Trip to beach was no pic­nic for Ital­ian fam­i­lies

Food prepa­ra­tion was es­sen­tial, en­sur­ing ev­ery­one ate well and ate often

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - FRANK DE PALMA Frank De Palma is a free­lance writer liv­ing in the United States, but born and raised in Hamil­ton.

Grow­ing up in a baby boomer Ital­ian fam­ily in Hamil­ton, you learned early on that a day at a beach or park was never a pic­nic.

Just like a line cook in a busy restau­rant, an Ital­ian fam­ily’s trek to a park was all about the food prepa­ra­tion and there was plenty of prep to go around.

While many fam­i­lies might be con­tent to munch on take­out while flaked out on a blan­ket, Ital­ian fam­i­lies pre­fer to feast on a ban­quet at lunch, and then a mul­ti­course sit-down sup­per. None of this hap­pens by chance.

To pull off a suc­cess­ful day at the beach, a va­ri­ety of food needed to be gath­ered and pre­pared, from fresh bread buns to a va­ri­ety of cheeses, pasta, home­made pro­sciutto and more.

The day would fea­ture a full plate at lunch with bread, meat, a salad, as­sorted fresh fruit and bev­er­ages. At times, there would be home­made lasagna or stuffed pep­pers.

The mag­ni­tude of the meals am­pli­fied the im­por­tance of another Ital­ian must for a trip to the beach, the lo­ca­tion, clean­li­ness and col­lec­tion of pic­nic ta­bles.

It was another rea­son fam­i­lies needed to ar­rive early.

Scout­ing for the ideal site, near shade and easy ac­cess to the park­ing lot, was es­sen­tial. And there would be other fam­i­lies who would jockey for po­si­tion and ta­bles in this sum­mer rit­ual.

Ev­ery­one was uti­lized to scout for the ideal spot and to col­lect the right amount of pic­nic ta­bles to en­sure seat­ing space for all. And there was al­ways another ta­ble re­served to place pic­nic cool­ers and food sup­plies.

The site needed to be near an open lawn area so beach chairs could be folded open and an af­ter­noon game of bocce could be played.

Men in white un­der­shirts and san­dals with dress socks, often with a glass of wine in hand, com­peted for brag­ging rights and at­ten­tion un­der the hot sun.

The lunch dishes and uten­sils were cleared and cleaned. Some might take a walk to work off the mid­day meal and oth­ers would sit in the shade to share some con­ver­sa­tion.

Some of the chil­dren might go ex­plor­ing or for a swim.

It was rare to see an un­cle wade into the wa­ter. Rarer still to see an aunt.

Be­fore long, prepa­ra­tions were made for an evening meal that often fea­tured a bar­be­cue with chicken and steak, some veg­eta­bles and a salad.

It was a good thing no one was in a rush to leave be­cause the bar­be­cues were fu­elled by char­coal and noth­ing was hur­ried.

There would be more red wine with din­ner, which would often fea­ture a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent desserts and some­times brewed cof­fee.

It was a day that started early to fin­ish the prep that be­gan the night be­fore and to en­sure we ar­rived at a park or beach no later than 10 a.m. Weather was al­ways a big fac­tor and my fa­ther would start look­ing out the win­dow at sun­rise.

Pack­ing and un­pack­ing the car re­quired plenty of trips and arm­loads at the be­gin­ning and end of the day.

We would not get home un­til af­ter 8 p.m., sated, some­times sun­burned and al­ways spent.

It was a chance to get to­gether with aunts, un­cles and cousins. No fam­ily made a soli­tary trip to the beach was the un­writ­ten rule. There was al­ways at least two fam­i­lies and prefer­ably more.

Ev­ery­one tried to ar­rive and leave at the same time. Any fam­ily that broke with pro­to­col was frowned upon and taken off the call list.

A trip to the beach in­volved a round of calls to see who was will­ing to make the trek. No tak­ers, no trip to the beach.

When it came to food, each fam­ily tried to outdo the other. Some­one al­ways had some­thing that was en­vied by the other fam­i­lies, but it re­ally didn’t mat­ter be­cause ev­ery­one shared.

The un­cles were tasked with iden­ti­fy­ing the ideal lo­ca­tion. Some­times it was Knights Beach, other times Christie Con­ser­va­tion Area or Brant Park. When an ideal spot was found, it was locked down un­til the nov­elty wore off or a site with bet­ter pic­nic ta­bles was iden­ti­fied.

Shade, a good lawn area for bocce and clean pic­nic ta­bles were musts for a suc­cess­ful day. But they were all sec­ondary to the hours of prepa­ra­tion to en­sure ev­ery­one ate well and ate often.

A trip to the beach for an Ital­ian fam­ily was no pic­nic, but a good time was had by all.

JACK HOLLINGSWORTH, GETTY IM­AGES

Sum­mer­time meant all-day pic­nics for writer Frank De Palma.

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