This is my dad, Freddie Donroe, in grammar school in the mid-1950s. He has this story to share about bringing home the Italian bread:
Hot, freshly baked Italian bread. Now that’s Italian! For me, no meal is complete without one or more loaves of Italian bread fresh from the oven.
My infatuation with the long loaf with the crispy, light brown crust began at a young age. In 1956, my family moved out of New Haven and into one of its growing suburbs, Hamden. It was part of a larger migration of ethnic, mostly European groups out of the city. Many Italians were part of this migration and an awful lot of family names in our new community ended with a vowel. For this reason, a number of shops and stores sprung up that catered to Italian tastes and habits. Bakeries were among them, and it was there that as a youngster I first delighted in both the taste and aroma of bread straight from the brick oven.
Over the years, I made my way to a number of these establishments to pick up a loaf or two for my mom. Most of them were storefront type businesses located on Dixwell Avenue, the main street in the town. But the bakery I remember most was located on Church Street, a small side street where my grammar school sat. This neighborhood was made up of mostly two- and three-family homes with garages in the back. One enterprising family had converted part of the garage into a bakery. It held only one small counter, a tiny prep station, and a large brick oven. As a result, every part of the preparation was done right out in plain view.
It was a treat to watch your own loaves being prepared from scratch, from the kneading of the dough to placing it in the oven with the large, wooden paddle. The wait was excruciating, as the aroma of baking bread swallowed me up. Finally, the loaves were removed from the oven, slipped into long paper sleeves, and placed, piping hot, into my eager 8-year old hands. Then came the hardest part: how to walk all the way home with two deliciously hot loaves of Italian bread under my arm without snatching a hunk for a quick snack! To be honest, I couldn’t always resist the temptation. But my mom was pretty understanding. I always suspected that she ordered two loaves specifically so that one might make it home unscathed.
Eventually, the little backyard bakery went the way of all such ventures. Either the enterprise failed or was so successful that it moved to larger quarters in a more commercial environment. I hope it was the latter. Whatever the reason, I was forced to start frequenting more conventional establishments. And although the fantastic aroma still accompanied the loaves I brought home, the overall experience was never quite the same again.
And that’s the reason why we don’t have a family recipe for Italian bread. So sorry to disappoint!
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