Saturday, July 23, 2011

Wedding Bread as Folk Art?

We’re presently at Costa Navarino in Messina, Greece, a super-luxurious resort complex which is devoted to ecological reform as well as supporting and promoting the culture and agriculture of the region.

As part of introducing the resort guests to native traditions, they gathered four local women yesterday to demonstrate making the traditional  “embroidered breads” which are usually prepared to celebrate a wedding.  The breads are set before the bride and groom at the wedding table, and the bride distributes pieces to the guests (like wedding cake in western weddings.)
These four ladies do their bread-making at Costa Navarino every Friday. I was there yesterday, sitting at one of the caned wooden chairs outside the perfect replica of a traditional cafenion, while around us couples sipped coffee frappés and played tavli (backgammon).

You know I love folk art in any form, and photograph it wherever I travel. I quickly realized that the decorated breads made by these local ladies were indeed folk art.
First they sifted.
Then they kneaded.
Taking an occasional break to sip thick Greek coffee from demitasse cups.
The leading artist was Kyria Maria, who had prepared a pencil sketch of her design before she came. (She told me they make different designs every Friday.)

She had a true folk artist’s compulsive need for detail.  Her assistant stood by rolling tiny balls and thin snakes of dough at her behest.  When the first bread, made by two other women, was complete, Kyria Maria was still creating flowers, butterflies, a sun and birds out of dough to cover every inch of her round loaf.  (The first and primary part of her design represented  bunches of grapes on a vine surrounding the Acropolis.)
I was surprised at how many Greek guests came up and asked the women what they were making.  They had never heard of “embroidered breads” for a wedding.
Here are the almost-finished creations, which would be baked to a golden brown and served at the resort’s restaurants for breakfast the next day.

I knew about the “embroidered” wedding breads because last year, when daughter Eleni was married to Emilio in Corfu, Greece, her cousins and her aunt Nikki had prepared  the “embroidered wedding bread” traditional to their part of Greece, but according to their custom, the bride would throw the bread over her shoulders to the single ladies in the group,  like the bride’s bouquet in western culture, before it could be distributed to the crowd.
Eleni’s friend Catherine caught it and, just as for the single ladies who wrote their names on the soles of Eleni’s shoes, hoping that she would dance them away, the magic of the wedding bread will undoubtedly spread all the way from Corfu to Worcester, MA and conjure up a happily-ever-after future. 


Yiayia Vicky said...

Joan,I have been to several weddings in Greece and too many Greek American ones to even think about in the US, but Eleni's was the first one that I attended with that tradition. I assumed it was a tradition from Nick's area of Greece or of Corfu. It's a lovely tradition. Thanks for sharing. Btw, I'm dying to go to that hotel so let me know what you thought of it.

pamandrews2010 said...

I am a culinary student in baking and pastry. I am currently in an Artisan bread class and I have been mesmerized by this embroidered bread ever since I ran across your blog. I want to do this as a final project for my class and I have searched and searched for any kind of recipe. I see you may have family from Greece that know this tradition. Do you have any ideas where I may get a recipe for this embroidered bread? Best regards, Pam Andrews, email address

pamandrews2010 said...

I am a culinary arts student and I have been mesmerized by your posting on the embroidered bread. I would love to do this as my final project in my Artisan Bread class. I have searched and searched for any type of recipe I can find to no avail. Any ideas where I may find one. I see you may have family that uses this tradition? Thank you, Pam Andrews,