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Eleanor LaMotta Remembers...a Lot

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - These days Eleanor LaMotta lives with her daughter and son-in-law, Fran and Bill Monti, in North Salem, though she lived many years at Heritage Hills with her late husband. “I loved it there,” she says. “We had a lot of good activities to enjoy. Swimming and bowling. Chat and Sew. All the clubs.”

Her life is somewhat less active today. Perhaps it is because she is aging a bit. Mrs. LaMotta celebrated her 102nd birthday on October 13. Pause here, reader, and take another look at her photograph.

The elegant centenarian grew up in Manhattan, where her father was in the wholesale fruit and vegetable business. She studied clothing design at Chelsea’s Textile High School. That was during the “roaring 20’s,” a decade she remembers with great fondness.

“The clothes fascinated me,” she recalls. “I took a lot of sewing classes. I cut my hair short in the 20’s and my uncle said, ‘Short hair -- short brains!’” She considers today’s fashions “scanty. I could do a better job designing.”

Mrs. LaMotta’s mother was born near Rome in 1873, just eight years after Lincoln’s assassination. Around 1895, she came to America with her husband and brother. They planned to stay five years but stayed forever. They had nine children, including young Elena, whose name was “Americanized” to Eleanor by an early school teacher.

Longevity runs in the family. Mrs. LaMotta’s mother “made it to 101,” and her sister lived to be 103. “I eat well,” she explained. “Fruit and vegetables. No junk. And I always walked and swam a lot.”

What is the most amazing technological development she has seen? “The telephone. Always hearing the phone -- it was a marvelous invention. You speak…” and you are heard. “The same with electricity. We had gas lights in the house and the street. I remember putting the gas iron on. Electricity was safer and brighter.

“I think the Internet is wonderful though I don’t know the first thing about it. I was born in the dark ages.” She flew for the first and only time when she was in her eighties. She went to Florida.

The family is busily preparing for Christmas right now, decorating the house and making seasonal goodies. Among them is Mrs. LaMotta’s grandmother’s recipe for struffoli. It is from the early 1800s but has never been written down -- until now. “No one ever cared,” said her daughter Fran. “Sometimes I put in a pinch of salt. Sometimes I don’t. I’ve been doing it forever.”

Eleanor LaMotta’s Struffoli

6 eggs

3 - 3½ cups flour

Honey, 2½ - 3 lbs.

Put 3 cups of flour into a large bowl, make a well and add the beaten eggs. Gradually incorporate the flour into the eggs.

Using the dough hook attachment on your mixer, knead the dough, adding more flour as needed until the dough ball pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Continue kneading until small bubbles are visible in the dough ball when you slice into it with a knife. This should take 10 to 15 minutes.

When the dough is smooth - not sticky - you are ready to cut. Keep dough under a kitchen towel.

Cut thin slices from the dough ball. Roll the pieces of dough into pencil thick logs. Slice these logs into ½ inch pieces (little pillows).

In a large deep pan heat about 3 inches of vegetable oil to 350 degrees. Drop one piece in to test for correct temperature. The piece should quickly rise to the top of the oil.

Add pieces to the oil so that they will fill the surface one layer deep.

When golden brown, remove the struffoli from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.

After all of the dough has been cooked and drained, heat honey in a pan. Drop in the struffoli, stir to be sure they are all coated. Quickly remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place on plates.

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