Con Gusto – How Italian Food Conquered Britain

Excerpt from Con Gusto - the family chapter.

This excerpt is taken from Con Gusto, a book written for us by our great friend Bill Knott, to mark the 25th Anniversary of Pesto in the UK.

Sacla’ was founded by Secondo Ercole – ‘Pinin’, as he was known – and his wife Piera, Lorenzo’s parents, both from Piedmont. The idea seems simple, but nobody had done it before: to take the glut of fresh produce from the fertile local countryside in spring and summer, and preserve it so that it could be enjoyed throughout the year. Lorenzo takes up the story. ‘My mother was a very important woman, clever and strong. My father would have been lost without her. ‘He didn’t understand money. He was creative, an artist. He had two passions: his work… and I won’t say the other one! They had lots of problems, but they worked through them all. ‘My brother Carlo and I had a similar partnership. He’s more of an abstract, creative character, and I’m a more concrete personality. ‘Anyway, Secondo knew that Asti was a great garden. He started in commerce, trading vegetables that he’d bought at a low price, but he identified a gap in the market.’ There would be a glut in the middle of the season for each vegetable grown by Piemontese farmers. This meant the price would fall. Buy your asparagus, peas or beans at that point, preserve them in jars, and you could sell them at a premium when the fresh version was no longer available. After the outbreak of war, Italy saw a huge population shift from the countryside to the town, which made the idea even better. Many people no longer had easy access to their favourite foods, and there was a huge demand for jars of vegetables, jams and preserved fruits. Internationally, too, Italy had become increasingly isolated – the invasion of Ethiopia in 1936 had provoked sanctions by the League of Nations – so self-sufficiency in food had become a political priority. But, as Lorenzo remarks, ‘all events, even tragedies, create opportunities.’