|A serious young lady, c. 1906|
Sometime after young Gaetana was being processed at Ellis Island she went from being called Gaetana to Gertrude. There are varying accounts of how, when, or why this happened, but she went from having a very Italian name to having one that was easier for her and others to say in her new country. I used to feel bad, even resentful, about her losing such a musical name as Gaetana, until I found a love letter from my grandfather to her that started, "My darling Gertie ..."
|Gertrude at the piano, with her father, Don Peppino, in the background, c. 1920|
|John Angelo and Gertie, young and in love|
Gertrude was also talented as a seamstress and worked in the garment district (after her father died, to help bring in money for the family). After she was married she had her own bridal shop in Spring Lake, N.J. We always lived near Gertrude while I was growing up. My grandfather John Angelo had passed away long before I was ever born. She was an amazing cook — not a surprise, with a chef for a father. Like him, she was also strict, but tempered her rules with laughter. She didn't let small children do a lot of hands-on helping in the kitchen. Instead we were told we could sit and watch — and of course get treats while she was cooking. Most of the dishes she made reflected her Sicilian origins — eggplant parmigiana, garlic bread, caponata, braciole, artichoke pie, and of course her specialty, our family dish, sfincioni.
|John Angelo and Gertrude on Broadway in New York, 1937|
I still make a lot of the dishes that I learned to make from observing her in the kitchen. She was also a fantastic baker, making delicious coffee cakes, but I somehow missed out on how to make those. Everyone in the family still tries to make her specialty, sfincioni, but no one could really make it like Grandma.