Maltese Bread - Ħobż Malti
By Doris Fenech
From early days people consumed bread ("ħobż"), as their main source of nourishment. Bread was made from wheat ("qamħ"), flour ("tqiq - dqiq"), and brown bread (ħobż ismar - ħobż ta' l-oħxon"), was made with brownish flour ("tal-maħlut"), consisting of a mixture of corn ("qamħ"), and barley("xgħir"), flour.
Especially on windy days people took wheat and barley seeds to the windmill ("il-Mitħna"), to be grind ("mitħun"), into flour. Through different periods Mellieħa had three windmills ("mtieħen tar-riħ").
The oldest mill was located in Old Mill Street ("Triq l-Mithna il-Qadima"). On the 8th of September 1880, some buglers broke in the mill and set it on fire - the mill was completely destroyed. To replace the burned mill, a new mill ("mitħna"), was built, this time in New Mill Street ("Triq l-Mitħna il-Ġdida").
In 1843 another wind mill was erected on top of Main Street ("Triq il-Kbira"), part of the building still exists nowadays. By time, the wind mill was replaced by a mechanical mill ("magna tad-dqiq"), in North Street ("Triq il-Tramuntana"), and later was moved to St. Ann Street ("Triq Sant'Anna").
Housewives made bread ("jaħżu il-ħobż"), only once a week and lasted for days with out stale. Since ovens ("fran"), were so rare home-made bread ("ħobż tad-dar"), was baked ("moħmi"), at the various community ovens ("il-forn"), scattered around Mellieħa.
Bakers used thistles ("xewk"), to start the fire ("qabs"), and lot of brushwood ("ħatab"), for heating the oven ("jaħmi il-forn"). On due ("nida"), days women collected bundles of thistles ("qattiet tax-xewk"), with a weed hoe ("lexxuna"), from uncultivated fields ("raba żdingat"). Thistles were tied into 8 to 10 bundles ("qattiet"), to make one sheave ("ħemel"), and let dry well in the sun. Some people took 5 to 8 sheaves ("ħmiel"), of thistles to the baker as payment ("ħlas"), for baking the bread.
Maltese bread ("ħobż Malti"), has a particular sourdough crust ("qoxra"), outside - inside it is very soft ("bieba - ibieba"). Bread recipe never changed, it was made with few and simple ingredients - flour, yeast, plenty of water, sea-salt, hard work and lot of patience.
Another popular type of bread was the ("xawwata - ftira"), it was unleavened, flat in shape, about 18 cm diameter, with a thick dark crust and most white crumb. The ("ftajjar"), were baked before loaves were shoved ("luħ"), into the oven. Housewives knead ("tagħġin"), bread only ones a week and lasted for days with out stale.
Traditional Maltese sour bread had a long process of preparation. They mixed a piece of dough of the day-before, as a starter ("tinsila"), with the dough of the day's dough, ("il-ħmira trabbiha ġurnata qabel"). The batch of pastry ("għaġna"), was kneaded by hand in a large basin ("magħġen - lembi"), until the dough got white, they scatter some flour on top of the dough and cover with a cloth ("mindil"), and let to rest for hours in a warm place, until double in bulk.
With great ability they portioned, shaped ("issawwar"), and placed the loafs on a floured wooden tray ("tavla"), and marked the side of the loaf with a tag ("għeliem - tgħellem"), or a number 8 or 9 with the pastry or an olive leaf or a twist with he finger, as their family symbol.They put a twisted turban ("kagħwara"), on their head to hold the heavy wooden tray ("tavla"), steady while being carried along the rough roads to the nearest oven ("maħbeż").
Communal ovens were made of special heath resisting stone. The oven was approximately 8 ft to 10 ft long and in width and with an outlet made from cast iron. The temperature was raised to 500 degrees Celsius to bake bread and it took around 1,1/4 hours to bake. A long wooden shovel ("pala tal-forn"), was used to take the bread out of the scorching hot ("jikwi"), oven. Nothing beat the aroma of a fresh Maltese loaf ("ħobz tal-Malti"), bakers offered a vast variety of bread with different shapes.
The most popular type of bread was ("ħobża"), a dark-brown round crusty loaf. Bakers marked the loaves with a particular mark made with a knife - a cross on top ("tas-salib"), or cut on the side ("tas-sikkina"). Bakers ("ħabbież"), sold bread by weight ("użin"), rotolo ("ratal"), half a rotolo ("nofs-artal"), or one fourth of rotolo ("kwart"). Next to the small scale the baker kept small pieces of bread to balance the weight or to give to the small children while waiting for their mother's buying bread or bread- dough to make ("ftira").
It was great emotion, to watch the baker kneading the dough and smell the fresh bread being baked in the wood-burning stone oven, while waiting for the bread being shove out, with the crust part ("it-tappa"), attached one loaf to another in the oven. Women waited out side the bakery, gossiping and tell stories ("ħrejjef tal-forn").
No meal was coincided complete without bread. The sign of the cross was always made on the loaf with a knife before cutting the bread as a symbol of gratitude of having food on the table. Children were taught to pick up any throw away bread, kiss the bread and put it in holes of rubble wall ("ħajt tas-sajjieħ") as a sign of respect.
Traditional Maltese "Ftira tal-ħemi"
Nothing beat the aroma of a fresh bread taken out of the oven. For many poor people ("ftira tal-forn"), was their only daily meal - lunch ("fatar"), or dinner ("fatra"). Traditional ("ftira") was made with an unbaked loaf dough, flatten in a medium size plate and covered with ripe red tomatoes, olives and capers. They fold the edges of the dough inwards and drizzle with oil, sea salt and pepper and baked until golden brown.They baked various qualities of ("ftira tal-ħemi").
Herrings ("tal-bakkaljaw"), - herrings, chopped onions, garlic, bold cod, oil, and parsley.
Curd cheese ("tal-ġbejniet"), - thinly slices potatoes with small round cheeslets on top.
Anchovy ("tal-inċova "), - anchovy, tomatoes, onions and basil, topped on slice potatoes,
Whitebait ("tal-makku"), - whitebait rolled in flour, sweet marjoram, sliced onions, and spearmint.
Onion ("ftira tat-toqlija"), - lightly fried onions, garlic and rip tomatoes.
When housewives had little food to give to their family, they made fritters ("sfinig"), with thin round unleavened bread- dough, fried in oil ("ftira taż-żejt"),n a deep pan.
Different type of fritters; Spinach fitters ("ftira ta' l-indevja"), - spinach filling, wrapped in thin round dough and fried.Honey fitters ("ftira tal-għasel"), - flat dough coated with honey, fried and coated with sugar. Many families start the day with a largish coffee bowl ("skudella"), of black coffee and dunk small pieces of bread in the coffee ("kafe bil-ftiet"), to sustain them during the day.
Not a crumb of bread was wasted. Thick flat pieces of bread were toasted ("mixwi"), on a small cooking stove with one or more wicks ("kuċinett tal-ftejjel"). Fresh bread ("ħobż frisk"), spread with butter and topped with sugar (" pappa bil-butir"), was given to small children. Portions of dry bread dunked in hot broth ("zappap il-hobz"), or fish soup ("aljotta"). Stale bread ("ħobż niexef"), was the mean ingredient, of tasteful bread pudding ("pudina tal-ħobz").
Housewives made different kind of food ("kumpanaġġ"), to be eaten between two thick pieces of bread ("biċċtejn ħobż"), baked "ftira" or small bun ("ħbejża"), and for men to be eat with a big side of crust bread ("ġenba"). Workers lunch, was wrapped in a napkin ("sarvetta"), and tied with a knot. Men used a small folding knife ("mus"), to cut slices of the crusty loaf ("gnejba").
Slices of bread "Kisra ħobż"
Crude cheeslets ("ġbejniet"),
Pieces of melons ("bettieħ"),
Maltese sausages ("zalzett tal-Malti"),
Croquettes ("pulpetti") made of corned beef ("bulubif"),
Tomatoes paste ("kunserva"), oil ("żejt") and broad beans ("ful"),
Cod with white beans ("bakkaljaw bil-fażola").- Herring ("aringa"),
Anchovy ("inċova") and sop ("tbellil") in oil.
An other popular meal was ("ftira"), a split round flat bread, dipped in oil, spread with tomatoes paste ("kunserva") and topped with a choice of filling ("mili"), with olives ("żebbuġ"), capers ("Kappar"), goat cheese ("ġbejniet"), tin tuna fish ("tonn taż-żejt"), onions ("basal"), picked vegetables ("ġardiniera"), better bean ("fazola"), onions ("basal"), sea-salt ("melħ tal-baħar'") and pepper ("bżar").
A small loaf was given to the sick people who had special devotion to St Antony ("ħobża ta' Sant Atnin) to help them cure quickly. Small loaves were given to persons who had special devotion to St Nicholas ("ħobż ta' San Nikola"), to protect them from the dangers of stormy weather.
The Order of St John gave ta daily ration of bread to its slaves. The loaves given to the slaves who rowed on the galleys weight 13 ounces ad a third of an ounce. Knights, infidel slaves, baptised salves and sick slaves received bread rations of different wights and qualities.This gave rice to the Maltese expression that still persists today ("Xħobż jiekol"), What kind of bread does he eat - used when seeking to enquirer about the background of a particular person.
Blessed loaves used to be distributed to the faithful on the feast of St Blaise ("ħobż ta' San Blas"), while kissing the relic ("relikwa") of the saint.
On St Martin's day, a small loaf was given to the children, in a cotton bag, ("borża ta' San Martin") together with fresh fruit and different kind of nuts, they use to call out the rhyme -
walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, figs, how I like St Martin -
The church donate the bread of Rode ("ħobż ta' Rohdi"), to show gratuity to the benefactors.Tin round Azyme bread ("ħobz ażżmu"), was baked to be eaten during Lenten days. Apostles rings ("qagħaq tal-Appostli"), round unleavened bread made with honey and baked during Easter week.
In difficult days beggars ("tallaba"), knock on doors with a white sack ("ċurniena"), asking for a pieces of bread ("loqma - bukkun"), in the name of the souls in purgatory ("ħall- erwieħ tal-purgatorju").
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