Women were the driving force behind Capri’s hospitality. Innkeepers, mistresses or as E. Cerio calls them “ostiarie”, and since the 18th century they have welcomed travelers to the island of Tiberius with grace, a smile, a glass of wine and a hot dish of Capri’s ancient cuisine.
Rachele Tedesco, Donna Lucia Morgano, Margherita Pagano, Carmela Esposito from Tragara, were the forerunners of the oldest and most noble innkeeper of Bagni di Tiberio: Lucia Salzano, wife of Giuseppe De Martino. We can well say that the De Martino family is still a fundamental part of the history of the Palazzo a Mare district, born on the ruins of the Maritime Villa of Augustus, which was to become the palace of Mona Williams Bismarck, one of the most fascinating and elegant women of the 20th century. As it is narrated in Giuseppe Aprea’s book “Il libro del vino e del mangiare antico nell’isola di Capri” (The Book of Wine and Ancient Eating on the Island of Capri), at the beginning of the century, Lucia founded near the beach a small inn with a hut and few tables. She cooked with a small charcoal stove what the nature of Capri generously offered her in spring and summer. Her husband Peppino and all her 12 children, Paolino the first and Carluccio the last, helped her mother Lucia gathering wood and wild grass, cultivating the vegetables of the season, producing the ancient Greek wine of Palazzo a Mare, fishing with abundance of pezzogne, shrimp and squid, moray eels and garfish.
That family with their hard work transformed, year after year, that hut into a restaurant loved by many writers and artists, a must for the Dolce Vita of Capri. Lucia was succeeded in the kitchen by the blonde Margherita De Martino who had married Vittorio and the legendary Marisina Rotella. The two Junoesque women, mothers-in-law, dded to Lucia’s renowned dishes many new dishes of the ancient Capri cuisine that was handed down from mother to daughter. The scents of eggplant parmigiana, fried food Tiberio style, spaghetti alla chiummenzana and squid and potatoes were an irresistible siren song for the many bathers on the beach.
On the establishment were the almond cakes and fruit tarts of Lina a temptation for young and old alike. To begin a day at the beach with a fragrant Krapfen with cream veiled in sugar was an initiatory and sensual experience. Since the nineties the helm of the kitchen has been in the hands of Costanza Ruocco, wife of Peppino De Martino, known on Capri as o’Tedesco because of his blond hair. This splendid sixty year old woman with raven hair greets loudly every morning the clients who come to her imperial lido. Her smile is always framed by a colored “maccaturo” that covers her face. Like an ancient Roman matron, she kneads ravioli, prepares pasta and distills the limoncello that the De Martino family has made famous throughout the world.
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