How a Croatian family ended up with an Italian dish as a favorite holiday snack
Your tales are always touching, but this one is extra special. I'm fascinated by the way family traditions evolve and intertwine through the years and the generations, and it sounds like your family has an excellent (and tasty) tradition to continue in the years ahead.
Great tale. I love hearing family traditions and how they came about. America is indeed a melting pot. We don't care where someone is from. We care about who they are, and each adds flavor to the pot. (pun intended. :-) )
That dish sounds amazing. A whole stick of butter and Anchovies AND a full head of garlic? Count me in!
Yes, I've heard of Bagna Cauda and love it. I first tried it in a great little restaurant in Yellow Springs, Ohio (home of Antioch College). I could swear they make it with at least some olive oil... Never had it from my father's Italian family, though...
A fascinating story. Especially interesting to me as my mothers family also came from Croatia (and we still have family there).
It is not at all surprising that a Croatian family became acquainted with an Italian dish.
As you noted, the Austro Hungarian Empire controlled Croatia. (Actually, it was called the Austrian Empire for centuries; it was renamed the austro Hungarian empire in the 1860s or 1870's as Germanic Austria decided to elevate the position of the Hungarians as they needed a partner in suppressing the slavic minorities under their rule)
The Austrian Empire also controlled much of North Eastern Italy. (The French, in the mid to late 1800's, played an invaluable role in creating the modern Italian State and freeing it from the Austrian yoke).
Since the Austrian Empire at one time ruled both Croatia and a huge hunk of Italy it may have become a conduit for the transmission of foods and other phenomena across its far flung empire.
My grandmother and step-grandfather lived in Benld and had a tavern there. It too in the early days before grandma met grandpa, his was a brotherl too! Almost every corner had a tavern and my husband counted 44 at one time in that small town. Yes most were northern Italians and bangna was always served on New Year's Eve! The Coliseum burned down but the antique store that was in it had left before the fire. It isn't much of a town now but when I was a kid in the 60"s it was a fun place to be! And yes Italian was spoken by many in the town when I was a kid.
Great story. Bagna is amazing, indeed! I grew up in Benld and still remember businesses on Main Street. It was a nice place to be a kid and by the 80's it was well past the days of mafia shootings, boot legging and brothels. In the late 80's/early 90's the Coliseum operated as a skating rink. After it burnt the remnants were torn down, as there wasn't anything left to turn into shops. It was very sad for my whole family, as my parents had seen many great acts there, including one where Fats Domino broke his chair during his performance and just kept on playing. Dion (of Dion and the Belmonts) kissed my mom on the cheek and she still talks about it. My great grandfather owned a bar in Benld. My great grandmother never learned to speak English and only spoke Italian. A lot of parents would speak in Italian if they didn't want their kids to know what they were saying. Though many families were from Northern Italy (but not all), there were still different Italian dialects spoken. My Italian grandparents who lived in Livingston (nearby) used to argue about which words were correct because they spoke different dialects. My Benld family spoke Piemontase. My grandfather delivered raw materials to the still (aka - fake mine) until it got raided by the feds. After his brush with the gangsters/feds and his boss was found in the Sangamon River wearing a new pair of concrete sneakers, he turned his ice truck business into a successful beer distributorship that was headquartered in Benld for nearly 80 years. During the 80's/90's Benld had two successful beer distributorships and many other businesses like banks, construction companies, oil company, a lumber yard, salons, bars, a dime store, doctor's office, insurance agencies, tv/appliance store, furniture store, a movie theater and others. D&A Corvette is still one of the premier Corvette restoration businesses in the country. Benld is also home to a beautiful Russian Orthodox church.
Italians and Croatians mingled nicely in Benld and surrounding areas. Fun fact: One of the largest Croatian Fraternal Union lodges (Heart of Jesus - 217) is centered in Benld and contains both Croatian and Italian members. The lodge became so large because of the Italian relationship with the Croatians in town. Benld still hosts Italian American Days each Memorial Day Weekend (though, it's been cancelled the past 2 years due to Covid) and has a WONDERFUL catering company called Fema's where you can purchase MANY Italian specialties. They are open daily. Benld is still worth a stop to pick up a fresh salami at Fema's and I'd highly encourage it to any foodies. Poke some holes in it, wrap it in foil and pop it in the oven at 350 for an hour. You'll be back for more. Italian American Days features a bocce (pronounced "boh-chee" or "boh-cheh"....if you call it "bah-chee" you may get slapped and everyone in town will immediately know you are not Italian and/or potentially a fool) tournament on the Sunday of the festival. Try the bagna recipe. You won't regret it.
There is also a great museum in nearby Gillespie (Illinois Coal Museum). They have a great section on Benld and also the coal mining industry. It is very cool and also worth a stop. They'd love a visit and can inform you on the fact vs fiction of Benld. Unlike so many places with infamous histories, most of what you hear about Benld will likely turn out to be true. If you've ever heard Benld was hit by a meteorite, that is also technically true. A very small meteorite (maybe a couple inches across) fell from the sky, went through someone's garage roof and car roof then lodged itself in the back seat springs. It is now housed in Chicago's Field Museum along with the car seat and section of garage roof.
Thanks for writing this story and I hope some readers pay Benld a visit! My whole life I could tell people where I was from by mentioning Benld. If I mentioned a larger town that I thought may be more recognizable, people didn't have a clue. As soon as I mention Benld there is almost always a familial/friend connection or at least an acknowledgement based on the stories. It's amazing.
I grew up near Benld and was introduced to Bagna during our HS Chemistry class Christmas party. I've been a fan ever since! Still a holiday favorite among my coworkers at our local hospital, where many a new convert to the deliciousness has occurred.
Wife, daughter & I came to the Bend area in the early 1970s...I taught in Mt.Olive & lived in Gillespie.
🎉First New Years Eve......Introduction to Bagna ❤❤❤❤❤
We make Bagna every major holiday, and sometimes in between too, when the craving comes up (anytime anyone mentions it lol) I can’t remember a single family Christmas or New Years Eve growing up (Benld/Gillespie) that we didn’t have bagna cauda in my 48 yrs of living. I’ve kept the tradition going with my kids & their friends and pray they keep it going for generations as well!
I was born and raised in benld, and im also croatian. And bagna has always been a holiday tradition, we love it and everyone one i know around this area loves it. thanks for the story.
Very interesting story. I grew up in Litchfield, IL and saw all those stars except Lawrence Welk. We spent a lot of time in Gillespie and Benld. It was a wonderful time a d place to grow up!
I love Bagna Cauda! My mother had an Italian friend who made it all the time. We would drive over to their house and could smell it cooking as we pulled into the driveway. So yummy!
I love that you are taking the time to hear the stories of your family history. I'm a Croat who grew up in Mt. Olive and now living in St. Louis. Many great memories of the Coliseum, too.
Thanks for this story. This is fantastic. I'm from Staunton originally but my Dad's family is from White City (and they're Serbian). This was also a staple at our New Year's Eve celebrations. Thanks for sharing. This made me smile.