Carole Bumpus is the author of the new book A September to Remember: Searching for Culinary Pleasures at the Italian Table. It's the third book in her Savoring the Olde Ways culinary travel series. A retired family therapist, she lives in the San Francisco Bay area.
Q: What inspired this third book in your culinary travel series?
A: “Do you want to visit Italy, or do you want to experience Italy?” Those enticing words were the lure which emboldened my husband and me to take a month-long trip to Italy one memorable September.
What we discovered was a land of unforgettable characters, sumptuous traditional foods, sublime beauty, plus cultural and ancient history. Yes, we discovered the real Italy.
This became the trip that opened my eyes to the connection between family and their stories, traditions, food, and place. And was the inspiration that sparked my desire to begin my Savoring the Olde Ways series, the culinary travel memoirs I’ve written about my travels throughout Europe.
Q: How would you compare the French cuisine you wrote about in the first two books with the Italian cuisine you describe here?
A: While traveling, I always search out a country’s traditional cuisine – cuisine pauvre, in French or cucina povera in Italian. Known simply as “peasant cooking,” this style of cooking comes directly from the people and is sprinkled with not only family stories, but also their regional, historical, and religious influences.
That being said, I would say I was most surprised with the dogmatic attitude that surfaced when I was researching Italian cooking. Not only are particular dishes regional and locally explicit, but they are also family-to-family.
A case in point is from American-born Lisa Young, who had gone to live in Italy, married a Roman, and tried to make her way through the Italian traditions while raising children in Italy:
"One day, my young son, Niccolo came home for lunch with his little friend. When the little seven-year-old refused to eat my chard-enhanced pasta sauce, he simply said, ‘No grazie.’ I didn’t think children would feel they had the right to say that to an adult. But there it was; it was just, ‘No grazie.’ ‘Do you want something else?’ I asked. ‘No grazie! Bene cosi!’ This meant, ‘I am sufficed.’ I think at that point I finally realized that food was a profoundly serious business. It is meaningful. Almost spiritual. They don’t eat between meals. They just don’t do it! And if, and when they do, the food has to be exactly like what their mother or grandmother makes."
Not only was this a stark realization for Lisa, but upon hearing her recount it, I was more cognizant of the importance of “properly-prepared” foods in Italy.
Q: Of the recipes you include in the book, do you have any favorites?
A: Yes, definitely. Once you read the book, you will realize that my husband and I adore anything with seafood. So, the Risotto al Pescatore, is a showstopper. It requires a bit of preparation, but it is so worth it.
Also, a favorite recipe we love is Saltimbocca alla Romana, a veal scaloppine dish that is easy and divine! In fact, my husband and I have been asked to demonstrate the veal recipe, along with the preparation of making homemade pasta, on a Zoom format for a local yacht club.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from this volume in the series?
A: Whether as an “armchair traveler” or actually planning to trek along some of my same paths, be willing to open your eyes, your mind, and your palette to unique sensations. Ponder the question, as we did: “Do you want to visit Italy, or do you want to experience Italy?” And, then indulge, indulge, indulge in the richness of your newfound discoveries.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m practicing breathing. Since August 2019, I have had two books published with a third book due out this April 2021. So, for the moment, I am practicing how to breathe again.
But I do have additional culinary travel memoirs waiting to be completed, along with a novel which revolves around World War II in France and Italy. Oh, and then there’s family folklore I would like to pursue . . . Breathe in; breathe out!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Yes. I fell into my writing profession by accident, and it began with this tour through Italy. I returned numerous times to ask the same questions: “What foods did you eat as a child? What dishes do you prepare which were handed down from your ancestors? And what favorite recipes does your family love to eat?”
After compiling many interviews from both France and Italy, I felt I had no choice but to share these most unique perspectives and stories with others. It began about the food, but it was my way of getting to know about the families. Again, be open to the world around you, as we all have so much to learn.
My website is Carole Bumpus, Author.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Carole Bumpus.