My mother went to Annita’s bakery at least a couple of times a month.
When she had to go there I realized it the previous evening, as she commanded me to go to the bakery to get a small pan of ‘criscente’, the leavening dough, the mother yeast that was the basis of the natural leavening of the new dough and that each customer had to withdraw so as to leave just as much before baking.
Although I was a boy, I liked watching my mother.
I had learned that after mixing the yeast it was necessary to wait for the dough to ferment for the necessary time.
Usually to encourage leavening, she took care to cover it all with a wool blanket, so as to keep the dough warm.
When everything was finally ready, she placed the scanata, the fritters, on a board and holding it on her head she finally went to the bakery.
The times I went there too, I could attend a ritual that tasted magical.
Before seeing the panelle disappear into the mouth of the oven, Mama placed with the blade of a knife a light cross-shaped cut on the crust of the fritters.
There followed a half-muted prayer and a blessing imparted with the right hand, like a priest who spreads holy water.
Even the bread was holy for the culture of the time, so that, if by chance a piece had fallen to the ground, it was enough to make the sign of the cross and you could eat it.
Not only bread came out of Annita’s oven.
When the brick background was warm, everything could be found behind the door that closed over the mouth, depending on the season: from the sweet taralli for Easter to the donuts with the fritters, from the pizzas stuffed with ricotta and salami to the trays of lamb cutlets with baked potatoes.
Every time she brought bread to cook, my mother took advantage of it to bring also the pizza with tomato she herself had prepared, setting aside a little pasta.
Out of habit, in the meantime while the wood oven reached the ideal temperature for baking bread, Annita cooked the pizzas first.
It was then that an unmistakable aroma was spreading in the nearby alleys: the tantalizing aroma that the pizzas gave off with the tomato, with the scent of basil.
It was a much more intriguing fragrance than the good smell of baked bread that poured out the oven door.
In the days before Easter the day of the old baker was a real tour de force.
People who were not exactly regulars came from all over the countryside to bake. Annita, however, was very frank with them:
«If I can I will gladly please you, but first those who always come to my oven must be allowed to bake!».
When cooking taralli, sweet or rustic, Annita had to be always very alert, without being distracted by the chatter that persisted anyway.
Meanwhile, the cooking times were much faster than those of the bread, but then it was necessary to keep the trays well away from the flame, which otherwise would have burnt the upper crust leaving the dough raw.
And if it had happened to make a mistake, it would have been she too, who would no longer have the remuneration agreed for that baking and would have had to struggle to remove the smoke that had invaded the room in the meantime, herself cleaning the walls that she had recently made white with quicklime.
I still smell the bread in my nose and taste it on my palate!