It has arrived. Or better, they have arrived. Not the usual Amazon expedition, but four heavy boxes from the farm of Camporbiano (Tuscany) were waiting for me at the janitor’s. He, a young dad from Egypt, looked amused and sympathetic. Another resident asked if I could give him the isolating polystyrene box, so he could use it for sending some medicines protected from the change of temperature. We agreed I would leave the box to the janitor the next day and I brought everything home. First, I opened the polystyrene box: cheese!!!
The other three boxes contained fresh vegetables, potatoes, spelt flakes, barley, lentils, chickpeas, whole pasta, and a lot of jars: tomato sauce, aubergine sauce, zucchini cream, peperoni cream, olives cream, marinated vegetables. I was happy with that treasure, even a bit overwhelmed.
The boxes from Poggio di Camporbiano in my kitchen, February 2022, Milan.
The boxes waited two days in a corner of the kitchen before I managed to make space by taking a box of old empty jars to the cellar downstairs, together with one box of the new jars. So, this year 2022 started with food in the cellar, to me a sign of rootedness. Should I stock wine too, to give more solidity to the roots?
As I was opening the fresh ricotta (which had to be eaten quicly), I thought of a student from the South of Italy that participated in my PhD research in 2014. He had written about going home by train for holidays, and on the journey back to Milan, meeting mothers bringing cheese and salami to their children studying ‘up North’. This ‘North’ extends beyond the country, I thought, as my Italian friend in London told me that she, her husband, and the kids received olive oil from her parents in Palermo, Sicily.
I felt emotional. What was food from home? What is food for home making?
Practical help, but also care, love, and connection to the roots through engagement with the senses. A touchable sign of your existence somewhere else, for someone else. A witness of multiplicity, creativity, courage, and capacity to adapt. A gentle request to nurture memory.
During a lesson of Italian as a second language, my Indian student, a wise, witty young man and mechanical engineer in an Italian company, told me he had experienced nostalgia for the first time after 6 years in Italy. He said he would like to grow his vegetables, like his parents in Tamil Nadu.
Sometimes I think I would like that too. I currently live in the flat where I grew up in the city of Milan, so I am home. However, my home extends to other places where I feel home, often not in big cities, sometimes abroad, that I bringhome also through food.
‘You don’t have to worry about food now! Invite your friends home! We always did that, and grandpa too! I did not go out for three weeks during Covid with the food I had stocked!” said my Mum who had sent me the gift from Camporbiano.
Food from home intertwines with food stock. And new food habits in a new home. Food is often a favourite topic with my foreign students.