Thursday, May 23, 2013

Il Battessimo: My Calabrese Baptism




Walking past the fountain on the morning of the Baptism.

Ordered from Polistena, by the kilo. Cake and cream perfection.


And what's a special occasion without Prosecco?
As spring has arrived and summer is approaching, we are thinking about vacations. And of course, in our house, Italy is ever present at the top of the list of possibilities.  It's technically a holiday but with family to visit, it is much more.  Emotionally, it's both difficult and wonderful.  Difficult because there have been loved ones pass on and there have been tragedies.  The wonderful comes in the form of happy endings, weddings and babies.

We were in Italy for two reasons during the summer of 2010: our cousin's wedding and our son's baptism.  Outside of his immediate family, one remaining uncle and a few cousins, my husband's entire extended paternal family resides in Calabria so it always feels like there are people missing at major events here in Canada.  I figured that since there would be so few of these occasions in the future that we could share with each and every one of them, the elderly that can't travel and the young, whose families are growing, the opportunity to share both these celebrations is one we should not miss. 

So we went. 

We arrived, not entirely certain that the Priest, Don Salvatore, would agree to baptise a child who would not be joining his parish.  But after a conversation with, first, his devout Godmother-to-be, and later myself, he agreed.  He wanted to be certain that this was not some sort of tourist novelty and that we were serious in our intent to bring a child to the church for such a sacrament.

With a baptism date set, we began planning the feast we would share with family and friends.  The venue was a given, at Zia's house under the vines and the menu, a simple country lunch.  Nearly everything that would be part of that meal would come from local purveyors and artisans and cooked with care.  We made the rounds to pre-order meats, pick up cheeses, buy copious quantities of prosecco and of course, arrange for the cake. 

The meal would start, of course, with antipasti of local cheeses, preserved vegetables and cured meats.  My favourite are the tiny mountain mushrooms packed under olive oil (funghi sott'olio), a specialty of our good friend's mother. The pasta course would be the typical maccheroni Calabrese with sugo made from young goat and followed by the tender goat meat, a mixed grill of sausages and chicken spiedini with salad.  In Canada, a home-made cake and various cookies would be dessert but not (and nor would I dream of it) in Italy.  Here the local artisans take pride in producing the most exquisite of sweets, both traditional and modern.  The finale would be an ethereal custard filled confection from Pasticceria "Millevoglie" in Polistena.   

On the day of, the earth was swept and evened slightly and long tables were brought out covered in stereotyical Italian tablecloths.  My mother-in-law and cousins had started the prep the evening before and were up early to finish the sauce and make sure everything was in order.  I tended to getting our little man ready.  It turned out to be a mission to get him into actual clothes since, in but a few short weeks, he'd gotten well accustomed to wearing little more than a nappy.             

The road into San Giorgio Morgeto winds up the side of the mountain to the edge of the old town.  There, at the foot of the fountain, you can either keep to the right continuing around the mountainside into the forest and further into the Aspromonte or take a sharp left and then, on foot (or only with a very small vehicle), manouvre your way through narrow streets to the church.  San Giorgio Morgeto is a classical example of an Italian hill town laid out in a medieval fashion with limited vehicular access in certain quarters.  Built over centuries, many 'streets' are a series of steps that seem to have been determined by the natural contours of the mountain.  Only the elderly, who are unable to manage the inclines, take advantage of the adventurous drivers willing to navigate the gauntlet (3 point turns and tucking in mirrors to barely miss curtains and geranium planters) to get to the church.  Most walk, dropping off their passengers at the fountain and parking at the foot of the hill.

The baptism service was held for several children that day and went well.  Unfortunately, I don't have too many family photographs because in the absence of a very stern photographer barking orders (usually me) it is difficult to corral the in-laws to 1) stand close enough together, 2) stop talking and gesturing, and 3) hold still and smile.  I have only ever seen ONE photo of my father-in-law where he doesn't look like he's standing for what one might think would be his last photo.  Photos of the after party abound and are all candid family shots that I will treasure.

To end the meal, the charming bakers at Pasticceria "Millevoglie" made the most divine cake layered with crema pasticcera that tasted just like the famous trifle-like dessert zuppa inglese. The flavouring is of course, was very similar to alchermes which is used in the making of traditional zuppa inglese, best described here at All Things Sicilian And More.

That cake, one of the most memorable for so many reasons, is simply one of the best things I have ever tasted and, judging by the amount of icing (or lack thereof) on a pair of wee hands and a little chubby face, someone else thought so too.  Flavour and texture perfection.

The day was also capped off with cups of espresso and lots of prosecco.

After a long warm day, the wee man (as with the rest of us) slept very well that night.

I am so grateful for our family, friends and the local artisans that made our son's day so special. 

We are so blessed. 

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