A Story of Bread

This is a story of neverending life, or, if you prefer, of the renewal of Life

In the summer 2013 we were driving almost at random, at the discovery of the hidden and little secrets of our Country. We were in the region Marche. Driving along unwinding roads up in the mountains beteween Marche and Umbria. We arrived in a narrow valley  where two tiny villages climbing on the slopes are facing one other. 

The names of the villages are Pito and Umito: groups of houses built with stones and wood, many of them blackened and semi-destroyed by the Germanic submachines  of the Second World War. 

How many people still live there? I bet no more than one hundred in total. With the modern comfort of parabolic antennas to see all tv channels, cars to go to the main town down to shop at the supermarket, and all the technologies we are used to. 

All that modernity lives together, for example, the common fountain where some women go to do their laundry.

I decided to approach those women and talk with them. There is always something to learn. They have, of course washing and drying machines, but sometimes, when the weather is nice and when they have some particular cloth to wash, they go to the fountain: they find again the lost habit of a chat on the last gossip with the others, they find the pleasure to refresh themselves with the crispy mountain wáter and, you know what? Laundry done with clear water just coming out from a crack in the rock and the smell of the sun on the cloth when you hung it outside, is another story.

One of these women, whose name is Lucrezia, took us to her house. We were curious to see the bread she had just made that morning. 

She showed us the wood fed oven in the garden, with the wooden shoven  to put the bread in and out. She took us inside. She took off the large table cloth covering a big pile on the table. 

The cloth was hiding and protecting a pile of bread 

....and some “schiacciainnanzi”, she said.
-          Schiacciainnanzi? What is it? -  we asked.
-          It’s a flat bread that you put in the oven before – that is “innanzi” – the bread to check if the temperature is right –

She gave us a schiacciainnanzi to taste. Delicious.

I asked how she makes the bread. The answer was simple, like she was doing the most obvious thing in the world. Nothing fancy. Just normal life. She makes bread once a week.
-          ……and…it lasts?-
-          Yes, it is still good after one week. –
She distributes the bread among all the members of her family, the married daughters and other relatives. She kneads the dough by hand.
-          By hand?! All that dough? Isn’t it tiring? –
-          Yes, it is. But it is a habit, i have been doing it since a little girl. And, if I use the big mixing machine it seems to me that the dough doesn’t get the same and then the bread tastes dfferent. –
She uses the flour milled at the close mill house. The wheat is cultivated by her brother:
-          ….. Just there, you see, right behind that small hill. –
-          How do you rise it? Brewer yeast? –
-          No, I have the mother dough *) –

She took off a – smaller – cloth covering a glass jar over the television.

The mother dough was got in heritage by the mother, who had it from the grandmother, who had it in turn by the great-grandmother. At least she knew this for sure. But she thinks that that mother dough can be dated far and farer in the past. My eyes were wide open. I felt ignorant, overwhelmed  and….happy.

Before going away,  she gave us a loaf of that superb bread. We didn’t want to accept, as the gift looked too preciuos to be given to unknown people like us. She insisted.

We greeted and left, proceeding our driving “at random” toward the sea.

We decided to lead to south. We crossed the region Abruzzi and arrived in Puglia. We stopped – if i may say “stopped” as we constantly walk, drive, move – in Puglia for a few days. Of course not enough to see, to understand, to live the beauties of this region. We stopped in Otranto, Ostuni, Alberobello, Lecce.

One afternoon we decided to not go in any restaurant for lunch. We bough some of the typical delicacies : giuncata, salami, caciocavallo. We knew we had good tuscan wine in the tank of the car, so we didn’t buy any.

We stopped in an olive trees park. We wanted to enjoy the company and the teaching of those wise treees that were showing their history of their millenian life through  their  twisted and contorted shapes.  

We stopped at the shade of one of those and we started to take out the food from the car and place it on a short stone wall, one of those long stone walls that divide one property from one other in Puglia.

Suddenly we realize: - we have forgotten to buy the bread!!!! –
…. and we remembered  that stupidly and un-gratefully we had  - also forgotten the bread of Lucrezia in the tank.
We took it out, incredulous and sorry. How could it have happened?

Max took the bread out of the paper sack, slowly, with the fear to discover a piece of stone or a mouldy crust. The loaf looked fine. He pressed and  cracked it under his fingers with an appealing noise of crispiness. We tasted it. It was as perfect as it was just taken out from the oven. One week later!!! Forgotten in the tank of the car under the sun of august!! Was that a miracle?

We had one of our best meals of our life: perfect safe foods, home made wine with no added solphites, miracle bread, fresh shade of wise trees telling their long stories. Just us, the music of the crickets, the hot air rising up with undulating movements in the distance.