I read a message sometime yesterday (I think on the Bay Area board) discussing the Italian holiday tradition of the "feast of seven fish." I'd never heard of it, so I wrote a note to my dad. After reading his response, I felt I just *had* to share. His upbringing was sooo different than mine, I always love these memory-stories:
(hope you guys do, too!)
"Not only have I heard of that tradition, I lived it. Baccala, dried cod fish, was a family tradition the entire time my grandmother was alive. My grandmother's recipe was to bake the fish in a huge pan with potatoes, onions other vegetable and a lot of paprika.
There are several memorable thoughts I have of this tradition. First was the purchase of the fish. As a young boy, my grandmother would send me to pick up the Baccala at Orlando's Market. I would go there and Mr. Orlando would pinch me on the cheek and tell me what a good boy I was and how he like my Italian grand parents. Then he would present me with the Baccala wrapped up in a newspaper. You have to remember that it came as a salted dried fish...............the same texture as a piece of wood. It still had a large tail attached and was about the size of a tennis racket. That's exactly how I viewed it because on my walk home, I would pick up rocks and then send them flying as I practiced my Italian tennis stroke.........both forehand and back hand. (This is a true story.)
When I got to my grandmother's house (she lived across our "yard"), she would would take the slightly dented Baccala and put it in an enormous tub of water. It would sit there for a couple of days and it would lose the hard texture and expand. On the day of preparation.........this thing would bake a long time..............the most memorable thing was the smell. THIS FISH STUNK LIKE HELL! Not only would you be overwhelm when you walked in the door with this odor, you could smell it about a half a block away despite the fact that it was winter and all the doors and windows were closed.
On many occasions when my grandmother served the Baccala, our combined families would get together .........my Mom and dad and three brothers and my Aunt and Uncle and their four daughters and son. Most of the kids would try to get away with eating as little of the Baccala as possible without my grandmother yelling mangia....e' mangia. The best part of the so called feast were the potatoes that were golden brown and had the paprika and fish broth baked in...........they were great.
I would try to revive this tradition with your Mom's guidance, but I don't think we could ever live with the one week aftermath of fish odor.
By the way, Pittsburghers do not consider those people from the other side of the commonwealth as worthy citizens.................but what did you know, you were enjoying paradise."