Rita Piparo cooks Pissaladiere

Rita Piparo made three different types of pissaladiere, inspired from different regions in France.
Rita Piparo made three different types of pissaladiere, inspired from different regions in France.

How many languages do you know? One, two, maybe three?

In this week's In My Kitchen, retired French teacher Rita Piparo, reinforces the value of knowing a language in addition to English.

Born in Pingelly in the Wheatbelt in 1955, Mrs Piparo was raised speaking Italian within her family, but studied French in high school.

"I had a very talented French teacher who really encouraged me. I seemed to develop a passion for learning the French language immediately," Mrs Piparo told the Mail.

She first moved to Bunbury when Westpac bank advertised a position for Italian speaking workers.

If I had a dollar for every adult who said to me I wish I paid more attention in language class, I'd be a wealthy woman."

Rita Piparo

Shortly after, Mrs Piparo met her now husband of 42 years, Liberato Piparo, who as an Italian teacher predicted that in the late 90's there would be a big demand for language teachers, and how right he was.

"Liberato encouraged me to become a teacher because I could speak both French and Italian. I went to Edith Cowan University in Bunbury and as soon as I graduated in 1997, there was a call out for language teachers."

Mrs Piparo taught French at Burekup (now River Valley), Picton and Australind Primary School for 13 years.

Around the same time she taught French, Mrs Piparo started cooking French dishes.

She told the Mail she had chosen to make pissaladiere, or French tarts, because of how much her students' enjoyed saying the word in French.

"I also made the tarts because just like the French I try to use vegetables that are in season. The French place emphasis on making dishes from their region. My husband had grown a lot of onions so it made sense to use them," Mrs Piparo said.

A light, lunch dish, Mrs Piparo had made three different types of pissaladiere.

The first, a nicoise onion tart originating from Nice, was made from fresh cream and onions.

The second, a tart boasting anchovies, bright tomato slices, crisp black olives and onions for the filling.

With south of France inspired seasonings, Mrs Piparo used thyme, rosemary and oregano.

Olive oil was also used to make the pastry for both savoury tarts in order to add a healthier touch.

Mrs Piparo poured a complimenting glass of French sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley to accompany the pissaladiere, which with one sip transported her tastebuds back to France.

"When I first started teaching French I received a study grant that allowed me to visit Paris, Provence and New Caledonia with a few other teachers. I've been able to do lots of lovely trips thanks to my French teaching."

Mrs Piparo said that when she received the study grant her children Simon and Leah were teenagers.

Now adults, Simon lives in Perth whilst Leah lives in Dunsborough where the Piparos' own short stay accommodation.

Mrs Piparo said when her children lived at home they cooked together and then sat at the dinner table where conversation was had in Italian only.

When questioned why not French, Mrs Piparo admitted that French was her own personal passion.

"French is such a beautiful language, but I'm grateful to have been brought up in an Italian family and speaking the language. It taught me that it's good to know something in addition to English."

Mrs Piparo told the Mail how she always feels at home in France and that she loves the culture and being surrounded by the French language.

She effortlessly pronounced a French word in the appropriate accent, before saying it again with the Aussie twang that we all know and find familiar.

"The French have such lovely etiquette also. When I visited with my sister for my 50th birthday, young, French men would always carry our bags for us up the stairs at various train stations.

"When you walk into a shop in France you must always say bonjour first before you ask for what you want. It's just the custom."

For a dessert style pissaladiere, Mrs Piparo had prepared tart normadie, an apple and custard creation from the Normandy region.

The pastry was made with butter for a crisper finish with apples, egg, cream, cinnamon and just a pinch of sugar for the filling.

As she served the tart normadie, Mrs Piparo told the Mail it was a well known fact that the younger you learn a language, the easier you retain and work on it.

"I taught French as part of the LOTE 2000 syllabus to 605 primary school students a week, from four different schools. I didn't have many enthusiastic students because I don't think they always saw the value in it. But if I had a dollar for every adult who said to me now I wish I paid more attention in language class, I'd be a wealthy woman," Mrs Piparo said.

In order to not lose her ability to speak French, Mrs Piparo confessed she has a daily calendar beside her bed with French phrases that she repeats every night before she goes to sleep.

She also passes on her love of the language to her nine and seven-year-old granddaughters.

"I will always throw in the odd word in French and translate it into English. My husband Piparo does the same but in Italian," she said.

"We need to give our children the awareness that knowing other languages is valuable and important."

Do you know a local that loves to cook?

If so, get in touch with us by emailing pip.waller@bunburymail.com.au.