The village of
Pinobosco, nestled among tall, sturdy pines, stood in a valley near
the banks of the Amicucci River. Red-tiled roofs sprung up among the
pines, like red blossoms struggling for sun. White limestone
buildings, weather-beaten, yet able to withstand the elements, had
been built along the dirt road that ran through the middle . At one
end of the village, hammering and blowing sounds came from Fabrizio
il Fabbro, the blacksmith. His billows heated the iron horseshoes
and balcony railings that he pounded from morning to evening, trying
to get the shape just right. The fragrant smells of juicy, ripe
melons, tangy citrus, ruby red pomegranates and spongy figs in the
shop of Flavio il Fruttivendolo invited all inside to buy some.
Vincenzo's vegetable shop sold firm, violet aubergines, fagioli
bortolotti and runner beans, crispy carrots, and an assortment of
fresh lettuces and peppers. Fat sausages, leg of lamb, slabs of pork
and beef and plucked chickens hung in the butcher shop window of
Marcello il Macellaio.
The busiest shop in
all of Pinobosco was the pasticceria and bakery. Anyone who walked
past could look in the window and see all the baked goods and smell
the sweet scent of honey, almonds, flaky pastries and breads. Franco
Farina, the baker, and his wife, Bianca, worked hard from sunrise to
sunset. They used only finely ground flour, the thickest cream, the
sweetest sugar, and the freshest eggs. Everyone in the village came
daily to buy their delicious pastries, cakes, breads, and focacce.
One year the village
experienced a severe drought. The Amicucci River dried up until only
a mere trickle flowed down the center. It affected most of the
villagers in some way. The price of flour went up double the
original cost. Franco went from farm to farm to discuss this with
the local farmers. "Without water, the grains didn't grow as well
this year," Farmer Magnapa sighed.
"The chickens aren't
laying as many eggs, nor are the cows giving as much fresh cream,"
said another farmer.
Oh, the chickens
still laid eggs and the cows still gave cream, but it was much more
expensive than normal.
Whenever Franco went
out to visit the farmers, Bianca would giggle and clap her chubby
hands; the fat on her arms wobbled back and forth. That meant she
could eat all the cakes she wanted. It seemed to the villagers that
Franco must have gone away often, as his wife's plump tummy kept
getting bigger and her apron kept getting tighter. Bianca stood at
the window stuffing chocolate cake into her mouth, watching for her
husband's return. "I love to eat cakes!" she said, eating yet
Franco wasn't selling
as much as normal either. Lately he'd had to toss out many
leftovers. Even though Bianca stuffed herself with cakes each day, a
few sat on the shelf when it was time to close the bakery shop.
Normally, at the end of the day, against his wife's wishes, he'd
take the few meager leftovers to the orphanage or leave them out in
the woods for the birds, mice and other animals to eat. "Why don't
you let me take them home," Bianca complained. "I'll eat them."
Franco never listened to her. He knew she ate the cakes whenever he
left to do errands. At night, when he swept the bakery, he always
found chocolate cake crumbs on the floor. Sometimes he even saw
sticky crumbs in her hair.
Franco sat in his
chair at home, sipping a grappa. He heard the neighbor's cat digging
through his rubbish and went to the window. Looking out, he watched
the cat eating fish heads and tails. He opened the window and threw
one of his slippers, barely missing the cat. It hissed and meowed
and ran away. Franco saw millions of stars twinkling across the
heavens. Just then an idea came to him. He thought of a plan. He'd
bake a small amount of cakes, breads, and focacce each day and what
he didn't sell, he'd put out again the next day instead of throwing
it all away. He knew he'd have to watch his wife to make sure she
didn't eat everything. Normally Franco would never think to do such
a thing, but times were hard for everyone.
A few days later
Adelina Trippalunga came into the bakery. After looking at all the
different pasticcini and focacce, she said, "I'd like a dozen
pasticcini and two focacce. They look so delicious and so fresh."
"Oh, they are. I just
baked them this morning," Franco lied. He had baked one focaccia and
half a dozen pasticcini and brioches fresh that morning, but the
others were left over from the day before. He bagged the focacce and
put the pasticcini in a box, tied it with a ribbon and handed them
to Adelina. "Enjoy them." She stuck her nose in the bag, took a deep
whiff, waved goodbye and left.
An hour or two
passed; Agostina Ragni came into the bakery to buy a loaf of hot
fresh bread. "I've got two loaves left. Which one would you like?"
Much to the baker's
delight, Agostina pointed at the day old Ciabatta loaf. "Ah, good
choice, he said, sliding the flat loaf into a bag, just like a foot
into the slipper it was named after.
"I hope it's fresh.
It does smell delicious," the customer said and left.
Sitting in his chair
at home that night, the baker sighed. "I'm disappointed with how few
customers came in today."
Bianca complained, "I
thought too many came. You never let me eat the cakes any more. You
don't bake enough for even a mouse to eat!" Franco shook his head
and finished his expresso. Most of the villagers struggled with
money and needed it for things much more important than cakes,
salatini, pasticcini and breads.
The next evening,
Franco closed the bakery, chasing Bianca out. Instead of tossing out
what hadn't been sold, he simply left them inside the glass cases,
closed the door, and went home. "Why are you leaving all the cakes
at the bakery? Why couldn't I bring them home? They'll be dried out
by morning!" Bianca complained.
She wasn't the only
one that missed the leftovers. Many of the woodland animals waited
and wondered why the baker hadn't left the usual supply of goodies
that night. Every day when they went to the meadow near the hollow
tree they always found a feast of sweetness, but tonight there was
nothing for them.
Alfeo, the mouse, sat
on the roots of a willow tree, scratching his head. Out of curiosity
he ran to the bakery to make sure nothing had happened to Baker
Farina. He squeezed in through a hole at the bottom of the wall,
near the back door. It was dark inside and rather frightening for a
tiny brown mouse. Alfeo sniffed. "I smell focacce." He sniffed
again. "I smell pastries." He ran into the middle of the bakery and
sniffed once more. "I smell focacce and bread." When he saw the
shelves filled with all the baked goods, Alfeo was confused. "Why
didn't Franco put these out in the woods tonight?"
The smell of sugar
and honey tempted Alfeo and his tummy started to rumble. "The
almonds smell so good. So do the raisins and vanilla icing. I don't
think the baker would mind if I took just one little nibble." The
mouse climbed up the glass case and jumped onto a shelf. He landed
with a plop right in the middle of a chocolate cake. His tiny feet
sunk deep into the fudge icing. "Oops. Why look at this! I've got
fudge on my feet. I'll have to clean them or I'll make a mess on the
floor!" Alfeo chuckled and scraped the chocolate icing off his feet
with his long fingers, and then licked them clean. "Oh, that tastes
delicious. It's so creamy and soft." Before he knew it, he'd
devoured the entire cake. His tummy stuck out so far that he could
Luigi, another mouse,
concerned about Alfeo, ran to the bakery to make sure he wasn't in
danger. He saw Alfeo sitting on the plate, surrounded by chocolate
cake crumbs. A million questions flowed from Luigi's mouth. "What
are you doing eating Baker Farina's cakes? Look how fat your tummy
is! Why did Baker Farina leave all this food in here? Why didn't his
wife, Bianca, eat it all? Is she on a diet again? Maybe he wants us
to come in here to eat instead of taking it to the woods."
Alfeo could hardly
speak. "Help yourself," he mumbled, patting his tummy. Luigi did
just that. He nibbled the crusty, flaky edges of the icing-covered
pasticcini, licked all the hazelnut cream filling out, and tore off
chunks of pane rustico, the crumbs of the loaves falling on to the
floor. Soon his tummy was as fat as Alfeo's. He fell down next to
the other mouse. "Maybe we should go home and sleep."
"I can hardly move,"
Luigi moaned, "but the baker might be angry if he finds us in here
in the morning. I know Bianca would be furious!"
"You're right," Alfeo
frowned. The two mice slowly climbed down to the ground and came to
the hole in the wall. "We'll never fit through this! We ate too
"I have a good idea.
You start to go through it and I'll push from behind," Luigi
suggested. Alfeo's head fit through but his fat little body got
stuck. Luigi pushed and pushed and finally Alfeo popped out through
the other side.
"You try it and I'll
pull you from this side," Alfeo said. Luigi squeezed out of the hole
in the wall but his body wedged in tighter than a cork in a wine
bottle. He put his arms out and Alfeo pulled and pulled. Finally
Luigi popped out of the hole and went flying into a pile of leaves.
They waddled home, dragging their tails behind them.
The next morning when
Franco and Bianca opened the door to the bakery, they saw the cake
crumbs and nibbled breads, focacce and pasticcini. He scowled and
shouted, "I was going to sell those today. Now I can't! I've got to
bake everything fresh!" He took the half-eaten goods and dumped them
in a big bag and threw it in the back room. "I'll take this to the
animals this evening after we close the shop."
"Don't throw those
out. Maybe there's a piece of cake or a pastry that I can eat!"
Bianca shouted. "Why should the animals get it?" She sat in the back
of the bakery and went through the bag, picking out and eating all
the half-eaten focacce and breads she could find. Soon her apron was
covered with crumbs and hazelnut cream stuck to her nose.
Franco looked at her.
"Bianca! Leave that alone and come inside. Wash your face and hands
and brush those crumbs off your apron! I need you to help me with
the baking." They spent the entire morning rolling bread dough,
making cream filling for his pasticcini and icing for the cakes.
At last Franco put
the "APERTO" sign in the window of the bakery. Their regular
customer, Agostina, came inside right away. "Baker Farina, I must
say your bread was a bit on the dry side last night. I don't think
you used finely ground flour or fresh eggs. I hope that won't happen
Franco replied, "I
just baked these loaves fresh this morning. They're crunchy on the
outside and soft and moist inside, just as they should be." Agostina
sniffed, broke a piece off one of the loaves and squeezed the
inside. She bought two loaves, one Ciabatta and one Pane alle Olive.
A while later,
Adelina Trippalunga came into the bakery. "Baker Farina, yesterday
your cannoncini allo Siciliano tasted a little stale and so did your
other pasticcini. Did you use fresh cream and butter? They're
normally much flakier."
"I just baked some
fresh ones this morning, for you," he assured her.
"I hope these taste
sweet and rich," she grumbled and left with several trays of fig and
peach tarts and several lemon-filled pasticcini with gooey vanilla
Off and on during the
day other customers came in to purchase things, but when he closed
the shop at night, a few things still sat on the shelves. "I'll just
leave these here tonight and sell them tomorrow." Bianca, about to
protest, kept quiet when she saw her husband's scowl.
That night, Alfeo and
Luigi came back to the bakery. This time though, they brought a few
more of their friends. Three foxes, a deer, two hares, and an owl
came with them. "You stay here and we'll open the door," Alfeo said.
He and Luigi crept through the hole in the wall and opened the door.
The foxes ran right
to the cakes. "Wow! Look at this! So many chocolate cakes, Baba
cakes with raisins, Meringhe al Cioccolato, Ciambelle, and even
Brioche alle Quattro Creme with layers of different flavored creams!
Why did Baker Farina leave them in his shop again and not take them
to the woods?" Without waiting for an answer, they devoured every
one of the cakes.
"I wonder why Bianca
didn't eat them. I've seen her eat an entire Migliaccio di Farina
Dolce in one bite!" Luigi laughed. "She's very fat and could
probably eat ten Sfoglie Rovesciate at one sitting."
"She must like
oranges," giggled Alfeo and then he ran onto the shelf of pastries.
The deer ate six
Pane alle Noce and two Ciabattine loaves. The hares ate an entire
tray of Torta Rustica di Mandorle and the owl nibbled on Cassata
alla Siciliana al Forno, licking the ricotta filling off his
feathers. Everything was full of seeds and nuts and sweet cream. A
while later all the animals collapsed on the floor with full
tummies. The mice couldn't dart about, the owl couldn't fly, the
foxes couldn't scamper, the hares couldn't frolic, and the deer
couldn't prance. "We'd better go. The sun will be up soon and Baker
Farina will be here. We've made a big mess and he'll be angry." The
animals, too full to clean anything up, sauntered back to the woods.
It wasn't long before
Franco and Bianca arrived at the bakery. They found the back door
wide open and saw bits of Ciabattine bread lying all over the floor.
Sticky cream was smeared all over the glass cases and bits of nuts
and seeds crunched under Bianca's feet. "What happened here? Who's
been eating all the pies, cakes, pastries and breads?" It took them
all morning to clean up the mess. He threw everything into a big bag
and tossed it in the back of the bakery. Bianca, of course, found
the bag and stuffed herself with bits and pieces of cake and tortes.
When he finished cleaning, he needed to bake a new supply of
everything for the customers that day. And so it went day after day,
night after night for several weeks.
One morning, Adelina
came in to the bakery. She said, "Those were the freshest pasticcini
and focacce I've ever had! The cream was thick and sweet and I could
taste the newly-laid eggs. Today, I'll take two more of both. Give
me the kind with hazelnuts and cream in them. I think I'll buy a
loaf of Pane Francese today too." Franco put the bread into a bag
and carefully put the rest into a small box. Once the string was
tied, Adelina left with a smile on her face.
Agostina came by a
few hours later. "Franco, that was the freshest bread I've ever
eaten. I dipped it in my cappuccino and sat by the fire nibbling
away. I'll take two loaves today and the biggest chocolate cake you
have. Give me one with extra chunks of chocolate in it and a layer
of apricot jam in the middle." Baker Farina nodded. Agostina smiled
and left carrying several bags. All afternoon one customer after
another came into the bakery.
twinkled and a grin spread across his face. His heart beat with
warmth and caring. His satisfied customers told their friends about
the baker's delicious goods. As he put a few more loaves of bread in
the oven, Baker Farina decided that from then on he would bake
everything fresh each morning like he used to and give the leftovers
to the woodland animals. Bianca scowled, snarled, and griped at her
husband. Now there would be no leftovers for her and she'd have to
wait and sneak the cakes when he left the bakery during the day or
else she'd end up fighting the woodland animals for a bit of pastry.
That night everything
that hadn't been sold during the day, Franco gathered and put in a
bag. "Go home, Bianca. Start supper and I'll be home shortly," he
warned. He took the bag over to the woods and arranged everything
caringly on the ground for the animals to eat.
Alfeo, Luigi, the
deer, foxes, hares and owls hid in the dark behind the trees, rocks
and bushes, watching Baker Farina. "Look! He's giving us the
leftovers again!" After he'd left, the woodland animals feasted on,
biscotti, pasticcini filled with cherries and sliced almonds and
drizzled with vanilla icing, panini, pezzo di pane, pagnotta, torte
salati, focacce, and crostata di mele, torta cioccolato e mandorle,
and torta di ricotta. They never went back to the bakery again. They
didn't need to. Franco made sure that the villagers of Pinobosco got
only the freshest baked goods and the animals got all the leftovers!