Although there might still be a few homes in rural Italy where the fràscere or braciere (brazier) might be found, this tool for heating and cooking is more than likely a memory for older Italians. Typically an ancient-looking copper pan set into a wider wooden base, many recall their mothers placing the braciere full of hot coals from the home's fireplace into the middle of the room so all members of the family could sit around warming their feet on a cold winter's evening.
Some have shared memories with me: Mama putting large black olives in to heat them up, and then squeezing them onto pieces of toasted bread... or melting pieces of cheese on forks. They also remember how their fathers warmed up some zuppa for an evening snack before heading off to bed. A second braciere might have been placed in their bedroom to take the chill off as they drifted off to sleep.
And their mothers may well have covered the braciere with a scaldapanni (or sciuttapanni)--a dome cover made from bent strips of wood--and then draped a damp washcloth, panties, socks or a cloth diaper to dry overnight. In school the next day, there might have been a braciere--perhaps more than one--sitting on the floor between desks to help warm their scholastic endeavors, even if just to toss a crumpled mistake into the coals when their maestra was dissatisfied with their work.
The "conca" (basin), as it was casually referred to, was an ancient household invention thousands of years old that could be perceived as a sure sign of poverty in Italy, but there were riches in its use, too... family members--young and old, children through grandparents-- gathered around, telling stories, sharing gossip, knitting or repairing garments, toasting bread, laughing together, the children always being the closest to the warm, glowing circle. Occasionally, a lemon or orange peel was tossed onto the coals to send a simple but glorious scent into the air and if you were a good child, your father might let you use the little shovel to perk up the glow of the coals.
The family hearth might have been small, but the memories were warmer than that pile of coals could ever be...
Copyright 2016, Jerry Finzi/Grand Voyage Italy - All Rights Reserved