G for Gelato

G for Gelato at Jarvis and Adelaide in Toronto

In a previous post I wrote about a university in Italy where you learn the fine art of making gelato (see Carpigiani Gelato University). By a happy coincidence, a new gelateria opened in my neighborhood called G for Gelato (south-east corner of Jarvis and Adelaide).

When I went in on opening day, I asked about the business, the owners are etc. I mentioned that I had written about a gelato university and one of the owners, Shawn Whelan, said that he and the three other owners had indeed attended the Carpigiani Gelato University. He took me on a tour and sure enough was a set of gleaming gelato equipment made by Carpigiani.

Carpigiani gelati machine

The story behind the gelateria gets even more interesting when I heard about the parents of three of the owners. Lucy Cesca, Anna Polsinelli and Rita Pistore are daughters from a family that ran a gelato shop in Sora Italy, a town just south of Rome. Lucy’s daughter  Stephanie Cesca wrote about the family’s story in a recent article in the Toronto Star:

Giuseppina Polsinelli, a mother of five girls, owned her own home in the town of Sora, just south of Rome. She also had her own business, a small but successful gelateria she and my grandfather had opened 14 years earlier.

Gerardo and Giuseppina Polsinelli

Yet the letter from her brother, who was newly settled in Toronto, was persuasive in getting her to leave her country: The opportunities available in Canada don’t exist in Italy, he told her. And you can’t expect your girls to want to grow up and sell ice cream.

We can’t help but wonder what he would think now.

Nearly 60 years after my grandparents started selling homemade gelato — first from a bicycle, then eventually from a truck — my family has gone back to its roots, and opened a gelato shop Nov. 15 at the corner of Jarvis and Adelaide in Toronto.

And my grandparents were there to see it.

As my mom, Lucy Cesca, puts it, “It’s always been a dream of ours.”

No dream comes easy, really, and this was no exception.

Three sisters — my mom, Anna Polsinelli and Rita Pistore — and their friend Shawn Whelan have had to put their careers on hold, invest thousands of dollars, work seven days a week and — oh yes — learn how to make gelato.

So far, the trickiest part has been getting the gelato right. Even when it’s in your blood, the art of making Italian ice cream can’t be mastered overnight.

To make sure they didn’t blow it, my mom, two of her sisters and a family friend spent last summer in Bologna, Italy, at the Carpigiani Gelato University. There, they learned why gelato-making calls for the passion of an artist and the precision of a scientist: One wrong move — like one extra teaspoon of sugar — and your masterpiece is finito.

No one knows that better than Giuseppina, who learned to make gelato while working at a café in Italy as a teenager. There, she honed her technique, and five years later, in 1952, decided to open her own business with my grandfather, Gerardo.

Starting with only a few flavours, my grandparents cordoned off one room in their house, where the gelato was made.

“It was a special room and it was always closed. We were not allowed to enter,” my mother says. Because money was tight, they did their selling from a bicycle, travelling through their town and making sure to hit the well-populated areas.

By 1957, it was time to upgrade to a truck, an Alfa Romeo.

“They wanted style,” my mother says. Having proper wheels also meant my grandparents could sell gelati in neighbouring towns and at all the local festivals.

The Alfa Romeo the Polsinelli family used to sell their homemade gelato in Sora, Italy, in the 1950s and '60s.

Over the years there was steady success, but there were also a few lows, including the time my mother and her twin sister accidentally caused the truck to crash and the time health officials closed the business for two days because my grandparents used fresh farm milk, which was unpasteurized, instead of the powdered stuff. They eventually relented and switched to powdered milk, but swore their gelato wasn’t the same.

By the time the mid-1960s rolled in, some of her family had moved to Toronto and spoke highly of their new lives in a new world.

It sounded tempting.

My grandmother felt like she needed a change. Both grandparents felt it would secure their daughters’ futures. They closed their business, shuttered their home and left for Canada.

But the good life they had dreamed of didn’t come so easy, if at all.

They settled in the area of Lansdowne and St. Clair Aves., but with five children to feed and unable to speak English, they went to work in a factory.

My grandfather worked full time until age 59 in 1980, when he was seriously injured after falling off a ladder while doing repairs on his home. He took on odd jobs after that, but the family then lived mostly off the meagre wages of my grandmother, who assembled shoes.

“I’ll tell you the truth,” Giuseppina says. “For me, coming to Canada was a mistake. Life was very, very hard. But for my daughters, it is better.”

Asked what she thinks now that her children are making gelato for a living — something she was told they’d never want to do — my grandmother beams with pride. “I am so happy,” Giuseppina says. “My daughters are continuing a tradition.”

A few days ago, Giuseppina, now 81, and Gerardo, who’s 90, made the trip to their daughters’ new shop, G for Gelato.

They said hello to the staff, sat at a table and put in their order: strawberry gelato.

Then, for the first time, they tried their girls’ ice cream.

My grandmother scooped a bit from her plastic spoon, looked at me and smiled.

“Che buono,” she said. How delicious.