Italians and their Prunes

The Menu

The menu I choose doesn’t have an official name unfortunately. It belonged to one of the many flagships on the Società Italia di Navigazione called the “Conte di Savoia, Italia , dated July 13, 1933. From the menu of 43 dishes, we’re going to focus on the desert, “Stewed Prunes”. Stewed prunes were popular on Ellis Island, served on dried bread. Ellis Island had many immigrants living in island.

The “Società Italia di Navigazione”, better known internationally as the Italian Line, began operations in 1932 and, for many years, remained one of the leading companies linking Europe with the Americas. When, on the 10th June, 1940, Italy entered the Second World War, the government in Rome “forgot” to inform the Italian merchant ships and as a consequence many of them fell into enemy hands or were sunk. Some of the liners which remained in Italian waters when the hostilities began were used to ferry men and equipment to North Africa, becoming easy targets for enemy submarines and taking thousands of young men to the bottom with them.

1932-1943

What was happening in the world?

  • The historical event that’s most popular was WW1. During WW1, the Italian government was unable to establish a realistic plan to feed the army and civilians. Italy began rationing their food.
  • In 1929, a massive stock market crash ushered in a nearly decade-long worldwide economic depression that would prove to be the most prolonged and widespread in recent history.
    • Prunes and other dried fruits were common substitutes for fresh fruit during the Depression.
  • Italy witnessed the diffusion of the ideas of Futurism
    • Aiming at getting people’s opinion for the creation of a cuisine apt for an “Empire,” as such Mussolini considered Italy after its poor colonial conquests, Italians were asked some peculiar questions, indeed.

Who was Mussolini?

Mussolini came from a family of 5, all were well educated and lived a comfortable life financially. He had a small amount of military experience, joining the 10th regiment of Bersaglieri from Jan 1905- Sep 1906. Mussolini rejected God, he used socialism to get the nation’s attention by forcing it on them and making them worship it. He was the undisputed leader of the Socialists and he called for violent revolution, for an end of the monarchy and international solidarity. In 1922, Mussolini became prime minister. Within several years, he turned Italy into a dictatorship.

Benito Mussolini

What were Great Depression meals like?

There were many different foods and meals invented during the Great Depression. Many recipes used rice, beans, and cheese instead of meat; the dishes were often simple and quick and easy to prepare, using canned and dried foods that didn’t require an icebox.

The History Behind “Stewed Prunes”:

Stewed Prunes

Prunes are associated with whores and brothels in early modern London.
It was also thought at one time that prunes increased sexual potency, so we have three good reasons for brothel owners to keep in a good supply.
Were thought to be not only a cure but a preventative of diseases contracted there.

Prunes were cheap, nutritious and easy to store, which made them ideal for mass feeding. Prunes were stuffed down the throats of immigrants and orphans and who can blame them for being resentful

Today’s recipe:

Ingredients:

8 ounces plain dried pitted prunes
1 1/2 cups cold water

Instructions:

Add water and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and let cool.
Store in a covered container, refrigerated.

Recipe from “Boston Cooking-School Cook Book “

1918 edition of the iconic Boston Cooking-School Cook Book originally penned by Fannie Farmer. This was THE cooking bible for American homes of the era. 

WASH AND PICK OVER PRUNES. PUT IN A SAUCEPAN, COVER WITH COLD WATER, AND SOAK TWO HOURS; THEN COOK UNTIL SOFT IN SAME WATER. WHEN NEARLY COOKED, ADD SUGAR OR MOLASSES TO SWEETEN. MANY PREFER THE ADDITION OF A SMALL QUANTITY OF LEMON JUICE.

“Fannie Farmer, Boston Cooking-School Cook Book”

Other prune facts:

  • Dessert toppings
  • Oatmeal toppings
  • Pureed Prunes
  • Prune pudding

Prunes are a good source of both insoluble and soluble fiber as well. Prunes also help keep your bowel movements regular, while soluble fiber helps to moderate digestion and absorb nutrients from your food.

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