Remembering Eva

Eva chickens
Last week, my family lost a little giant.  My father’s cousin Eva passed away in Salle, their hometown in Abruzzo.  I never imagined when I bade her farewell on Ferragosto, that it would be the last time I would see her.

At about 4 and 1/2 feet tall, Eva’s diminutive stature was in no way indicative of her strength, neither of body nor character.  Born in 1935, Eva was the daughter of Lucrezia, the eldest of my grandfather’s nine siblings.  She, her parents, her sister Norina and her much-younger brother Antonio are the only members of the enormous “Stefanucci” family (this is our “sopranome” or nickname, after our legendary benevolent patriarch, my great-grandfather, Stefano) to remain in the tiny mountain village of Salle.  Eva’s three other siblings immigrated to Montreal while the remainder of her aunts, uncles and cousins left Salle in search of work and new opportunities in Torino, Belgium and New York.

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Eva in her lifelong home of Salle with Il Morrone in the background

Endowed with a seemingly endless supply of energy, Eva dedicated her life to her family.  She was a workhorse  by nature – traversing the treacherous mountain terrain in the dead of winter to fetch water in a large copper “conga” precariously positioned on her head; washing clothes against wooden boards at the banks of the river; working long hours at a chair factory in the coastal town of Montesilvano; caring for her aging parents and looking after her feeble-bodied sister.  She never married or had children of her own, but helped raise her two young nephews when they lost their mother far sooner than any children should.   She kept meticulous track of the lives of her nieces and nephews in Montreal and proudly showed off their photos and accomplishments to anyone who’d listen.

Eva played another significant role in the Stefanucci clan – keeper of the keys.  Those of her cousins, including my dad and uncle, with second homes in their ancestral town all entrusted Eva with a set of housekeys.  She watched over the homes throughout the year and prepared them for our arrival in summer, when Salle’s population swells with returning emigrants.  She took it upon herself to preside over the homecoming of all of her family members – a veritable one-woman welcome wagon – all smiles, hugs and terms of endearment in thick Abruzzese dialect.

When I learned of her passing, I realized that Eva had not only been the guardian of the keys, but also of our family’s history and legacy in Salle.  She was a treasure-trove of knowledge about our family’s past – a story littered with war, fascism, earthquakes, poverty and separation, but also with unity, loyalty and unbreakable familial bonds.   This past summer, as she recalled memories about my father and his cousins prior to their exodus from Salle, she was overcome with nostalgia and said, “non avevamo niente ma c’era piu allegria” – we had nothing but there was more joyfulness.

The general sentiment of the Stefanucci across Italy, the United States and Canada has been the same – none of us can imagine a Salle without Eva – pint-sized, bear-hugging, ever-smiling Eva.

Addio, carissima Eva….surely, the gates of heaven swung right open to welcome you.

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TORTA SEMPLICE

Although not Eva’s recipe, this simple, non-too-sweet cake is exactly the sort of dessert that she always had on hand to serve to guests with a strong cup of espresso.  My friend Giulia of Country House Casale Centurione in Manopello, Abruzzo was kind enough to share her recipe.

Torta SempliceTorta1

  • 1 ½ cups unbleached AP flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of whole milk
  • 1/2  cup of canola oil
  • Zest of 1 lemon or Meyer lemon, if available
  • Confectioners’ sugar (for sprinkling)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a bundt pan.  In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt and baking powder together until evenly incorporated and set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs, milk, sugar, oil and lemon zest on medium speed until evenly combined, abut 2 minutes.  Switch to low speed and slowly beat in the dry ingredients until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake-taster inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool to room temperature. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar prior to serving. Buon appetito!

 

 

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  • http://www.midlifemum.me Sammy

    Beautiful piece Michelle, she’d have loved to have read it, laughing and crying at the same time and I am sure would have enjoyed the cake. What a brilliant way to eulogise. It’s funny our neighbour who comes back in the summer talks about the joy in the past too when there was nothing that she feels is missing these days.

  • Gian Banchero

    I’m very sorry for your family’s loss, we all have our “Eva” in Italy that are not only family historians but a link to our treasured past. When I first traveled to Italy fifty years ago I made it a point to not only interview the family’s ancients but also record them (also with family in the States), the result has been at family gatherings the young members not only hear stories about a long gone relative but have the chance to hear first hand from that dear person… Thank you for relating Eva’s story to us, it is very caro – dear.

  • Helen

    We turned our grief over losing our Abruzzese matriarch into a way to honor her. Think about having a plaque made perhaps with a key on it and mounting in a special place in Salle. Maybe a tree planted in her memory as well. Though Giulia’s cake does the trick, too.
    Thank you for sharing her dear story of devotion to family.

  • Julie DiBenedetto

    I am sorry for your loss she sounded as though she was a wonderful person, I am married into the DiBenedetto family. My father in-law I believe was a cousin to Eva. His name is Dante DiBenedetto his mother was Antoniette (Morante) Dibenedetto. He was related to Eva on his mothers side. We talked tonight about Eva he remembers that she was a beautiful child, he only met her as a child ,as he came over to the U.S when he was still a child. I love to hear about my father in-laws childhood he speaks of it and his family with great happiness. I’m not Italian but I will try and make the cake you posted for Eva, maybe with a little help from grandpa Dante <3

  • http://www.ciaochowlinda.blogspot.com Ciao Chow Linda

    Michelle – I am so sorry for your loss. One by one, as we see our elderly Italian relatives pass on, we mourn not just the person, but our heritage. I imagine that you have wonderful memories of Eva and perhaps you could write them down and make a book of them with recipes and photos, to keep her memory alive for future generations. She sounds like she was a loving person and I know you’ll miss her.

  • http://www.myfamilyandabruzzo.com Louisa

    So sorry for your loss. What a beautiful post. x

  • http://www.domenicacooks.com domenicacooks

    I’m so sorry to hear about Eva’s passing, Michelle. This is a lovely tribute, and she lives on in your memory. The keys! I’ll bet they were the old-fashioned kind, too; the big iron ones.

  • http://blog.ortensiablu.com Laney (Ortensia Blu)

    What a beautiful tribute and such warm and special memories…so sorry for your loss.

  • Lisa Lattanzio

    I am very sorry for your loss Michelle. My parents and grandparents are from Salle, I was actually there this past summer with my husband and daughter in July. I’ve been back frequently and know very well who Eva was. I called my mom after I read this to let her know, but she was already aware.
    My aunt who still lives in Salle called to let her know. We live in Montreal and know her brother’s family well. She was truly a sweet lady and always smiling. You say you were there this summer, looking at your picture I think we may have crossed paths in Salle. Maybe we will see eachother this upcoming summer. I will make sure to try out the recipe above, Torta Semplice, in honor of Eva.
    Thanks for sharing her story, take care. xox

  • Marisa Morante

    Michelle, the Torta Semplice is exactly the sort of dessert my aunt Zia Eva would have also made for the Palmenteri a few years back. I remember we made a similar one together one year, maybe 2004. She wrapped it in cellophane and decorated it with some red giraniums and then she proudly joined the parade to the sweet table at the piazza. It is difficult to imagine Salle without her, and we her family in Montreal, will dearly miss her.

  • http://memoriediangelina.com Frank @Memorie di Angelina

    So very sorry for your loss, Michelle! What a wonderful tribute to a very special person.