“Moving and poignant . . . Trigiani has again defied categorization. She is more than a one-hit wonder, more than a Southern writer, more than a women’s novelist. She is an amazing young talent.” –Richmond Times-Dispatch
“A sweet story of growing up, marrying, and dying within the framework of family, love, and community…[The Queen of the Big Time] will make you smile and reminisce about gentler, more civil times in small-town and rural America.” –The Boston Globe
“Full-bodied and elegantly written . . . [Trigiani builds The Queen of the Big Time] around an old-fashioned love story. . . . Pure pleasure.” –The Washington Post Book World
Makes 6 or 7 Rectangular Loaves or 4 Round Loaves
1 tablespoon salt
7 ¼ pounds all-purpose four, with 5 cups kept separate
3 ½ cups granulated sugar, with ½ cup set aside
2 packages active dry yeast
¾ cup lukewarm water (105-110 degrees)
2 cups warm milk (105-110 degrees)
4 oranges, for juice and zest (yields 1 ½ cups juice, ½ cup zest)
4 lemons, for juice and zest (yields 1 ½ cups juice, ½ cup zest)
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and softened
9 jumbo eggs (or 12 small or 10 medium eggs)
1 ½ tablespoons vanilla extract
1 ½ tablespoons lemon extract
1 ½ tablespoons orange extract
1 ½ ounces anisette
1 ½ ounces light rum
4 to 8 ounces vegetable shortening, for greasing pans
24 ounces honey, for brushing on finished loaves
In a large bowl, combine the salt, 5 cups of the four, and 1 cup of the sugar. In a separate bowl, combine the yeast and the warm water. Dissolve the yeast and set aside for several minutes until bubbly. Then add the yeast mixture to the four mixture. Add the 2 cups of warm milk to the mixture. Mix until you have a solid, sticky paste; cover with wax paper and blankets and place in a warm room, preferably with sunlight. Allow to rise for approximately 3 hours, or until it is doubled in size.
Grate the zest from the oranges and lemons. Set the zest aside. Squeeze the juices from the oranges and lemons to equal 3 cups. Set aside.
In a mixer, beat the butter and 2 cups of remaining sugar, adding the sugar gradually until the combination is light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until blended (do not overbeat!). Add the vanilla, lemon, and orange extracts, anisette, rum, lemon and orange zests, and lemon and orange juices.
Add this mixture to the rising dough. Mix together slowly and add the additional flour cup by cup—usually 4 to 5 pounds—until the dough becomes firm in consistency and satiny in texture. Knead very well.
Form the dough into one large round ball; butter the top thoroughly and cover with waxed paper and blankets. Place it in a warm room, preferably with sunlight. Allow the dough to double in size, approximately 4 to 5 hours. (We use a medium-size white plastic dishpan, reserved only for making Easter bread.)
When the dough has doubled in size, knead slightly and prepare loaves in one of three formats: rectangular loaf, round loaf, or round loaf of separate buns. All pans should be greased generously with vegetable shortening.
To make separate buns, take a piece of dough, about the size of a woman’s fist, and roll it out between your hands to the proportion of a sausage. Place on a bread board and pat it down to about 2 inches width and ½ inch in depth. Wrap the piece of dough around the first and middle fingers of your free hand, to about 3 inches in length. Tuck in the top end and place standing up in a round baking pan. Start by putting one bun in the middle and fill around the pan with buns also with buns also standing on end. Butter the tops and cover, allowing to rise until it’s quite puffy, about 1 to 2 hours, and the dough doubles in size.
To make a round or rectangular loaf, place the dough directly in the pan. Butter the tops of the loaves and cover again. Allow the prepared loaves to rise for about 1 to 2 hours, until the dough doubles in size. When a round or rectangular loaf has risen fully, make shallow slashes in the tops in the form of a cross.
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.
Bake until the tops are light brown and a toothpick, when inserted, comes out clean. Depending on the size of the loaves, this can take anywhere from 20 minutes to more than an hour.
When baked, remove from the oven and allow to cool for about an hour. Remove from pans while still warm, and allow to cool slightly on wax paper; brush honey on top. When the bread is completely cool, brush with honey again, then wrap in wax paper, then aluminum foil. (You have the option of sprinkling the extra ½ cup of sugar over the loaves after the second brushing with honey.)
Note: All ingredients should be at room temperature when preparation begins. The warmth of the house is instrumental in the times that are provided for the rising of the yeast mixture and dough. It is best to place the dough near a radiator or in a sunny spot so that the dough can enjoy the benefits of the warmest heat available. (Don’t be afraid to push up the thermostat!). Also, cover the dough with waxed paper at first so that in the event the dough touches the cloth, it can be easily removed. Finally, buttering the top of the dough before allowing it to rise prohibits a crusty top from forming, thus providing the best dough for kneading and ultimate result when baked.
1. Describe the relationship dynamics within the Castelluca family. Do you think families today possess similar values? How does Nella relate to her sisters, in particular Assunta and Elena?
2. When Nella first meets Renato Lanzara, she thinks “I’m afraid if I look at the blue-eyed boy again I might cry. I have never been overwhelmed by a boy. This must be what love at first sight feels like.” Do you think Nella’s first encounter with Renato Lanzara is really love at first sight? What is it about him that is so attractive to her? Do her feelings signify more than simply an adolescent crush?
3. By setting up an arranged marriage between Assunta and Alessandro, Nella’s parents are employing a tradition from their past in Italy. Does this practice gel with their new existence in America? How does Nella’s generation view this arranged marriage? How does Alessandro’s arrival change the dynamics within the Castelluca family? How does Allesandro regard his sisters-in-law?
4. Upon meeting at the Columbus School, Nella and Chettie quickly become friends. How does their relationship compare to the relationships Nella has with her sisters? What qualities does Chettie have that differ from the Castelluca girls? How does the quarry accident affect their friendship?
5. In the 1920s, it was rare for a woman to receive admiration and respect in the workplace, especially from a man. What is it about Nella that impresses Mr. Jenkins? Is it possible today for a woman to receive a similar promotion in such a short amount of time?
6. How are issues of class and race explored in The Queen of the Big Time? How do you think the Castelluca’s lives would differ if they didn’t live in their transplanted Italian enclave?
7. When tragedy hits, how do the Castellucas deal with change and adjust their roles within the family? How do the ways they rely on each other change?
8. Why isn’t Nella interested in Franco at first? What are the qualities she’s looking for in a man? How do Franco and Renato differ, and why do you think she ends up choosing Franco over someone like Renato?
9. Religion plays a large role in the townspeople of Bari. How big of a part does it play in Nella’s life? When does she turn towards her religious values? Did your view of clergy members change after Nella and Renato’s encounter in Italy?
10. In many of her novels, Trigiani has explored the complicated dynamics of the mother daughter relationship. How would you characterize Nella and her mother’s relationship compared to Nella and Celeste’s dynamics? How does Nella and Celeste’s relationship change as Celeste grows older?
11. Do you think it is possible for one to find true love more than once in a lifetime? How is Nella’s love for Renato different from her love for Franco? Are both loves “true”?
12. In what ways can Nella be considered a “Queen of the Big Time?”