when my husband was called to serve his next tour of duty with the US Navy in Naples Italy. I was 24 years old with two young daughters and I was about to embark on the dream that had always been deep in my soul.
Moving to a foreign land is always a mix of excitement and fear, unable to speak the language and alone with no relatives or family to lend a hand, I immersed myself into Bella Napoli! My sailor had to report for duty, and there was no time to feel sorry for myself with two young daughters looking for guidance and consistency from mom. As with any deployment you can choose to live in military housing or with the local population, in order to make the most of our adventure we chose the full Italian experience. September of 1990 we pulled up to our communal villa, upstairs living with our Italian landlords downstairs. A curious face peeked over the wrought iron fencing as the air was filled with children’s laughter and moving trucks. Awkwardly, the landlord and I used our Italian-English Dictionary to make introductions. In this moment, I met Nona, the woman who would shape my overseas experience and leave a piece of herself in my families’ heart.
Unbeknownst to us all, that awkward introduction was the first step into a beautiful relationship of food, love and inspiration. While my girls played in the yard, Nona would ask Yvonna un café? I would walk over to the fence, always with the dictionary, and enjoy a café while practicing my poor Italian and chuckling with Nona over her poor English. Our eyes would meet, the look of understanding and knowing would pass between us with a twinkle and she would smile warmly. Originally from Milano, Nona was 78 years old and had migrated to Napoli to escape the harsh winters; her family would join her for the warm and beautiful summers.
Meetings at the fence turned into Nona taking me under her wing; many mornings were spent shopping for fresh produce. Shopping for the freshest ingredients was to be done daily; you were to buy what was in season and fresh. Along with the shopping came the bartering, I can still hear Nona’s spunk and bubble when she would haggle with a farmer for a cheaper price on olives, salt fish or San Marzano tomatoes. At home, Nona taught me how to prepare Italian dishes and that’s where our love through food blossomed.
I can remember disasters and disappointments with several experiments, in life and with food during that time. Memories were made, laughter spread through the villa like fire and the bonds of family were created. Nona taught me her Gravy recipe, along with so many others, how lucky was I at 24 years old to have my own personal Italian chef giving me guidance and instructions? Never one to write things down, Nona would teach by showing, you listen to the food , she would say, it tells you what to do.
Two woman who grew up worlds apart and never fully spoke each other’s language, formed a friendship and love that could not be broken. This is the spirit of Nona’s Italian Cucina