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A bit of Santa Rosa food history comes to the fair

  • The pots Gino Canevari used to make potato salad have a new home in the Hall of Flowers at the 2013 Sonoma County Fair. (KENT PORTER/ PD)

Take a look around the Hall of Flowers at the Sonoma County Fair and try to spot several dozen large, perforated aluminum pots.

There's a bunch of them at the north end of the hall. They're stacked three to five high beneath the birdhouse mobile, and they're overflowing with vibrant flowers and other gorgeous plants.

Where would you guess the metal baskets came from, and what do you suppose they were originally used for?

A hint: The great pots -- 50 in all -- were donated to the fair by a retired food producer, Gino Canevari. You might reasonably surmise they were used in the making of ravioli, as the Canevari family sold its first batch of the delectable stuffed pasta in Santa Rosa in 1929, and Canevari's Ravioli remains on the market today.

But you'd be wrong.

Nobody loves the ravioli first made by Attilio and Maria Canevari more than their son Gino, who's now 88. But decades ago, he left ravioli-making to other Canevaris and turned to producing something classically American.

Potato salad, as much as 2,000 pounds a day.

"I was a very ambitious person," Canevari said at the home near Spring Lake he shares with Sharon, his wife of 68 years. When he first detected a demand for potato salad, he had no idea how to make it.

He had learned the food business from his parents, who introduced ravioli to those Sonoma County residents not fortunate enough to have grown up on it. Attilio and Maria Canevari came to Santa Rosa from San Francisco in 1924 and five years later began selling local markets the ravioli they made in a commercial kitchen they created in the garage of a rented house on West Eighth Street.

As soon as each of their four children -- Pietro, Albina, Gino and Edwin -- was old enough to chop or stir, the kid was put to work making the ravioli sold first at friend Charlie Traverso's store, then at other Italian markets and restaurants throughout the county.

Little Gino's task, starting at about age 7, was to peel garlic.

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