A package of light brown cookies covered in sesame seeds sits on Vincent Palozzi’s desk, and his mother Josephine’s face is printed on the plastic label.
Palozzi remembers baking with his mother during the holidays. She would start at 9 or 10 p.m. and bake until 3 or 4 in the morning so he and his siblings would wake up to a plate of fresh cookies. He learned a lot during those baking sessions.
“That’s why I can do what I can do today,” said Palozzi. “I paid a lot of attention to what she was doing.”
Palozzi, a linguistics lecturer at Miami, turned those childhood lessons from the kitchen into a business. Baking out of his own home, he shares his mother’s passion for Italian cookies with the community.
Palozzi started Josephine’s Gourmet Kitchen LLC in November 2017 as a way to remember his parents, both of whom have passed away. He uses his mother’s recipes, passed down from her grandmother, and recipes from his father’s side.
“It’s because of the passing of both of my parents now that I realized this is one more thing that I needed to do to remember them and to remember what my roots are,” Palozzi said.
While his parents were both born in the U.S., his mother’s family is originally from Cerda, a commune in Sicily, Italy, while his father comes from Abruzzo, Italy.
“It was a wonderful culture to grow up in, and we were definitely part of a very specific cultural community,” Palozzi said. “I don’t know that many Americans, at least these days, really understand how much of a subculture it was.”
He wanted to keep his Italian and Sicilian heritage alive, not only for himself but to share his culture with other non-Italians in southwest Ohio.
Daniele Fioretti, lecturer in the French and Italian department, said he buys Palozzi’s cookies for his students before they study abroad in Florence, so they can learn about the differences between American and Italian flavors.
Fioretti was born in Florence and moved to the U.S. in 2010 to teach at Miami. Palozzi’s cookies remind him of the flavors of home.
“They are handmade, homemade and they really taste like original cookies made by my family,” Fioretti said.
Palozzi sells seven kinds of cookies: chocolate spice, lemon, anise, pistachio, sesame, butter almond and butter pecan. He hopes to make more specialty cookies for various holidays and cookies from other cultures such as Germany, France and Egypt. He is also working on his versions of American favorites.
Italian cookies are generally less sweet and dryer than American cookies, and are made to be eaten with coffee or milk, Palozzi said.
Palozzi also uses his background as a linguist in his baking. He researches the Italian names of his cookies because many cookie names were anglicized or changed when they were brought to the U.S.
For example, guanti, which means glove, is a cookie made for large celebrations. Also called bowknots, the name was anglicized into wandi in the U.S.
The same cookie can have different names in different parts of Italy because dialects and descriptors can vary greatly between towns. Palozzi realized this when he got into a discussion about cookies with several other Sicilian Americans while on a bus tour in Italy.
“It took us about 20 minutes to realize we were essentially talking about the same cookie,” Palozzi said. “But, everybody had a different name for it because each village had a different name for it.”
Palozzi’s cookies are available at the Oxford Doughnut Shoppe, and he takes special orders.