NEW HAVEN – For months, Angela DiSorbo, 78, has been preparing to make the 600 meatballs and cook 300 pounds of veal hearts or sofritto, not to mention the porchetta sandwiches, that she will sell in her booth at the annual St. Anthony Feast June 11-16.
She and her husband started cooking for the feast 30 years ago, preparing 25 pounds of veal hearts. He died nine years ago, but she continues to help with the parish fund-raiser by donating all of the food and hundreds of hours of work through a generous act of love for her parish, her Church and St. Anthony.
Of course, the Carofano kids – Mike, 92; Fannie, 91; Anthony, 86; Albert, 79; and Sal, 70 – will be there, too, following in their parents’ footsteps. They’ll accept donations for the popular St. Anthony bread (300-plus dozen loaves that are blessed in advance) – a tradition that their mother Nancy started in honor of her beloved Saint Anthony, who gave bread to the poor.
No ordinary festival, the entire St. Anthony Feast is steeped in family tradition, loyalty to the Church and deep devotion – all passed down for two, maybe three generations.
Many recipes and preparations even hail from the old country, traditions that the original families are working hard to pass down to their children and grandchildren.
"She loves it," said Teresa Rubino about her mother Angela. All the work "doesn’t faze her at all. This makes her very happy."
It makes the festival-goers happy too. Ziti e polpette, soffrito, porchetta, pesche e vino, dolci Italiani, espresso, beer and sausage and peppers are just some of the authentic Italian items to be offered, according to coordinator Anna Simeone.
Other not-to-be-missed food booths include the fish booth with fried shrimp, whole belly calms, and fried soft shelled crabs; ice cream and Italian ice, and the cotton candy booth.
Care, diligence, persistence and love go into the traditional foods.
Mrs. Rubino explained that her mother makes meatballs out of London broil or sirloin that she selects directly from the butcher. After adding fresh parsley, garlic, parmesan cheese, bread (soaked in water and then squeezed to form crumbs), salt and pepper, Mrs. DiSorbo carefully shapes them into evenly formed balls.
"Each ball has to be exactly the same size," her daughter emphasized. In other words, "Only she can make them," she added with a laugh. And her mom makes her own sauce from tomatoes picked on a farm or from her own garden, adding only salt and fresh basil – an annual project that yields 200 jars of her own sauce.
Mrs. DiSorbo’s sofritto requires a veal-cutting effort that draws five or six family members. After placing the meat in the sauce, tradition calls for the workers to sit down to a macaroni dinner.
"It always sells out," said Mrs. Rubino about her mother’s specialties. When the feast ends, long-timers call out to her, "See you next year."
The tradition of the feast is equally ingrained for the Carofano family.
"My parents made the bread," said Al. "My mother always had a big devotion to St. Anthony. She’d bake the rolls at home with her eight children … about 350 dozen," he laughed. "And she’s the only one who could mix the dough. She wouldn’t let anyone touch it. We lived in a three-family house; and we’d be running up and down the steps with the pans putting them in all the ovens."
"Then, when my mother got sick in ’89, she asked us if we’d carry on the tradition," he said. "We did."
The feast also holds another memory for Al. He met his wife there.
"My wife Clorinda was working in the booth next to me, and I asked her to go on the ferris wheel," he continued. "That was 1954, and we’ve been married 56 years."
Other families are also woven into the fabric of the feast. For example, there’s Frank Mantone, who ran the feast for many years. There’s Carl Longo’s family, who wired the feast for sound. There’s Joe Carangelo, now ill, who supplied the sausage and peppers and the steak and onions for many years, and has his son following in his footsteps as he recuperates.
Close to parishioners’ hearts are the Scalabrini priests who have served the needs of the largely Italian community since the church was dedicated in 1907, and who have helped to maintain a cohesive parish despite such issues as urban renewal in the ’60s that nearly destroyed nearby neighborhoods.
Parishioners say early forms of the feast date back to the ’40s. After a lapse, Father Mario Bordignon resurrected it.
Father Joseph Moffo is also credited with reaching out to families through the feast. Following his death in 2007, Father Philip Sharkey, Father Ralph Colicchio and now Father Francis Snell carry on the long history of parish events.
For parishioners, the festival is all about family and tradition, and that means ritual. For years, a huge manicotti dinner was held the week before the event for everyone to gather before the celebration began.
Parishioners say that what sets the St. Anthony’s Feast apart is that it one of the last of the big, parish-run Italian festivals in New Haven; others have died off.
"This feast is about family and tradition," said Mrs. Simeone. Plus, "People really have a lot of faith in St. Anthony. And this is their way of honoring him the best way they know how…in their parish."
If you go:
As in past years, this year’s feast begins with a triduum, at 7 p.m. June 11-13, that includes a novena, benediction and talks about St. Anthony, as well as a Mass held on the third evening.
Booths also open on the 13th from 6-9 p.m. Hours on June 14 are from 6-10 p.m.; on June 15, 5-10 p.m.
June 16 is marked by a Mass at 11a.m., after which the statue of St. Anthony is carried out of the church, down the steps and around the block, and back to the church where the pastor blesses the statue and offers a talk on St. Anthony.
A meatball and ziti dinner will follow. The feast’s booths will be open until 6 p.m.
Also to be offered are the popular Hispanic and Filipino cuisine, added after St. Anthony and Sacred Heart parishes merged four years ago.
Singer Richard DiPalma will perform in the evenings of June 13-16.