Pig-Out! The 25,000 Calorie Sunday Dinners At The Compare's
We Would Eat More On Sundays Than The Rest Of The Week Combined!
The Compare (kom-par-eh) is technically a Godfather, but without any of the Mario Puzo connotations. Usually the "best man" at a baptism, the position carries a semi-legal connotation in much of Southern Italy. Should anything happen to the parents of the child, then the Compare and his wife the Commare would be honour bound by tradition to raise the child as their own.
My Compare was an Italian grocery store owner in Canada. He managed to run the entire operation without ever hiring anyone. All of his kids and in-laws did all the work in the store, 14 hours a day, six days a week. When you look up patriarchal society, you'll likely see a photo of that family. They all lived in a three storey brownstone half a block away from the store, all 16 of them, and my Compare ran the family and the enterprise with the undisputed authority of a five-star General. To his family, he was not quite divine, but likely quite close to it.
None of the "workers" got paid a cent, even for 60-70 hour/week shifts. Although his oldest children were well into their 30s and had children of their own, if they needed to go out for the evening they would ask him for the car keys. They would then estimate what they needed and he would pull out the cash from his wallet and hand it to them. Surprisingly to 21st century Anglos, this situation was never seen as restrictive, dictatorial or even unusual. That was the way it was in the old mountain towns back home and that's the way it was here. Why question it?
Another ritual that was brought from the old country was Sunday. Sunday was a ritual unlike any other I've ever observed in my travels around the world. Sunday began with an early church service with everyone in immaculate formal attire, and the girls (any unmarried female) in pink stiff frilly numbers that they couldn't possibly sit down in. The service would be over by 10 am when the whole brood would rush home to begin the ritual that would fill the rest of the day: Cooking. And Eating.
My entire family would arrive at the Compare's house at just a few minutes before Noon every Sunday. At 1 pm we would all be seated around the gargantuan table that literally filled the dining room, held twenty place settings and several dozen bottles of dry red wine... and the marathon would start.
Trays of antipastos with all manner of salamis, prosciuttos and vinegar marinated vegetables would be served. This was all devoured with hunks of fresh Calabrian bread. Then the pasta course, a heaping large bowl of a penne rigate or ziti pasta drowned in a thick and astonishingly lard-rich beef ragu sauce and coated with so much fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano that the whole top of the bowl turned into cheese. After that, the first meat course was passed around, which was comprised of braciole, sausages and chunks of meat that had been simmering in the ragu since well before church time. Now it was time for whole roasted chickens on the outdoor BBQ, even when it was -15 outside in blizzard conditions. Once nothing but the carcasses remained, the first fish course was served, usually a baked haddock served dripping in olive oil and with lemon slices.
Now it was the turn of huge spicy sausages sauteed with multi-coloured peppers, followed by heaps of crustaceans, everything from steamed lobsters and crabs to prawns and scampi that were very close to lobster sized. Then heaps of BBQd steaks were served, the thinnest one at least an inch thick and large enough to cover your plate. Next was the turn of some form of baked poultry, usually chicken or capon, in a type of Cacciatore sauce. Then it was the turn of Zuppa Di Pesce, a bouillabaise in name only as this was huge chunks of fish and every manner of bivalve known to man cooked in a thick tomato concoction that was more sauce than broth. After that it was the turn of a lamb, goat or sometimes game dish, which was usually slow simmered in the oven in a tomatoey sauce with lots of olives, garlic and capers.
By this time it was after 3 pm and you'd lost the will to live. At least 10,000 calories had gone down your gullet and if as much as a micron of food was left in your plate at the end of each course, the chorus of "Mangia, Mangia" would start and you would be forced to gobble it down, even if you looked like Joey Chestnut on Hot Dog # 65.
Because this was a very Christian family, they believed in mercy, thus after the lamb/goat/game dish the salad came out. The only substance which had not been cooked or marinated within an inch of its life, the lettuce, spring onion, and varied herb salad was awash in a very wine-vinegary vinaigrette which was extremely refreshing after being force-fed the vast amounts of hot food swimming in olive oil and lard. However, if you thought you'd finally escaped death by gluttony, you were wrong because now three foot wide trays of pastries would be served, everything from millefeuille to eclairs to slices of teeth-chatteringly sweet ricotta cakes. Once your blood sugar levels resembled those in a rum factory, and you thought that, yes, this was dessert thus it has to be finally over now... PIZZAS!
Each pizza was different and was covered with every topping imaginable (except for pineapple which they considered not worthy of pizza topping status). These pizzas had to be obediently scarfed down with lots of beer and then finally the piping hot espressos and trays of "digestive" and after-dinner liqueurs were served.
It was now around 4:30 pm, we had been at the table for three and a half hours of steady eating and all anyone wanted to do was go curl up somewhere and faint dead away. However, there was little chance of that. The men would go outside (yes, in any weather) smoke big fat stogeys and discuss the only two issues that matter to Italian men, Soccer and Politics. The women would obediently clean up the mess hall and wash stacks of dishes by hand that reached the ceiling. After an hour and a half had passed and the merest hope that you could survive to see the morning was beginning to arise, you will never believe what would happen.
At six o' clock...
Would sit at the table and start all over again!
No this is not a joke. The antipastos AGAIN. The pasta AGAIN. The meat, chicken, fish, sausages, seafood, every single course would be served AGAIN! Not exactly the same, as the sauces were changed, the preparation was different, etc. but the amounts were identical to the first time around. At least another 10,000 calories per person, easy! And many people had seconds! All the way down to the pastries and pizzas!
The drive home at about 10 o'clock was nothing but moaning... and worse. It is a severe physiological challenge to ask the human body to digest between 20,000 and 30,000 calories within a few hours. But if there was one glimmer of light which allowed you to go on was the knowledge that you had six full days... until you'd have to do it all over again!