This little known saint turned out to be a heavenly surprise. Another in our growing collection of “kitchen saints”, Zita was a woman after my own heart in more ways than one. Not only did she adore cooking, but she adored cooking for other people. Records indicate that she really enjoyed watching people enjoy the food she prepared.
As it turns out, she is also the patron of several categories I can readily identify with: homemakers; waiters and waitresses (I earned my college tuition money waiting tables) and those who have lost keys. From now on, I’ll be praying in her direction to find the frequently misplaced keys and giving St. Anthony a bit of a break.
She is also the patron of domestic servants, people ridiculed for their piety and rape victims.
In art, she is usually depicted holding a bag and keys!
Born in 1212 in a small Tuscan village, she became a servant at the age of 12 in the household of the Fatinell’s a wealthy family. It is recorded that she was overburdened for a long time, unjustly despised and reviled by her fellow servants because she worked hard and was very good.
She got no relief from the Fatinell’s who rewarded her efforts with beatings.
But this meek – though very tenacious woman (she said devotion is false if it is slothful), considered her work as an employment assignment from God and eventually succeeded in overcoming the ill will of others. In the end, she was placed in charge of the house; devoted considerable time to prayer; heard Mass every morning and cared for her charges lovingly and tirelessly.
The most famous story about her is that she gave her own food or that of the Fatinelli’s to the poor. One morning, she neglected her daily chore of bread baking to tend to someone in need. Some of the servants snitched on her to the Fatinelli family but when they went to investigate, they found angels in their kitchen baking bread in Zita’s place.
She died peacefully in the Fatinelli house on April 27 and it is said that a star appeared above the attic where she lived at the moment of her death. After numerous miracles attributed to her, she was canonized in 1696.
Though her feast day is not on the General Roman Calendar, “The Little Cook,” as she is known is still widely remembered in Tuscany on April 27, primarily by baking a loaf of bread in her honor.
In her classic book, “Cook’s Blessings,” Random House, New York, 1965, Demetria Taylor shared St. Zita’s story with readers and presented a recipe for St. Zita’s Bread in her honor. It’s not a medieval recipe but, it will certainly do.
St. Zita’s Bread
Ingredients: 1-1/2 cups boiling water; 6 tablespoons soft shortening; 1-1/2 cups honey; 1 tablespoon salt; 2 packages active dry yeast; 1/2 cup warm water (105-115 degrees) 2 eggs; 1 cup wheat germ; 5 – 1/2 cups all-purpose flour.
Directions: combine the boiling water, shortening, honey and salt; stir until shortening melts. Cool to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add yeast, eggs, wheat germ and half the flour to lukewarm mixture. Beat 2 minutes on medium speed with an electric mixer or (if you want emulate St. Zita), deliver 300 vigorous strokes with a spoon. Blend in the remaining flour with a spoon. Dough will be sticky. Spread dough evenly in 2 well greased loaf pans. Smooth the tops by flouring hand and patting into shape. Let rise in a warm place until 1 inch from the top of the pans. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Crust will be dark brown. Remove from the pans at once; brush tops with melted butter or margarine; cool on racks before cutting.