MEMORIES OF A TIME
In addition to doing my best wishes to you all, I take this opportunity to tell you some memories that in these days come to my mind.
At that time I was a toddler and often on Friday our grandmother picked me up to let me spend a few days at her home.
The grandmother “mmaculatina“, as people called her (Immaculate, God rest her soul), in those days did not go to work, and aware I liked being with her, came to our house to take me, and sometimes took my sister too. She loved her grandchildren, and on that time I was the youngest grandson, and although she was living with our grandfather, between work and commitments she spent little time at home. It had been years that the granddad was already retired, having made the postman became sick with bronchitis and arthritis, and alone spent all his days at home. He had his own bed with a bedside table on which a glass of wine and his radio never had to be missing. A man of few words who spent his days walking slowly in the house, sitting on the bed, sipping wine, smoking and listening to opera on the radio.
It was an old building where, on different floors, a long balcony gave access to homes, inside the building those balconies turned all around the perimeter of the apartment blocks. The houses were not very large, entering directly to the first room, usually the living room, where the granddad had created his personal corner. On the right there was a small kitchen with a small window that looked out on the perimetral balcony, and where there was a very small bathroom formed simply from toilet and a sink. Beyond the living room was my grandma’s bedroom, that had a small balcony overlooking the street below. We slept in the same double-bed with grandma and I still remember her laughter when she told relatives how I sometimes fell asleep touching her breast and resting my head on his chest. I loved my grandmother and it was only the need in maternal instincts of a kid who, like me, had evidently not received enough cuddles from his mum. The grandma “Immacolatina” was good, cheerful and friendly, as well as a holy woman and had dedicated her life to work in the factory where she had become the “teacher,” as called her there, to wit the supervisor. Her relationship with the granddad were not excellent, having been from long more a nurse than a wife, and she was glad to have us at home to chat and pass the time.
As usual, Friday is the day when all Neapolitans dedicated to the preparation of the “casatiello“, also called “tortano“, the typical Neapolitan rustic pie (Neapolitan Lard Bread). And the grandma prepared it Friday afternoon to let it rise all day and then in the night took it at the bakery for baking. In those years it was customary to let casatiello bake by bakers because not everyone had a powerful ovens as bakeries where the cooking was done in an optimal way. There was no area or neighborhood that did not have some baker nearby. Anyone who would have walked in the alleys of Naples, during Friday and Holy Saturday, felt the almost stagnant scent of “casatielli” which were cooked at homes or by bakers. How can we forget that smell?
Odor that became all one with those feast days and represented them as well. For this in Naples, even today, Easter is to say casatiello and vice versa.
At that time, due to the enormous work to be done between Thursday and Saturday, bakers worked continuously day and night. For this you could go to one of them at any time of the day or night, and deliver your casatiello or withdraw it.
The baker from whom my grandma went, was a few blocks from the house, the huge old wooden front door was always open for the occasion, placed on the ground and stacked up one above the other, hundreds of aluminum “ruoto” (round baking pan). They were the casatielli waiting for bakery.
At that time, not everybody had the pan with the hole in the middle, which gives casatiello the classic donut shape, and so, most of the containers had a wineglass or a cup (glass or metal) at the center, around which the pasta was then grown encasing it.
Crossed the entrance hall, people arrived at the courtyard where on both the sides were stacked firewood for the ovens, shovels, sacks, buckets and other objects. In addition to the smell of casatielli, so strong here to become pungent, you also felt the scent of flour that you found everywhere, on the ground, on walls, on objects, everything was whitewashed with a pinch of flour!
Entered in the furnaces room, the heat became almost unbearable. Everywhere there were shelves made by long wooden boards, one above the other, on which side by side the casatielli already cooked were placed.
Here, the casatiello was not more as white as those encountered at the entrance, but the color of the rind of bread in its various gold shades. A variety of sizes and shapes, those with the eggs above visible under two small strips of pasta in the shape of X, those without eggs or those where the eggs were just popping out below the golden crust. You could not but be enchanted to see those scenes, and especially for a kid like me.
People came and went, with those who were giving their casatiello and those who were going to pick up it, and all workers each with its own task. On that occasion there were more people at work and one of them went to the grandma and after taking two plates of aluminum from a huge basket, gave one to her and attacked the other with thin wire to the container’s handle. The baker asked if the casatiello had already risen and then placed it onto the others waiting for cooking. Probably, somewhere else there were those which were in need of further rise before being baked.
On those aluminum plates was imprinted a number which from then on would have marked our “casatiello.” After cooking the casatielli were placed on those planks in a coarse numerical order, according to the number that had been tied close, so to trace it when the owner would come back for it. In fact, to take the casatiello you had to give back your plate, and the baker began to turn around the wooden shelves to look for it. Hundreds and hundreds casatielli. You paid, wrapped the container in a cloth, and went back home happy with your casatiello ready to be eaten.
Things of other times, when everything was simpler and folksy!