Blessed Bread

October 18, 2010

I once saw my friend Giò drop a heel of bread on the floor. She scooped it up like it was a newborn chick and tenderly kissed it.

“That’s what we do here in Sicily,” she laughed. “Bread is everything for us. Jesus is in the bread. It must always sit on its bottom, for example. And we never toss it away. That’s a sin.”

“Well, what if it gets old?”

“We make breadcrumbs from it. If it’s turning green with mold, we kiss it and apologize to Jesus.”

Collecting Bread in Palazzolo Acreide, Sicily, Copyright Jann Huizenga

I once made Easter breads with an 86-year-old woman who’s never been off the island. She said a prayer as she popped the bread into the oven.

To Saint Anthony, handsome and good.

The angel passes and leaves his blessing, the angel passed and left his blessing.

May the Ragusan bread rise as big as a field, may the country bread rise as big as a mountain.

Saint Anthony is not the only person Sicilian women turn to for help with baking. Some pray to Saint Clement (“Let the bread not have a bubble!”) or directly to Mary and Jesus themselves.

I didn’t dare tell my friend  Giò that as kids we made spitballs with bread, or that as an adult I’ve carelessly trashed scores of half-eaten loaves. That would be the ultimate blasphemy here.


What food do you revere?


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17 comments to Blessed Bread

  • What a lovely look at life in the Sicily- I love that the bread is kissed!

  • My mother is Spanish and I had to smile when I read your post because this is exactly how I grew up–with the utmost respect for bread. We were not allowed to throw any of it away. Any bread that wasn’t consumed would be fed to the birds in the park. Thanks for the great post!

  • sandee wheeler

    Jann….I think it is a Koeze thing! Grandma Koeze was a Bready and my Dad is a Bready and I love love love bread!!!! The European crusty bread is the BEST!

  • Perhaps dark chocolate comes the closest to being a religious experience for me.

    I loved the crusty Calabrian bread we got from the bakeries when we were in Tropea. I’m amused to find “Calabrian style” loaves at my super market in Canada now. Not the same!

    • Jann

      Yes, Louciao–I agree with you about the dark chocolate. And how about fresh crusty bread & dark chocolate together? For me, that’s the best.

  • Nur

    We always do the same.If a piece of bread drops we immediately take it,kiss 3 times and touch it to our foreheads.I don’t really know that how it’s cut in the past,but we use a knife to cut it.When we have bread lefover we usually cut it small pieces and oven for the soup or give it to birds.There are so many people who can not find even a small piece.Best.

    • Jann

      Hi Nur–It’s so interesting that bread kissing also happens in your country, Turkey. I’m suspecting, then, that this Sicilian custom originated with the Islamic Moors who ruled Sicily for a couple hundred years (almost a millennium ago)…. Thanks for your input!

  • It makes me almost cry if I have to throw any food away, especcially bread.

  • Tom

    The tomato. I never throw even the smallest leftover end slice away. Oh, I may look at it for a day or two, but it will find
    a way to be ingested. They have remarkably long shelf life, if you don’t mind a few wrinkles.
    FYI. Just returned from Sicily. While in Ragusa I thought if I saw you I would intro myself. Looked at a house, on the very
    perimeter of Ibla, overlooking the stream, far far below.

  • Cathy

    My best friend’s father was from Sicily, I grew up closely with them from a young age — hence my love for Italian food! Many years later, after he had passed, during a visit I remember her Mom (not Italian) calling the heel of the bread in Italian and eating it… Said her husband would NEVER throw out the heels of the bread!! Now I know why!

    Although I can’t imagine it being a sin to throw out the heels of supermarket bread 😉 …. I usually throw mine to the birds or freeze it for stuffing… But I LOVE to make homemade bread of any kind…

    • Jann

      Hi Cathy–throwing it to the birdies sounds like a perfect solution to me! That can’t be a sin, can it?

  • Thomas Sottile

    Hello, I come from four grandparents of Sicilian blood when they would eat bread they would never cut it with a knife only break it with their hands.

    • Jann

      Hi Thomas–your comment is really interesting to me! I’ve heard people in Islamic countries (Turkey and Morocco, specifically) say they won’t use a knife on bread. I wonder to what extent the Arab domination of the island played a role in this specific custom/belief.

  • I love bread, when I was visiting my nonna in Sicily, she would let me help her with her bread and put the sesame seeds on some of them and we would then bring them to the bread ovens. And before lunch they would be ready and we would go pick them up. I loved that experience!

    • Jann

      Hi Lucy–I assume those were communal bread ovens???? What town was that in? I wonder if there are still communal bread ovens in Sicily? Does anyone know?

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