[Thoughts on the Table – 22] Grandma’s Wartime Memories: Food in Northern Italy


During my last trip to Italy, I had a chance to record an unusual episode featuring Chiara, my grandmother, who just turned 94. She doesn’t have a blog, but nonetheless she has lots to say πŸ™‚ The topic is very serious, life during World War II, but her stories are fascinating and a very important testimony.

Join me as I ask grandma about the times before, during and after the war (naturally, with a special focus on food and cooking) and learn why in wartime it’s “better to be a farmer!”

Since the recording is in Italian and in northern Italian dialect, for the first time on Thoughts on the Table, the episode has been voiced over. I would like to thank Candace Beisel, my wife, for giving grandma her English voice.

Click here for a full transcript of this episode.


16 thoughts on “[Thoughts on the Table – 22] Grandma’s Wartime Memories: Food in Northern Italy”

  1. How sweet! My grandfather and his family apparently were lucky enough to buy on the black market pretty much everything: according to them food was never scarce during the war!

    1. Thanks Pola, yeah – looks like people found ways to get organized. Though I can't even begin to imagine how living in that system could have felt like.

  2. I LOVED this! My grandparents were all in Sicily during the war, so their stories are a bit different as the war there ended sooner. But my grandmother always used to tell me how she would run to hide into the underground shelters as soon as they heard the sirens. My grandfather was a painter and he would paint portraits for the American troops in Palermo… that's how he would get more food, like sugar, chocolate, canned meat and all kinds of things that were very hard to come by otherwise. The great thing is, after more than 60 years, the daughters of one of those American soldiers found "us" and we are now in contact regularly! πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks Manu! Very interesting to hear the Sicilian side, you're right – things were quite different there. And super interesting that you were able to reconnect with the family of one of the American soldiers.

  3. Amazing memories and the way she recalls them makes everything so real and contemporary. Great choice of subject given the time we live in….thanks for sharing her story!

  4. I loved hearing this podcast. Your nonna is adorable and I really enjoyed hearing her speak in dialect that I'm familiar with. I hope you do more with her! You and Candace did a super job, Paolo!!

    1. Thank you Lora! I'll tell my grandma that you liked her πŸ™‚ She really has no idea she's on iTunes… I wonder how can I explain that to her πŸ™‚

  5. Great work, Paolo. And Candace is perfect.
    Very interesting your grandmother story, and her lively voice.
    Well done!

  6. Great podcast. I was fascinated to hear snippets of the 'original' interview and your grandmother's Milanese (?) dialect. The stories were wonderful to listen toÒ€”but probably less wonderful to have lived through…!

    1. Thanks Frank. Yes, she speaks a mix of Italian with a Milanese accent, and her town's variation of the Milanese dialect (which is it's own language, with not too much in common with Italian). My Italian friends also detect a strong dialectal accent in my Italian when I speak with her… I hadn't noticed.

  7. I listened to the podcast last week but had trouble posting a comment (my IT prob, not yours, no worries) so here I am finally. I loved this post: it was so full of interesting information, loved the music that brought me back in time. I enjoyed listening to your grandma but am also grateful for all the work you and Candace did because I certainly would have missed out on parts due to the dialect. Great job, keep up the good work. This is one of my favorites to date.

    1. Thanks so much Fiona! We enjoyed making it (grandma too!), I'm very happy you found it interesting and that you enjoyed the format. Talk soon!

  8. Tua Nonna è troppo cute! I enjoyed listening to her talk-and I could even understand the bits I was able to hear. I think it's good to hear what it was like during those times. My Mamma has no eyelashes because when she was 3 sitting by the fire on her Nonna's lap, a grenade was thrown into the fire by retreating American troops. She is lucky she wasn't closer! The period after the war was not much better. My Nonno was a muratore so my Mamma's family didn't have land and food was always scarce. Papa's family didn't have money, but because they had lands, they were able to eat. They did use 'la cenera' to boil the white sheets, and apparently they came out sparkling white. In fact, I've heard you can buy Dash (laundry detergent) with cenera now! It always goes back to the old ways! Ciao, Cristina

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