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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
The Baker of Pinobosco

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 another piece.

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?" Franco asked.

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 hardly move.

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 much."

"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 again."

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 icing.

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.

Franco's eyes 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!

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