The Stove, the Ferretelle and the Chicken

 

by Edward A. Iannuccilli 

 

© 2000 Edward A. Iannuccilli

 

   There was ongoing activity in our house and most of it was centered in the second floor tenement where my grandparents Vincenzo and Domenica Troiano lived. Our grandparents had a strong attachment to the eminent domain of their kitchen. Their door was invariably open enabling us to smell the aromas emanating from grandmotherís kitchen and to hear Vincenzo read the Italian paper aloud in Italian.

    The stove was the first thing one saw upon entering their tenement. It was in the rear of their large kitchen and always the center of activity. The stove, which Grandma Domenica earnestly polished weekly with a special black compound, was a large squat and burley black mass of cast iron that sat on four cat like silver legs. In front of the stove, on the oven door was the name of the manufacturer, Barstow. The sides of the stove swooped up to the top, which had four burners on its right side and four heavy iron covers on its left. These covers were lifted by a spring like handle, which fit neatly into the square hole of each cover. Lifting a cover allowed one to look into the flames of the burners below. On the coldest of winter days, the cozy warmth of that stove made it perfectly comfortable to lay on an uninviting linoleum floor in front of it.

    This left side was for heat, the right for cooking; both fired by oil. The left stovetop was also used for simple cooking, like boiling water, roasting chestnuts or crisping orange skins for their wonderful aroma. Grandma always had a pot of "gravy" (red sauce for pasta) simmering on that side, and Cousin Bill loved to have that "gravy" drizzled onto a piece of oven warmed Italian bread. Brother Peter and Cousin Bob preferred warm bread with olive oil, sprinkled with salt ("bread and oil"). It was worth the wait while those "pizzas" heated in the Barstow oven.

    Making pizzelle was one of the many uses of the behemoth. Pizzelle are thin waffle-like pastries made in round or rectangular shapes with a special apparatus, a ferratelle. The waffle iron shaping end was attached to a long black iron handle which when opened allowed for the careful pouring of the batter. This thin baking end was then placed or held over the fire. Before the pouring of the batter, the iron was first warmed, oiled, and salted. Most of the pizzelle makers had designs. My grandmother had a geometric one centered with the initials "VT", for Vincenzo Troiano, of course. (I one thought they were for my aunt, Vera Tyzbir, who I saw making those pizzelle one day.) After holding the iron over the heat for just minutes, the golden firm pizzelle were done. At the conclusion of the cooking, the ferratelle was wiped with a dishtowel that had been soaked in oil so the next batch would not stick. We are fortunate to own that ferratelle today.

    No part of the stove including the area below it was without its purpose. I remember placing recently picked snails from Narragansett Bay on newspaper on the floor under the stove so they would cook slowly. And then the adults would eat them by picking them out of their shells with a toothpick or sewing needle. I never understood why snails were considered a delicacy, especially after observing the adultsí behavior. The other item "cooked" under the stove were the salt-bathed fresh pumpkinseeds from our carved Halloween pumpkins.

    What I remember best, however, was using the Barstow flames to prepare the chicken for cooking. The chickenís saga started in Antonelliís poultry store on Federal Hill, the Italian section of Providence (RI). I once went there with my grandmother while she scrutinized and purchased the perfect live chicken. From there we would board the Atwells Avenue bus to Academy Avenue and walk the one-quarter mile past the many three deckers on Wealth Avenue to our home. We then proceeded directly to the cellar to kill the bird. The grandparent team did that while I observed. Vincenzo would either hold the chickenís neck or push it through a funnel, while Domenica would pierce the neck with a dagger to let the birdís blood drain into the sink. When the pale chicken squirmed no more, it was put into a large pail of warm water to soak until the feathers were soft enough to be plucked. Following the plucking, we went to the stove.

    The right-side burners were fired and Domenica would hold the dead naked bird over the flame to burn the remaining feather stubble. I cannot describe the smell of burning feathers (and some flesh), but if I smelled it today, I would recognize it. It was unique and stunk. Following the toasting, the chick was prepared in the pantry just off the kitchen and then cooked in a diversity of ways in the Troiano household.

    The ferratelle, the chicken, and their association with the stove are among the many wonderful memories of my childhood. There was an indescribable comfort that I associated with that stove. Itís strength seemed to give me mine.

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