I stopped by Vince's Imports in North Syracuse this afternoon to see what kind of imports Vince has. Vince specializes in Italian imports ... lots of different sauces, biscotti, loads of cheeses, a fascinating selection of fresh pastas and sauces made in-house, pasta makers and espresso machines (electric and, apparently, stovetop).
I was intrigued by the selection of spaetzle makers; what were they doing among all the Italian stuff? But seeing them reminded me of how my stepkids (who are part-German) used to enjoy making spaetzle from scratch and squishing the dough through the holes in a semi-melted plastic colander. I almost got one of the spaetzle makers, having almost convinced myself that I would be making spaetzle soon ... then I walked away quickly: I know better.
Checking out the jars of olives in brine, salt capers and giardenara, not to mention the vast array of smoked, pickled and dried meats and cheeses, I was reminded that what we think of as Italian cuisine is actually a relatively modern selection of dishes derived from a time when there were limited methods of preserving foods. It's actually kind of exciting to walk into a specialty shop like Vince's and realize that you're looking at more than 2,000 years of civilization dressed up in modern clothes. All those hard salamis have an ancient history behind them.
As my father once told me when I was still very small, "You don't like olives? There is no way you can be Italian if you don't like olives." Eschewing olives meant turning my nose up at his culture, his people, his heritage, his very identity. To him, we truly are what we eat, and in a fundamental way he understood that our foods define us. If he were still alive he'd be proud to know that (thanks in large part to the Wegmans Mediterranean bar) as an adult I've developed quite a fondness for olives.