Gelato with a Christmas flavour

Frank Pisconeri eating ice cream at Pisconeri’s café bar, Lake & Newcastle Streets Perth, 1950s.

FROM the archives of Vincent Local History Centre, this week we have a tale of how migrants made their mark on Christmas traditions across the 20th century.

THE Australian Christmas fare has come a long way from the northern hemisphere winter traditions of roast meats and plum puddings.  

While some people cling steadfast to the tradition of brandy and pudding at Christmas, migrants from around the world have brought different Christmas food traditions to our Christmas tables.  

Post-war Italian migrants introduced us to the Italian Christmas sweet bread called panettone (translates to big bread), which is now everywhere in local supermarkets from early November to January.  

Not so long ago, it was only available in Perth in Italian migrant homes or imported by speciality Italian grocers such as the Re Store or Pisconeri Brothers. 

Pisconeri Wholesalers, currently in Mt Hawthorn, had its roots in an old family business based in Lake and Newcastle Streets, Perth from the early 1950s.  

Established by two Calabrian-born migrants and their wives and families, it was originally a grocery store that expanded into a cafe serving coffee and traditional Italian ice cream and frozen granita. 

The cafe was open seven days a week and quickly became a major drawcard for many Italian migrants who lived and worked in the area in the 1950s and 1960s.  

Men would gather at the bar in the evenings to socialise, drink coffee and play cards.

Italian families would frequent the cafe for ice cream and coffee on Sunday mornings after mass at St Brigid’s church.  

In the 1950s, the Pisconeri family turned their hand to making ice cream or gelato which they sold under the label of Crest Ice Cream from their wholesale shop on Lake Street across the road from their retail store. 

The late Maria Pisconeri, one of the original proprietors, recalled: “We sold gelati, coffee and cakes. My husband and brother-in-law went to get the machines – they were Italian machines. We used to make gelati and had a factory where we made cones, confetti and roasted coffee. There was no other bar like it – the only other one was in Fremantle. We were so busy with so many people.”

At Christmas time, the Pisconeri family business promoted their ice creams with free giveaways to locals dispensed by Santa (local 6IX radio announcer John Fryer) on the back of a ute outside their shop and factory.   

Albert Pisconeri, son of the original owners who is still involved in the family business Pisconeri Wholesalers, recalled: “One of the announcers from 6IX (John Fryer) jumped on this little van with balloons and there he was waving to the crowd. He would be driven to the front of the coffee bar and they’d park the van. Dressed as Father Christmas, he would offer people ice creams and lollies from the back of the truck. Then there’s a shot of all the people waiting for their turn, for their ice creams.”

While the Pisconeri family business no longer makes or sells gelato, they have continued importing a wide range of Italian food products, including the now ubiquitous favourite Italian Christmas treat panettone.  

For more local stories and images of Christmas in Vincent, visit https://library.vincent. wa.gov.au/local-history-centre. aspx

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