A village feast is not only a time for the inhabitants to socialise, but also to work together. When I go up to the shop this morning, Anna Rosa, Dalida and Eugenia are already upstairs in Dalida’s kitchen baking a cake for our New Year’s Eve dinner. I ask when I should come to help. This year almost everything will be cooked in the wood-fired oven in the piazza, so there isn’t much to do; just peeling the potatoes and laying the table. At 3 pm I head up to the old school, now the community hall. On the way I stop at the oven. The men have brought the bundles of wood: thin branches for lighting the fire or getting it going quickly if it starts to die down and thicker logs to burn longer and get the oven up to temperature.
In the school I join Assunta, Luciana and Penny around the sack of potatoes and a big water-filled basin into which we drop the peeled potatoes. Although I cooked every other Sunday in a Good Food Guide restaurant in England, here I do as I’m told, even if it seems irrational. For example, the peeled potatoes have to be cut into chunks to be roasted. I would get another basin of water, take a whole potato from one basin, cut it up and drop the pieces into the other basin. Not in Casabasciana. There’s only one basin. You take a whole potato, cut it up and drop the pieces back into the same basin. At first it’s easy to find whole potatoes, but soon, everyone is fishing around among the bits, trying to find whole potatoes. Have we finished? No, here’s another whole one. I guess it takes longer this way and we have more time to gossip.
The men have already set up the trestle tables and we spread out white tablecloths and lay the table. Fifty-one places. A little greenery and some red ribbon creates a festive mood.
In the kitchen the potatoes are spread out to dry and the wild boar, larded earlier by Renato and Michelangelo, our two butchers, is waiting to go into the oven. Angela is cutting up some radicchio for salad and Ebe slices bread for crostini.
With nothing more to do I head home (only 2 minutes’ walk from the school). It’s dusk, the Christmas lights are on in the piazza and a quarter moon smiles down from the sky.