I am the daughter of an Italian father and Latin-American mother, and I was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Despite first learning Spanish at a young age from my mother, my only extended family in Canada was my Italian side. Even my mother cooked Italian cuisine, perhaps even more than Latin.
I am the eldest of six grandchildren on my Italian-Canadian side of the family. I am very close to my Nonni, especially having lived with them briefly when I was a baby. Even my first memories comprise of my Nonna Giovanna (Siracusa, Sicily) cooking vota-vota and eggplant lasagna, and baking my favourite Amaretti biscotti! My Nonna first migrated to Canada in 1959 when she was just 16 years old. Her father did not want her to leave town to study, so my Nonna being as bold as she is, decided to leave the country altogether. She moved to Toronto where her brother owned a hair salon. She began helping out there and before long decided to go to hairdressing school. One year later she met my Nonno Vito (Catanzaro, Calabria) whom also attended the school and happened to live just 10 minutes away from my Nonna. My Nonno had arrived in Toronto in 1957 to paint with his relatives (this later became his passion and he operated a painting business for years to come). My grandparents fell in love and decided to stay in Canada, where they married in 1963. They honeymooned in their hometowns in Sicily and Calabria. In 1964, my father Franco was born, the first of four children (Salvatore, Franca, and Carlo). My Nonni worked very hard to care for their children, and always practiced the importance of family and tradition.
Sadly my Nonno Vito passed away at only 62 years of age, when I was just 9 years old. The hole this left
in my heart is one that remains into my adulthood, and surfaces most when I recall moments from my childhood to my husband or our two young boys. My Nonno and I had a special connection and he would always call me “Elisabetta.”
In my adulthood, I have realized that tradition is more important to me than ever before. I have always embraced and enjoyed tradition, but now I see myself as a direct catalyst in keeping up traditions. In fact, I feel it is a responsibility I have inherited from older generations; it is one’s duty to keep family traditions alive for future generations. In this way, I have found solace in my Nonno’s passing and the sometimes sad reality that our family is growing, and with that, aging. I feel that I can honour my family and all of the sacrifices they have made by upholding their traditions. I believe in different echelons of tradition and that we all have a part to play in this collectively; unique traditions born within our family’s heritage, those of our region or province, and those of our country.
Anyone that knows me knows that my life revolves around family, cheese, wine, and coffee – a few things Italians know something about. Therefore the way I honour tradition is through my love of cooking and baking. My passion has grown in its importance in that I also see it as a tool in passing down a part of my family and heritage to my children who always enjoy helping me in the kitchen. It is also at the dinner table where a family shares their stories.
Elizabeth creates and photographs all of her posts on Instagram @elizabethtreatsandsweets where she also collaborates with other passionate artisans and organizations. She has learned many recipes from her Nonna and now shares some of her family’s traditions (and new ones) with the rest of the world!