October 1, 2008

Good Food – and a Lot of It – is Part of the Family Story Good Food – and a Lot of It – is Part of the Family Story


By Theresa Curry


Eleanor Porambo has fit more into her lifetime than a city block full of most people. At the Norfolk Airport Hilton , staff members know her as "Miss Ellie," a sweet woman who brings homemade cakes, brownies and fudge to share with everyone. Porambo, 75, is a "journey ambassador." She welcomes guests and answers questions about the hotel's accommodations with friendly concern.

She's tougher, though, than anyone might imagine. She's worked in the Navy, in a coal mine, in a dynamite factory, as a hairdresser and a barmaid - whatever it took to keep the bills paid and her family together.

Her story began in Carbon County, Pa., the site of the famous No. 9 Mine, the longest-running anthracite mining operation in the country, she said. Her father, Carmine Fatigati, was from Aquila, Italy, 70 miles from Rome; and her mother, Anna, was from Sicily. They made their home in Lansford, Pa., and her father worked for the mine.

"What a childhood it was," said Porambo, "as happy and full of life as any childhood could be." Music, dancing, wine and singing filled the neighborhood with a spirit as generous and nourishing as the huge meals that came from the coal-fired stove. On the stove top would be the tomato sauce, in which veal, meatballs, chicken and sausage simmered for hours. In the oven would be a roast stuffed with fragrant herbs and tied in the Italian way, surrounded by carrots and potatoes, as well as the baked goods - crusty bread, pizza, cookies and pies.

On summer evenings the Fatigatis would crank up the Victrola.

"All it took was for father and me to dance out in the street, and suddenly doors would open and people would pour outside, dancing and setting up tables and chairs with wine and food. It didn't take much to put together a block party in our neighborhood. Oh, how we danced."

When the young girl left home to join the Navy, her family visited her with the food she loved from the old neighborhood. "There were 75 women in my Navy boot camp," she recalled. "My family brought enough Italian food so that there were leftovers."

Eleanor married a sailor, moved to Massachusetts and learned to be a hairdresser, her husband's profession. Times grew rougher when her marriage broke up and she returned home with two young children.

She eventually went to work for Atlas Powder Co., helping to manufacture and load the dynamite used in the mines. "Now that was an awful job," she said.

Coal mining was actually an improvement. She started out as a coalbreaker, sending the rocks and coal down a wet slide after the truck unloaded them. During those days, she won over her male coworkers with brownies, homemade soup, meatballs and ravioli.

Her life changed in the early '80s when she heard from an old Navy buddy, Joe Porambo, and the two began a long-distance relationship - he from Norfolk and she from Lansford. In 1991, they married.

Porambo still loves to cook. "Everything I make takes a long time because it's all from scratch."

She simmers sauce in much the same way as her parents did, using thick pork chops and sausage to add flavor. "I start with the pork chops frozen and let them release some of their fat in the oven for a while." After a bath in the sauce on the stove top, they're as tender as butter, she said. She also makes lasagna. "I like it just packed with meat and cheese." She usually makes at least four pans of cake, brownies and bread at a time.

The fruits of her baking are always shared with her friends at the Hilton, a group she considers her family. For a recent birthday, she brought poundcake, cheese cake, brownies and zucchini bread to work.

"That's exactly what I wanted. That's how I celebrate," she said.

Theresa Curry, [email protected]

nominate a cook

Everyday Chefs are all around us. Flavor wants to tell their stories and share their recipes. Do you know someone who has a specialty - whether it's barbecue sauce, chicken and dumplings or chocolate cake?

Tell us who it is and send contact information to [email protected] pilotonline.com or mail to Flavor, The Virginian-Pilot, 150 W. Brambleton Ave., Norfolk VA 23510. Fax: (757) 446-2963.

Miss Ellie's Zucchini Nut Bread

Makes: 2 loaves

3 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil (I use Mazola)

1 tablespoon vanilla

3 cups flour, all-purpose

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup walnut pieces

1 cup crushed pineapple, drained

2 cups loosely-packed, coarsely-grated zucchini not peeled

Beat eggs until frothy. Add sugar, oil and vanilla, beating mixture until thick and lemon-colored

Mix dry ingredients. Stir in walnuts, pineapple and zucchini

Bake at 350 F for one hour.

Source: Eleanor Porambo, who says the recipe came from an Italian neighbor on West Water Street in Lansford, Pa.

Cream cheese poundcake

Makes: 1 cake

8 ounces cream cheese

1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter or margarine

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

2 cups flour, all-purpose

11/2 teaspoon baking powder

11/2 teaspoons vanilla

Use Crisco and flour to season a Bundt or angle food pan.

Cream first four ingredients, adding eggs one at a time until mixed. Add flour, baking powder and vanilla.

Bake at 350 F. for one hour or until done. Cool 15 minutes in pan then remove. To freeze cake, put freezer paper on counter and flip cake out of the pan onto the paper. When cool, put the cake, still on the paper, in the freezer. After frozen, wrap in freezer paper to store in freezer.

Source: Eleanor Porambo of Chesapeake

nominate a chef

Do you know someone who has a specialty - whether it's barbecue sauce, chicken and dumplings or chocolate cake? Tell us who it is and include contact information to [email protected] or mail to Flavor, The Virginian-Pilot, 150 W. Brambleton Ave., Norfolk VA 23510. Fax: (757) 446-2963.

Originally published by BY THERESA CURRY.

(c) 2008 Virginian - Pilot. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.