This week sees the continuation of the ‘History: Remembering a Neighborhood’ series by my immensely talented father, Jerry R. Giuliano. Please enjoy this wonderful piece, and – if you missed it – catch the rest of the series.

History: Remembering a Neighborhood

History: Remembering a Neighborhood Pt VI: The Treats That Bound A Community

by Jerry R. Giuliano

Previously: From Coal Black to Rainbows to Snow White

The site of Mike's Italian Bakery

The site of Mike’s Italian Bakery

Mike, the neighborhood’s best commercial Italian Baker, operated the town’s only Italian bakery. Every day, his bakery filled the neighborhood air with the smooth smell of warm, crusty, bread, and a variety of mouthwatering sweets. At Christmas, the air took on the spicy scent of peppermint candy canes. And, the Easter air was infused with the soul soothing fragrance of chocolate and coconut.

Mike lived in one of the two apartments, above the bakery, with his wife, their son, and daughter. Relatives were in the other. The entrance to the apartments was through a small courtyard on the left side of the building. There was a separate door in the front, center, of the building, leading to a small office/foyer that formally introduced the long, narrow, bakery space that followed.

Italian treats

Italian treats

The oven, which took up the entire width of the wall, was on the front end of the bakery, and giant stainless steel mixers were along the sides. In the middle, there were tables, conveyor belts, and the assembly line surrounded by the people who made the seasonal candy and who were not covered in flour.

Mixed with floury thoughts of the bakery, I see Mike reaching for a pan filled with loaves of bread. He uses a thin, 10 X 10 square feet, wooden spatula, attached to a wooden handle that must be, at least, one thousand feet long.  Hand over hand over hand over hand, he pushes the pole until the spatula slips under the pan farthest back, then switches all the pans until each occupies a different parking spot. Finally, he selects a pan, pulls it out, places it on a table and asks, “Which one?” All of them are drool inducing, golden brown, warm, and smell like heaven which, I have been schooled to know, is a place I may not get to if I snitch a little taste on the way home.

Italian sub

Italian sub

The bakery was a whole lot more than a bakery. It was also place where the experienced Italian mothers met when special events, like weddings, were about to take place.  The space, tables, ovens, proximity, and Mike’s generosity, offered the ideal place for the local ladies to prepare cakes, cookies and sandwiches that would appear in great quantity at the reception… biscotti, pizzelli, fig-filled cookies, Italian Crème cake.   And, the sandwiches: gigantic cardboard boxes filled to the brim with Mike’s round Kaiser, or long torpedo rolls, stuffed with mounds of prosciutto, capicola, salami, and provolone.  These great creations are known as Subs, Gyros , Heroes, Grinders, Dagwoods, Italians, PoBoys, Torpedos, Zeps, or Hoagies.  Nowadays you can get a variation of them almost anywhere. But I have never tasted a better one than the ones, premade by a group of black dress wearing ladies, and plucked out of a huge   cardboard box, at a neighborhood Italian wedding.  There was a bonus if you happened to be a 7th grade school kid, related to the bride or groom; you got to take leftover wedding sandwiches to school every day, until graduation.

Mike’s Bakery is gone. It was converted to residential condominiums; twelve of them.

Five Mouthwatering Italian Recipe Videos

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The Montgomeryville-LansdalePatch has some amazing “Then and Now” pictures of Lansdale at the links below:

Also on the blog: Names by Jerry R. Giuliano