When Lena Cammarata made her specialty, Sicilian chicken, it was a sort of culinary hide-and-seek: She tucked in extra cloves of garlic to be discovered by her three boys and later her six grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and a great-great grandchild. Mrs. Cammarata, who also made cannoli, pizzelles and other Italian favorites, turned 102 on Monday.
She was born on July 7, 1912, in Yatesboro, Armstrong County, to Ida and Santo LaQuatra, a coal miner. When she was 10, her family moved to Page Street on the North Side. She and her nine siblings all attended Conroy School across the street from their house. In the early 1920s, her father bought a general store but lost it during the Great Depression.
Although she wanted to be an English teacher, her parents wanted her to stay home and learn how to cook, bake, wash and iron. That is when she refined her cooking and baking skills. She was making pies when Alfred Cammarata came to visit. He loved to eat, and it was love at first sight, she said.
They were married in July 1937 and moved to a room above the family business, Cammarata’s Bar in West View. Her husband worked there with his three brothers, Joseph, Angelo and Mark. Alfred Cammarata died 12 years ago. Angelo Cammarata turned 100 in March.
Lena and Alfred Cammarata had three sons: Alfred Jr., Michael and Marc.
In 2008, Mrs. Cammarata was interviewed about her life by Manchester Aademic Charter School eighth-grader Morgan Corbin. She remembered both world wars and the flu epidemic of 1918, when she lost an aunt, an uncle and a baby. She was ironing when she heard news reports that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. She once met Martin Luther King Jr. at the airport.
“I was with my family, and I recognized him right away. The rest of them didn’t because he was small,” she said.
When she was 85, she published “La Cucina Italiana: Recipes From Italian Kitchens,” featuring her own recipes for biscotti, osso di morto and cucitate (fig cakes).
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