A Story of Sicilian Bread

May 25, 2014

Sicilians revere bread. The never lay it upside down. If they drop it by accident, they kiss it. They never throw it away. Well, if it’s moldy they can, but not before apologizing to Jesus.

Since becoming gluten-sensitive, I idolize bread too. This is the round loaf sold by a man in a little truck who comes merrily tooting his way up the street everyday. Look what 80 cents will buy. I pinch it and sniff it and then prop it up on my sideboard, just so, to remind me of the good ole days when I could wolf down the entire loaf in one sitting, slathered in sweet butter and Sicilian orange marmalade.   Round of Sicilian Bread, copyright Jann Huizenga Buon Pane a Tutti! is the bread man’s mantra. “Good bread for one and all!”  It’s baked in a forno a pietra, wood-burning oven. Bread Truck in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga My favorite part about bread shopping is watching my sweet across-the-street neighbor Lina, who lives on the second floor. She tosses some coins in a basket and lowers it.

Lowered Basket for Bread in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Giorgio loads in the bread.

Hauling up bread in a basket in Sicily, copyright Jann HuizengaAnd up it goes with a tug of the wrist, just in time for lunch.

Hauling up Bread in a Basket in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga


Click to subscribe to BaroqueSicily.

Find me on Facebook.

My photography website.

56 comments to A Story of Sicilian Bread

  • Oh, Jann, I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t eat bread! Spaniards are very much like Sicilians when it comes to bread. I had to smile reading about the kissing, not throwing away, and so forth since it’s exactly how the Spanish behave! I love Lina’s trick of bringing bread up to her home! How very crafty! 🙂

  • Mmmm…fresh-baked Italian-style bread with that hard crust and soft white interior. Yum! The little lady on the balcony with her basket is so charming. But poor you, Jann, with a gluten problem and all that luscious bread calling out to you on your very doorstep! Miseria!

  • brad men in trucks does not exist in Catania! we mainly get granita 🙂

    • CalCat52

      …I lived in Motta, Karen, and we would always go just across the road for granita and broscia/brioche. Heaven. Sometimes they would even have mulberry granita. I miss it so much!

    • Jann

      Callie, mulberry granita is my second favorite, after chocolate. Chocolate always comes first.

    • Jann

      Karen, my village has no men in granita trucks, sadly…. Though we can get it in every bar, of course, but I’d really love it delivered directly to my doorstep.

  • My Sicilian mother would sooner give up anything before she’d give up her bread — now I understand why! Thank you, Jann, for explaining it. I’m so sorry you can’t tolerate gluten; even though I’m not a bread fanatic, my grandmother’s fried bread lathered in butter was to-die-for!!

    • Jann

      Hey Debbie–now fried bread is something I haven’t heard of here–it sounds Native American (fry bread)! Hmm, I’ll have to look into that and see if it’s still being made here these days. Glad you now understand your mom’s love of bread. 🙂

  • lucy

    When I was 5 in 1975 in Sicily visiting my nonna, she would rise early and we would make the bread, braid some loaves for me and make others to bring to the local oven where they were baked and we would go later to pick them up for our lunch. The smell in the oven shop was heavenly.

    • Jann

      Wow, Lucy–I don’t know if you can find these local communal ovens anywhere in Sicily anymore, but I’ve seen them in Morocco. Such a lovely memory for you! Thanks for commenting.

  • Your village and way of life just gets more and more charming. Adorable bread man looking in the basket and the lady with her green rollers. Awww … xx

  • I love those baskets. I used to see them a lot when I lived in S’Agata Sui due Golfi many years ago.

  • A mantra I only wish would ring out here too Jann…. while you savour and celebrate that wonderful bread for me 😉 What an injustice having a gluten intolerance in Italy… But good to know you haven’t had to give it away completely. That would be too much to bear. xx

    • Jann

      Janine–I’m not sure that it’s 100% gluten intolerance–so far I’m calling it “sensitivity” because if I sneak a bite or two of bread or brioscia a few times a week it seems OK. Italy is pretty far advanced in “gluten-free” stuff–restaurants even have gluten-free pasta which is wonderful, but gluten-free bread not so much!

  • Loved all the ritual around bread, and the vignette about Lina buying her bread from Giorgio is charming! I think I’ll have to plan a trip to Sicily and try the bread. Sounds as if it’s comparable…dare I say ‘better?’… than our lovely bread here in France. Condolences that you can’t eat it!

    • Jann

      Evelyn, honestly I don’t think ANYTHING can compare to a perfect baguette made in a top bakery in France. 🙂

  • I could see that was semolina bread, mmmmmmm

  • Hi Jann,this is a quote about bread in “Sicilian Seafood Cooking”:

    Bread is sacred and blessed in religious ceremonies. It is never wasted and never discarded.

    Wasting bread is tempting fate. There is always leftover bread to be used up. Often it is baked hard and broken into milk and coffee for breakfast, or into soups. Breadcrumbs are frequently used for stuffings, to thicken sauces, toasted and sprinkled over food, and also used to seal baked ingredients.

    Wasting bread is tempting fate, as this old Sicilian saying shows:

    A tàvula s’havi ‘a manciari sinu all’ultimu tozzu dû so’ pani: cu’ ‘u lassa, lassa l’anni so’.

    A tavola bisogna mangiare sino all’ultimo boccone del proprio pane: chi lo lascia perde i suoi anni. (Italian translation).

    At the table one has to eat his/her own bread to the last mouthful: he or she who leaves some, puts his/her life on the line.

    I also like this one:Cun piezzu ri pani e pugnu ri ulivi pari co u munnu nun po finiri. (Sicilian proverb).

    Con un pezzo di pane e un pugno d’olive sembra che il mondo non possa finire. (Italian translation).

    With a piece of bread and a handful of olives, it seems as though the world will never end.


    • Jann

      Ciao Marisa, thanks for all these wonderful sayings!!! And to my readers–check out Marisa’s SICILIAN SEAFOOD COOKING–a gorgeous book with tantalizing recipes. xxxxx

  • John Volanti

    I too have a gluten allergy and miss the taste of good Italian bread…I love the smell, such memories!

    • Jann

      John, so much of my diet was bread, pasta, cake and cookies–and my body seems to have really rebelled. I’m hoping (fingers crossed) that I’ll be able to get back to eating tiny bits of gluten someday soon.

  • carmela2000

    I, too, to this day never leave the bread upside down on the table. My parents taught me it was bad luck. I miss the Italian bread. Even though I have an Italian bakery nearby, the flavor is not the same. Also, I had to smile at the bread man’s name, Giorgio. A cousin of mine, also from Ragusa, is named Giorgio. Probably half the town’s men are named Giorgio, too!

    • Jann

      Ciao Carmela! I saw this cousin of yours just yesterday and we discussed you. 🙂 Yes, because Giorgio is the patron saint, everyone is named Giorgio. (Almost.)

  • Toni

    Love the photos! My Grandma made the best bread, but like so many others – never measured the ingredients or wrote down a recipe. I have been trying to figure out her secret for years, but still can’t seem to get it quite right.

    • Jann

      Toni–keep trying! But she may have used a special flour that’s no longer available??

    • CalCat52

      I found the only way to duplicate the really fine, braided white bread from the bakery in Motta was w/a very hard red wheat – called Manitoba. I actually have to order it because it isn’t sold anywhere near me. The semolina flour makes a heartier bread while the Manitoba makes a bread very crispy but light in the middle – very much like a baguette. At least that’s been my experience. We used to buy the round braided bread, slather it with butter and top it with sliced tomato and salt/pepper. This wasn’t a traditional Sicilian treat – my best friend was from Ireland and we would have it with tea! 🙂

    • CalCat52

      OH! I forgot – we would also put a nice sharp hard cheese slice! 🙂

  • dennis

    couple of posts behind. 1989 from Hotel Pomerei near Piano bataglia. up early to run a couple of miles. As I started up the mountain I saw the 7K marker and decided to run to the top. It was still foggy with the sun barley visable. Stopped for dogs, sheep and cows. As I came back down the sun had broken thru and the only sounds were cow bells and the twang of the iron guard rails as they heated in the early morning sun. Left later that morning for Cefalu thru Castelbuono. I always took special friends to Cefalu and cherish the memory of those trips.

  • Anitre

    How fabulous! What a pity that you can’t eat it. Awwwwww!

    • Jann

      Ciao Anitre!!! Welcome back to the island–have a great time. I seem to be able to sneak bites on rare occasions without too many negative consequences. I’m hoping they come out with a gluten pill like they have lactose pill….fingers crossed.

  • Such a beautiful anecdote regarding the centrality of bread in the lives of Siciliani. It is a shame you can’t indulge in that bread anymore.

  • Sam

    It looks like a circular French Baguette. Any similarity in taste?

    • Jann

      Sam, French baguettes are light and full of air. This bread is somewhat heavier, but just as crackling and crispy.

  • Bread, bread, bread, bread, bbbrrreeeeaaaaddddd!!! I miss good, chewy, warm bread. When I lived in Louisiana there was a real French bakery where I could purchase a small sourdough baguette baked daily. I’ve an Italian cookbook from my mother’s stash. I think I am going to have to break down and see if I can make the bread. At least once in my life I need to be brave enough to try! I mean, LOOK at that picture of bread you have up there, calling to me.

  • Bonnie

    Thank you for once again capturing the heart of Sicily. I love that the bread guy is a young man!

    • Jann

      Hi Bonnie–thank YOU for reading and commenting. Yes, he’s a cutie who tries to teach me Sicilian.

  • Angelo Milo

    I distinctly remember my Dad lecturing me about leaving a loaf upside down on the table. To this day I abide by this dictum. I remember my Mom whispering to me that throwing away moldy bread was a sin. Then she crossed herself and seeking understanding from ” u signuruzzu”.

    Thanks for the photos and story…it just brings back so many memories. Gotta talk my wife into returning to Bedda Sicilia asap!

  • ***slathered in sweet butter and Sicilian orange marmalade. ***

    YESSSSS. Yessss. Yessssss.

    Jann, I am HUNGRY and my tummy is growling in Minnesota.

    I adore the round bread.

    I shall wear it, sniff it. devour it.

    How are you?


  • Amy

    Oh, how I miss Sicilian bread! There was one panificio in Catania that would cook up onions till they were soft and sweet, slather them on a piece of dough, then roll it up and bake it. It was heavenly. I would stop on the way to the market in the morning, and if it hadn’t come out of the oven yet, I would ask them to save me a loaf so I could stop back by on my way home without fear of them running out. I could cry just thinking about it!

  • jan walcott

    After sampling bread all over Europe and particularly Northern Italy, only French baguettes and Sicilian bread have met the expectations. But, then, our little specialty Italian grocery (Poeta’s in Highwood, Illinois) began carrying these divine loaves (salty, crusty and covered in sesame seeds) baked forno a pietra by a local carpenter, Sicilian by heritage. This bread is so heavenly, that it sells out immediately. Of course, it is not available when the carpenter has a big job! Poeta’s has taken to ordering large amounts when available and freezing part of the order. We have found that a quick warming of the frozen loaves provides a good option when the fresh isn’t available!!! At one point one of the cashiers related a funny story: A rather snooty man was sent to buy the bread by his wife, and he was complaining rather nastily to the cashier about the price. He ultimately paid up, only to return about 15 minutes later to sheepishly purchase a second loaf because he had eaten most of it driving home.!

  • I love these photos! They are what Sicily is really about and how people live!
    Thank you

  • Sandee wheeler

    I want that cute basket that your neighbor has! And the bread, of course!

  • sue gaughan

    what a wonderful thing – to have a bread man!

    • Jann

      It is really something I appreciate, as well as the roving veggie man and the guy with a mini-market in the back of his truck. It means I don’t have to haul stuff up 100 steps from the shops on the piazza.

Site Meter BlogItalia.it - La directory italiana dei blog