Cumberland Times-News

October 6, 2013

After six-year absence, spaghetti dinners back on table at St. Mary Church

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Al dente!

With names such as Pannone, Divico, Juliano, Delloumo and Palumbo in the mix, you know you are dealing with people who have earned Ph.D.s in spaghetti, sauce and meatballs.

For the first time since 2007, the traditional Italian spaghetti dinner will be served at St. Mary Church on Oldtown Road, returning what many considered to be a Cumberland-wide event to the Queen City’s South End.

“The dinner used to be only for St. Mary’s, but now it is a parish-wide effort,” said Sue Green, one of seven people turning out 2,100 meatballs Thursday morning.

The local Catholic churches continue to have individual services, but are now lumped into one parish. Our Lady of the Mountains Parish includes St. Mary, the Church of St. Patrick in Cumberland, St. Ambrose in Cresaptown, SS. Peter and Paul in Cumberland, and St. Patrick in Mount Savage.

By the time the dinner takes place Oct. 13, just shy of 3,000 meatballs will be in a state of prechewed readiness. One hundred pounds of spaghetti will intertwine on what organizers anticipate will be 1,000 plates.

“That morning, Caporale’s Bakery will bring 121 loaves of fresh sliced Italian bread,” said Cathy Pannone. “We have to serve Caporale’s bread, the best.”

And then there is the sauce, the Pannone family recipe.

“I could tell you what’s in it, but then I’d have to kill you,” Pannone said.

The spaghetti dinner began in 1948 and first took place on Virginia Avenue. At that time, and for a few decades afterward, the section of town bordered on three sides by Oldtown Road, Virginia Avenue and Industrial Boulevard was informally known as Little Italy. Former residents talk about the delicious smell of the air when foods were being prepared in the many Italian households.

Don’t expect perfectly spherical meatballs with your spaghetti, sauce, salad and bread. Like snowflakes, no one meatball shape matches that of any other meatball. These meatballs are handmade. Different sizes and shapes of hands result in myriad meatball configurations.

The common denominator? They each taste great.

“We don’t use bread crumbs,” Green explained. Dried Italian bread is soaked in water and then pulled apart to mix with the ground beef and garlic and create an aroma that will have many following their noses to Cumberland’s South End on Oct. 13 between 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The meatball shapers and movers on Thursday ex-plained that in the early days of the dinner, the Italian women would come to the kitchen and prepare everything in one long, drawn-out effort, nourished to some degree by an appropriate amount of wine.

Nowadays, as much preparation as possible is done in advance.

“We precook the spaghetti for three minutes,” Pannone said. “Then on the day of the dinner we put it in boiling water until it is al dente,” she added, referring to the phrase meaning perfectly cooked.

Pannone explained that money brought in from the dinner will be used for a variety of needs throughout the parish.

“St. Mary’s church bells haven’t worked for a couple years,” she said. “All the churches need upkeep.”

Enter spaghetti.

Contact Michael A. Sawyers at