Welcome reader friends!
The following content is from several newsletters I sent out in the weeks before my book's launch in August 2022. You might enjoy reading about the inspiration behind my book, the setting of it, and other fun things about its theme: gelato.
It's summertime, or as it's known at my house, gelato time!
Speaking of which, the focus of this newsletter is gelato because I'm celebrating the release of my novella, Slain Over Spumoni.
What's it about, you ask?
A romantic mystery set in a post-WWI lagoon city near Venice Italy, about a former nurse, a former solider, and a reigning gelateria whose owner, The Gelato King, is found dead. Can his niece (the former nurse) prove her innocence in his death before the family’s gelateria loses more than its moniker, “Best spumoni in all the land!”?
Inspiration behind the story, Slain Over Spumoni
In 2016, the famous L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn was the scene of a murder. A Long Island man was convicted of fatally shooting Louis Barbati, the owner of one of the oldest gelaterias in the United States. The feds initially suspected the death was mob-related because of an old argument over the restaurant’s famous pizza sauce recipe, but the investigation was eventually handed off to the NYPD, which investigated it as a botched robbery.
Despite the 10 times I've visted New York, I've never made it out to the legendary Bensonhurst pizza-slash-gelato joint, but when I read the story, it left an impression. Fast forward five years to when some ladies in my writing group decided to participate in One Scoop or Two, a call for submissions from publisher, The Wild Rose Press. I accepted the challenge and used the New York murder as the basis for my historical mystery, except that instead of the pizza sauce being the motivation for the murder, I decided two brothers had a disagreement about a spumoni recipe. I mean, when in Italy, it must be about gelato, right?
When my husband and I visited New York City this past spring, two years behind schedule because of a pandemic, we finally made it out to Bensonhurst. For research purposes, ahem, we tried both the gelato and the pizza, and can attest to the yumminess of both.
I hope you enjoy the photos from our visit and have fun reading my 1920s mystery set near Venice.
(Until next time)
Recipe for Spumoni
Because Gelateria Pelicani's famous Spumoni Speciale recipe is a trade secret (and you know what happened to someone who tried to steal it in SLAIN OVER SPUMONI), my recipe is a pseudo version for you to try at home. I hope you do and be sure to let me know how you like it.
Just send me a quick note at email@example.com.
Exploring gelato's origins
Have you ever been to a real Italian gelateria, like Gelateria Pelicani in my 1920s mystery? You know, a place where they make gelato onsite? Well, I have and it is thrilling to witness it all come together, especially the small artisanal batches. Have you ever wondered how gelato came to be? Read on.
The origins of gelato
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we occasionally see temps in the 90s or above (that’s Fahrenheit for all my Canadian and Italian peeps), and when that happens, there’s no better dessert fix than a cold, sweet scoop or two or four of gelato. The cold creamy goodness lands on your tongue and you want to do like the Italians do—bring your fingertips together on one hand and bring the hand to your mouth to kiss it. Ah, gelato, you’re so divine. A northern Italian food invention beloved the world over, gelato has a long history that many are unaware of. From where art thou comest? Let’s find out.
From Bernardo Buontalenti*, of course. Say that name five times fast. He’s regarded as the “nonno” or “granddaddy” of gelato. Some records suggest that this Florentine presented his ice conservation method as well as his dessert recipe to the wife of the French king, Henry II—a certain woman with a discerning palate, the one and only: Catherine de’ Medici. Fortunately, Buontalenti’s recipe was not lost to the annals of time—ice, salt, lemon, sugar, egg, honey, milk, and a drop of wine—but I daresay no one has recreated it since. My first question is red or white, but I digress. A century later, in 1686 in Sicily, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, a fisherman, devised a machine that cranked out gelato. However, it wasn’t until 250 years after that, did gelato—the moniker we use today for this Italian frozen treat—make its way into the vernacular of the post-Gilded Age.
* The brand of gelato I use in my Pseudo-Spumoni recipe (see last week’s newsletter or available to download separately next week) is Talenti®. Me thinks there just might be a connection to Buontalenti . . .
Now that we’ve brushed up on our history, let’s look at a few fun facts:
From the words “gelare” meaning “to freeze” and “latte” meaning “milk”, comes “gelato”—a word combination meaning “frozen milk”. Leave it to the Italians to make something delish out of frozen milk.
A person selling gelato is a “gelatai” and the place where they make and/or sell gelato is known as a “gelateria”.
Gelato is made from milk, sugar, one or more fruits, or a single nut. Think: pistachio, straciatella, gianduia, nocciola, frutti di bosca, menta, and my fave name, puffo, a blue-anise flavored gelato.
You could try fooling your calorie-counting app (just a smidge). With only 3-8% milk fat content—it has a lower caloric intake than regular ice cream—I’d classify that as healthy. Who’s with me?
It’s stored and served at a higher temperature than ice cream—about 10-15 degrees more.
Another differentiator from ice cream is the density of gelato. It owes its heft to less air which, in turn, results in not only a creamier, richer taste, but also a faster melt-in-your-mouth or yum factor.
The largest cone in which to serve gelato is nine inches long, and if you’re looking to try it, you’ll have to tour Italy to find it.
For the most authentic, not-artificially colored gelato, patronize a gelateria that says “gelato fatto in casa”, or homemade gelato, if in Italy, and “artisanal” if outside of Italy.
And what about spumoni, you say?
The recipe of which could be a motivation for murder in my upcoming novella, Slain Over Spumoni.
I mean, it’s in the title so I don’t think I’m giving anything away, or am I?
Spumoni: The perfect dessert
Summer meals, like gelato, are often light and don't take up much room in our tummies. That's why gelato is the perfect summertime dessert and one reason I chose the triple-flavored spumoni as a central character in story, Slain Over Spumoni. Like gelato for dessert, we want our hot weather reading choices to be light in nature, too, making my story the perfect companion.
The protagonists in my story, Violetta and John, are busy trying to find the killer, yet John is constantly vying for the chance to try her family's gelateria's famous spumoni. Does John manage to taste this wondrous delicacy or will the villain thwart his every attempt? Pick up some spumoni (or better yet, try making it yourself with my recipe), download Slain Over Spumoni, find yourself a comfy beach chair, and read it at your leisure to find out if John succeeds.
The three flavors of spumoni
The smooth rich taste of the most-sought after chocolate gelato is a result of how it is made—in small batches using the highest quality Belgium chocolate—considered among the best in the world. Their claim to fame is based on the integrity of the ingredients and processes that haven’t changed much in more than 100 years.
The best pistachio trees are grown in the rich volanic soil of Sicily where the nuts are hand-harvested only every two years. So highly-valued by the Italian government, this treasured nut is under its protection. The green color naturally colors the gelato giving it a rich intense flavor.
Black Amarena cherries in syrup blended with vanilla bean gelato . . . aah! These cherries have been made into a syrup by the Fabbri Company since 1905, so it is no wonder they eventually made their way into gelato. Part sweet & part tart, these stone fruit are nothing like the common cherry or the Maraschino one—a unique taste all their own.
It might surprise you to know (or not) that Violetta's favorite gelato is made from wild violets she gathers with her Aunt Concetta or Zia Cetta as she calls her. She makes a syrup out of the violets and then adds it to gelato. It was a recipe her uncle, The Gelato King of Italy, created just for her and as a tribute to her, he never sold it in his gelateria. There's another purple flowering plant that grows around the Adriatic Sea, and that plant has a very different profile than violets so Violetta is very careful when she goes foraging.
What is Violetta's favorite gelato?
BUON FERRAGOSTO A TUTTI!
Happy holiday! August 15th is a traditional holiday in Italy and nowhere else. Not religious, but a historical and socio-cultural one, Ferragosto recognizes the height of summer vacation when 9 out of 10 Italian families are at the beach enjoying sun, sand, and surf. For centuries, too, farmers and their families celebrated the end of the harvest season. Pistachios and cherries among the fruits of their labors are two of the ingredients in the three types of gelati that make up spumoni.
In honor of this 'high holiday' for Italians, I welcome you to enjoy my Go for Gelato playlist. I created this playlist from various songs I listened to while writing Slain Over Spumoni because I needed inspiration during the rainy-foggy-cold days of a Pacific Northwest winter.
I hope you enjoy this set of easy listening songs while reading my book, Slain Over Spumoni—the perfect beach read.
Speaking of easy listening, I also listened and watched this video many times while editing my story in early 2022. Singer/songwriter Laura Mustard's TYPEWRITER is a lovely tune released this past spring.
Since then, I've listened to this song while writing a story in my work-in-progress series set in 1930s Portland. My protagonist uses a Royal typewriter that is similar to the period-appropriate one Laura uses in her video. I, too, have a vintage Royal, courtesy of my husband's paternal grandfather, and when my protagonist writes a story for the newspaper she works for, I write that "article" on either our 1915 Royal or my 1940s-era Lettera typewriter to put myself in the character's shoes.
But it's holiday time and I'm not writing right now. So, in honor of Ferragosto, eat something Italian today! Be brave and try my scrumptious spumoni recipe. It is often difficult to find true spumoni, so why not make it yourself (photo above also is my homemade spumoni and bussolai cookies). At the very least, enjoy a scoop or two of store-bought gelato like the yummy Talenti brand or patronize a gelateria in your area to experience freshly made gelato.