JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Two families & their pasta

My boys are very keen on four-cheese pasta, just about the only ready-made food I still buy: tortelloni with a mixture of cheeses. Waitrose has sold an own-brand version for years, and that is what I've always bought them. Until this week, when it had vanished from the shelves, in its place a branded version made by Del'Ugo.

On the back of the unfamiliar new pack I found a letter from the owner of the business, Paul Ugo, about its history. And I realised that Paul's grandfather was the man my grandfather bought pasta from for three decades. Let me re-wind a little here.

My grandparents met in 1915 in Italy, both members of a Red Cross unit led by the historian GM Trevelyan which served the Italian armies fighting the vicious mountaineering war on the Isonzo front. My grandmother was a VAD nurse, my grandfather the unit administrator. Amongst other legacies of that terrible time, my grandparents were left with a lifelong love of Italy and Italian food (also the ability to talk in fast and fluent Italian when they didn't want us to know what they were saying).

Luigi Ugo arrived in London in 1921 aged 14, and began making fresh pasta by hand for restaurants. He opened a shop in Gerrard Street in 1929, which soon expanded so that he was able to import machinery from Italy to establish a small fresh pasta factory.

And so on Saturdays, my grandfather, on his way home from work at the British Museum, where he was Keeper of Incunabula, would walk to Soho to Luigi Ugo's shop to buy fresh pasta. When they moved to Oxford, they missed Luigi's shop - I remember them pining for it. Instead, they befriended the Italian proprietors of the Luna Caprese in North Parade - but that's another story of family connections, discovered at the school gate when my younger daughter was five years old.

PS the photograph shows my grandfather arriving at our wedding on the arm of my uncle, who is now about the same age as my grandfather was when the picture was taken


Sandra said...

I love your story Joanna. Thanks for sharing.

What are incunabula?

Anonymous said...

Yes, me too! Joanna, what was your grandfather's full name? Incunabula is related to my core business (librarian), and BM's a household name.

Anonymous said...

Sandra: incunabula: from Latin cuna=cradle, meaning the first books, books in the cradle, or books printed in the earliest days of printing in the West, let's say between 1450 and 1st Jan. 1501.

Joanna said...

Labelga, thanks so much for this definition, which is much more detailed than anything I could have provided. My grandfather's name was L.A. Sheppard - and when he retired, he indexed the incunabula at the Bodleian in Oxford, and this work has recently been completed and published, perhaps you know of it?


Anonymous said...

Joanna, oh how exciting a find: our library of 15th-17th C books has the BM Cat of 15th C books part IX (Holland and Belgium)(BM, 1967). I looked up your grandfther's name, and there he is, in a preliminary Note dated April 1961 by R.A. Wilson: (..) The text was prepared by Mr. L. A. Sheppard before his retirement from the Museum, (..) How wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Joanna, seriously, wouldn't you think of paper publishing such stories, with History tied to (family) history, and some recipes in between, a hybrid memoir cookbook? I really like such posts, 'vignettes', concise, informative, moving. The reader can depart from there to research some more if desired.

Paul Ugo said...

Joanna, What a wonderful story to open the new year. My Father died only a few months ago, which re kindled my thirst for family history. I hope you continue to enjoy the pasta.
If you are ever in the area please do pop in we still have original photos and equipment from that original shop.

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

WOW! What a wonderful post and lovely comments. Labelga is right Joanna, these posts are informative and moving and make for a great read. How lovely that Paul Ugo left a comment too.

Amanda x

Danny said...

That is a wonderful story, Joanna, and beatifully told/written.

I adore personal family histories and little cameos, just like you described. That photo of your grandfather and uncle is hugely endearing and instantly affectionate.

I must search for more of the same here on your site.

Best wishes,

Joanna said...

Danny, thank you for kind words ... I'm amazed you found this post after so long ... and I still haven't taken up Paul on his offer to visit