Bread and Symbols in Sicily

March 19, 2013

Antonio wipes his floury face.

He dusts off his palms then smiles a shy-smile and hangs back.

The shopper next to me at the register, a tiny woman, blinks up with nut-brown eyes and explodes with words: “Yes, signora, you are right to take a photo of this bread! What he does is an art! And not many do it! How much longer…?”

Antonio unfurls his apron like a dusty flag and follows me out the bakery door into better light.

His opere d’arte–baroque breads, all curves and coils and curlicues–were created for today’s Feast of St. Joseph (Festa di San Giuseppe).

Sicilian Baker with St Joseph's Day Breads, copyright Jann Huizenga

The breads are symbolic. Antonio makes crucifixes and fish, too, but those were sold out by the time I arrived. The one below is half crown of thorns, half crown of roses.
St Joseph's Bread, copyright Jann Huizenga

I forgot to ask what this other one means. It appears to be dancing the tarantella. Any ideas?

St Joseph's Bread, copyright Jann Huizenga

I will not eat these–not because of my pasta paunch, but because of their soul. They will glow on my sideboard until they fall to crumbs.


Saint Joseph is Sicily’s most important saint, and his feast day is the source of much hoopla in the nearby town of Santa Croce Camerina.


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38 comments to Bread and Symbols in Sicily

  • So wonderful to see Antonio is a young man with passion and talent! Long may you buy and enjoy his breaking. And not just to look at! Life’s too short. Even in Sicily! xx

  • Hi Jann,
    Check out my artisan bakery complete with coffee from ILLY.
    I introduced them to your blog.

    • Jann

      Dennis, lucky you to have this bakery in your town. The sunflower-shaped bread looks like something you could find at Antonio’s shop. Thanks for the intro!! And happy spring to you.

  • I love these traditions…long may they continue.

    • Jann

      Yes, hard to hang onto these traditions in the modern world. When I go to ethnographic museums and see the gorgeous costumes that were being worn until 50 years ago, and now look at everyone wearing jeans and Nikes, it makes me wonder…

  • vicki carol

    You made us all hungry and I just started a diet this morning, thanks. It
    is bread that I love the most and yes, with slabs of real butter. Oh, I
    can taste that first bite. I wonder if there is a bread diet. Let’s start

  • Anitre MacDonagh

    Amazing bread! Did you purchase those beautiful creations at your local panificio in Ibla? I think Antonio should be the patron saint of bread. I would stare at the bread for an hour and admire it’s beauty before devouring the loaf with butter and jam. Yum!

    • Jann

      Anitre–these are from Panificio Roma which is halfway between Ibla and Superiore, Via Ecce Homo.

  • I marvel at your self-restraint, leaving those luscious breads on display until they crumble. Or did you come to your senses and run out to buy an extra set for your own personal consumption?

  • Oh Jann, I don’t know if I would have the willpower to let this sit on my sideboard. Instead, I see myself slathering them with melted butter and eating away, accompanied with a cup of espresso! Delicioso! But I agree–Antonio is an artiste and so handsome! 🙂

    • Jann

      Mmmm. “Slather with butter.” I’m very suggestible, Bella, so I have to go make myself toast now. (I’ll use my regular-bread, not my art-bread, tho).

  • Sandee wheeler

    I hope that you bought some to keep and some to eat!!

  • ***all curves and coils and curlicues””

    Pure Art.

    I would admire greatly…then–

    I would devour spread on melted butter, and enjoy!

    Love to you, dear sweet Jann.

  • Those breads are very wonderful and look delicious! Thanks for showing them to us.
    I really wish we could have freshly baked bread from an artisan everyday. But…I know that it is so much work being a baker. Baking all night, not many “days off.” When do they ever get a day off? Do they at least get Sundays off?
    What a complete labor of love it has to be!
    Since I love bread so much, but ONLY certain breads, I will simply have to learn to make it myself.

    • Jann

      Ciao Caterina–thanks for your comment! Yes, baking in the wee morning hours every day doesn’t sound like something I could do. Antonio’s bakery is even open on Sunday morning. It would be fun to learn how to sculpt dough and make your own fancy breads, wouldn’t it?

  • My Great Aunt Concetta Use to go all out for the Festa di San Giuseppe. I remember all the breads of cross’ and the fishes, etc. and what a party, such fun full of eating. March 19th is my name day all, since my name is Josephine. Love the pictures.

    • Jann

      Giuseppina!!! What nice memories of your auntie. Happy belated name day to you. And mille grazie for your comments…

  • Sam

    You know, you can preserve those two loaves for years if you apply a few coats of clear urethane varnish. It will keep the bugs out too.

  • Great photos, Jann. The last photo reminds me of a crab. I love to be around people who take pride in their work, whatever it is.

  • Josephine Lissandrello

    One time I arrived in Ragusa on the Festa di San Giuseppe. At that time it was a national holiday in Italy. The relatives all awaited me to celebrate my onomastico with a party and gifts. It was an unexpected fun day. In the town of So. Hackensack, NJ there is a large community of people from Santa Croce Camerina and I understand that they still celebrate the day the way they did in Sicily.

    • I grew up in Hasbrouck Heights, near So. Hackensack, NJ. Small World. Happy St. Joseph’s Day.

    • Jann

      Ciao Jo! Happy belated onomastico to you! What a fun memory of your party in Ragusa. I’ve seen some of the celebrations that Sicilian-Americans and Sicilian-Canadians put on for the day (pix online), and it seems as if Sicilian emigrants may have held onto the tradition even more strongly than islanders…

  • Those breads are such works of art!

  • Ah, I wish we had baker/artist people like him here! Even my Sicilian grandmother didn’t make beauties like these. Sigh. Now you’ve made me hungry!

  • lucy

    He’s adorable! Handsome!

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