Archive for the ‘Italian language’ Category


Ice Cream, You Scream: the Tutti Frutti story

December 16, 2013

Little Richard, Pat Boone and Elvis sang about it in the mid 1950s, but where is it now?

When quizzed about ‘tutti frutti’ my friends mostly knew it as a flavour for lollies or icy confections, but confessed to not having heard of it for decades.

In Italian the words mean ‘all fruit’ (in a word-for-word translation) but are not used in the Italian language at all. In fact, the correct way of saying it would be ‘tutti i frutti’ or even better: ‘tutta la frutta’.

The invention of tutti frutti ice cream, with its small pieces of glace fruits and nuts, is attributed to Kentucky ice cream factory owner Roy Motherhead who named it after his daughter ‘Toodie’ in the late 1940s-early 1950s. However, I discovered an image of a bold neon Tutti Frutti Ice Cream sign on a building in Soerabaja (Surabaya, Indonesia) dated 1929-32. Am I questioning the Wikipedia editors here?    Tutti Frutti sign in Surabaya

Entertainment-wise, the expression appears in the 1943 Busby Berkeley film The Gang’s All Here when Carmen Miranda wobbles her bananas in the musical number ‘The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat’.  

CarmenMiranda sings 'Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat'  

It’s given the mangled Italian-English treatment in the Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races filmed in 1937. In one of the film’s best scenes, Chico loudly invites punters at the racetrack to “getta your tootsie frootsie ice cream” while really trying to sell Groucho (Dr. Hackenbush) horse betting instruction manuals hidden in the ice cream cart.

Chico and Groucho Marx Brothers

So, what happened to tutti frutti? Apparently Leopold’s Ice Cream in Savannah, Georgia (established in 1919) still sells it. And it appears to be one of the 50 flavours for a designer jelly bean brand. What a sad end to something that inspired so many magical moments.  Tutti Frutti Jelly Belly

But all’s not lost. The cassata siciliana, on which the tutti frutti flavour is surely based, endures. Usually a glace fruit, nut and ricotta mixture covered with cake and suffocated with marzipan, it’s a rich, sweet concoction. I prefer a simpler cassata-type gelato and recall having it for dessert at the dozens of Sydney Italian weddings I attended in the 1970s-1980s. This cassata recipe (from The Illustrated Kitchen Bible) reminds me of these (especially the cherry-flavoured top layer), but I’d substitute the commercial glace fruit with my own candied peel and Maraschino cherries (included in previous posts).  CassataGelato

Further viewing:

Carmen Miranda – The Gang’s All Here (The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat):

Marx Brothers – A Day at the Races (Tootsie Frootsie ice cream racetrack scene) :



Mother Tongue turns to Thoughts of Food

February 24, 2013

The language we learn to speak as children is part of our identity and shapes our first thoughts and how we relate to the world around us.

In my case, it was Italian – or more precisely a north-eastern regional dialect from Friuli-Venezia Giulia. I spoke only a few words of English before starting school in Sydney’s inner-west and remember my mother farewelling me on my first day and crying – in Italian.  Our home was TV-free until then, so – as an only child – I had limited opportunities to learn English.

One of my strongest Italian language memories was successfully landing the job of Kitchen Hand for my mother. Child labour laws didn’t apply to four-year-olds who made semolina dumplings and cut home-made pasta into long fettuccine strips. So I learnt to cook using Italian – not English – instructions.

and now for the taste test

and now for the taste test

Later, when I learnt more of the general Italian, I naturally picked up on various food idioms, some so florid they could be the basis of a four-course meal:

Pre-dinner drink

Non si puo avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca  – You can’t have the wine cask full and your wife drunk
(You can’t have your cake and eat it too)


È buono come un pezzo di pane – He’s as good as a piece of bread
(He’s a good person)


Beccare con le mani in pasta – To catch with hands in the pasta
(To catch red-handed)

Main Course  (choice of two)

Chi dorme non piglia pesci – He who sleeps does not catch fish
(The early bird gets the worm),  OR

Ridi che la mamma ha fatto gli gnocchi – Ironic expression which means keep on laughing (even if you think there’s nothing funny to laugh at)

Last Thursday was INTERNATIONAL MOTHER LANGUAGE DAY, a UNESCO initiative observed annually on 21st February promoting linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. Linguistic analysts predict up to 50 per cent of the world’s 7,000 languages may be in danger of disappearing by the end of this century. Australian Indigenous languages top the threatened list with only 20 of the original 250 still widely spoken. Once lost, they will be gone forever.

I sometimes wonder whether the regional dialect I speak with my mother and her friends will survive. When I cook Italian dishes I occasionally hear my mother’s voice in my head, speaking in dialect, saying something like “these potatoes are so watery they might ruin the gnocchi”.

These exchanges about food resonate so strongly with me and if I hadn’t learnt Italian, I’d be so disappointed that I’d be … hitting the sauce. In English.

See also Aidan Wilson’s International Mother Language piece in Crikey (Fully sic)

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