Meet Nonna Anna Buonsante
About Nonna Anna
Anna Buonsante was born in a small coastal town of southern Italy on the Adriatic called Mola di Bari. Life in Mola is centered around the port with its open-air mercato, the piazza and the many churches. It has a distinctive way of life with its own dialect and a slow-paced life where family and home are held to the highest standard.
Anna grew up under the watchful eyes of her parents Michele and Margherita. Anna was the youngest of five children, four girls and an adopted son. Anna resided in her family home until she was married. In Mola, women growing up in the 50’s and 60’s faced very high hurdles when viewed by today's standards.
In those days of Mola, a woman's place was still defined by the home she kept. Women’s responsibilities included cleaning the house, shopping at the mercato and preparing the day’s meal. It was during this time when Anna began to develop her love for cooking.
Mola had no schools for cooks… the most compelling teacher was hunger. The city had the benefit of the Adriatic's fishing supply as trailers and boats would bring their daily fresh fish to the port for all to view and purchase. As is typical in Southern Italy, seafood is a mealtime staple. The fresh catch was often paired with the harvest of the region's small farms devoted to olives, grapes, chicory, beans, eggplant, artichoke, broccoli rabe and onions. Meat was considered a luxury and only the wealthy could afford it. Anna's family of modest means typically prepared main dishes including pasta e fagioli, cicorie and fave beans (and don’t forget about the stale bread!).
The men in Mola worked from sunrise until siesta, for then they returned home by one o’clock for their main meal of the day. In tribute to the family meal time, most shops would close and re-open around eight in the PM. In the evenings, people watching and vibrant conversation would provide much of the entertainment along the "passeggiare la piazza" for there was little else for them to do. While there were ample manual labor jobs and other low paying positions in Mola, there was a shortage of professional positions and little opportunity for advancement. This difficult economic situation spurred many families to move north to Milan or Turin where prosperity was more possible. In many cases, it meant leaving Italy altogether.
Anna met her husband, Gaetano, in the mid-60’s. He was an eighteen year-old boy looking for love. He dreamt of being a successful businessman and having a large family blessing them with all of the things he never had, including education. Gaetano was determined to build this life, even if that meant moving to a new world to find it. Gaetano knew his journey would require a companion and Anna accepted the call. Anna and Gaetano married in 1968 and embarked on their journey to begin living their American Dream.
Soon after arriving in New York, they settled in Brooklyn with many other Italian dream seekers. Soon after, Anna and Gaetano welcomed their first 2 children, Leonardo and Michele, into the picture. Years later, Gaetano decided it was time to fulfill his dream and moved his family to Pennsylvania where he founded and operated his own pizzeria. Anna had three more children Antonietta, Domenico, and Margherita.
Although Anna no longer prepares the mid-day meals, she brings to her children and now all of us, her evolution from meals based upon stale bread to delicious and very diverse dishes. She no longer has to manage her recipes around limited crops or the daily catch but her creativity and devotion to the traditional and timeless family meals can now be enjoyed for generations.