Oct 18, 2011

Day 11/180: Napolitano style

When I was young, I lived in Naples, Italy for several years. To be exact, for the first year or so I lived on Capo Posillipo on the northern edge of the bay with Vesuvius on the far side. The apartment we lived in was right at the water's edge in a repurposed old fortress called Villa Volpicelli.
Villa Volpicelli
If you look at the left-hand tower, you'll see a wrap-around balcony. That's the first floor. We lived on the second floor. The tower room was, as I remember, a combination living and dining room. There were painted ceramic tiles for the floor and frescoes on the ceiling.

Count four windows to the right and that is where the kitchen was. We had a cook and housekeeper named Teresa who prepared amazingly delicious meals with the most basic equipment.

She was certainly a fantastic and talented cook, but part of the secret to her fabulous meals was that the ingredients were so fresh. Most of the ingredients were bought on the day that the dish was prepared and almost all of them had been purchased within the week. Shopping was generally done in three ways; going to market, sending to market, or buying from vendors.

Going to market with Teresa was like going to the theater. She was a small woman but she loomed large in her stubborn intent to not pay more than she wanted to. Like many Neapolitans, Teresa was flamboyantly voluble. She would be operatically horrified that a quarter of a bushel of ripe peaches direct from the orchard was going to cost 200 lira (32 US cents at that time), she would press the back of her hand against her forehead and start to swoon like a Victorian lady with "the vapors", only to instantly recover and start to scream at the shop owner for having the gall to try to rip her off.

Teresa did not send to market. but many families did, especially those who lived in the tall walk-ups. The  grocer's boy, or baker's boy, etc. would walk down the street letting people know he was there with a distinctive call and waiting. Baskets were lowered by cords from the upper story windows with lists of what was needed. The runner would go back to the store, pick up the goods, and put them in the basket to be hauled back up. Depending on the trustworthiness of the runner, money would be put in the basket or the shopkeeper would keep an account.

My favorite were the vendors, particularly the olive vendor. He would appear every couple of days. Since the windows of the villa were set back from the street, he would knock for the porter to let him in.

(There's a door just outside the picture to the right.) Balancing four large wooden tubs on his head, he'd climb the stairs to the large courtyard one level above the street and give a shout to let us know he was there. If I was home at the time, I'd go down with Teresa's order. She didn't have to dicker with him because she knew him. I think he may have been a cousin. He would fill the containers with black or green olives or capers and I'd give him a handful of coins. He would always give me a handful of olives for my own and I would stand there and eat them as I watched him wrap his head with a towel and lift the tower of tubs back up and balance it.

I've been thinking about this lately because I've started getting into the habit of buying what I need for meals on the day that I cook.

This may have been too much information. Mi scusi.

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