Monday, November 10, 2008

Pitselle - My family's heritage recipe

Pizzelle (pit-sell-eh) - Pizzelle are a traditional cookie from the Abruzzi regionof Italy. They are thin wafer cookies that look almost like a waffle. The word pizelle means little, round, and flat.

For decades, blacksmiths forged pizzelle irons out of cast iron with a family crest or the name of the woman. These were passed down from generation to generation, just as a precious piece of jewelery.

According to an article from the Lonely Planet Publications on the Festival of the Snakes:

Legend has it that the mountainous and bucolic area around Abruzzo was once so infested by snakes that life tended to the short, sharp and brutal rather than the long and cheerful. The local shepherds, back in 700 BC, appealed to Apollo for help. His advice was to capture the snakes, domesticate them by draping them around his statue and then release them into the bush again.

Curiously, this seemed to work and the ritual has been replayed ever since. Somewhere along the way, however, the fickle mortals dumped the old Greek gods for the newish Christian gods and indulged in a bit of historical revisionism. Apollo became Saint Domenica and a few touches of modernity, like fireworks, were added to the ritual.

Celebrations begin on St Joseph's Day, 19 March, when the first snakes of the season are netted and caged. Two months later, on the first Thursday in May, the village is stirred by an 8am revelry call of fireworks, followed by a traditional mass. After the mass, the statue of Saint Domenica is hauled through the streets of Colcullo, where villagers drape the captured serpents, boa-like, around the stone neck of Saint Domenica.

This ritual and the procession is usually accompanied by a noisy band of villagers, barking dogs and merry-makers. At the edge of the village the squirming mass is released back into the bush and the villagers, so it is said, are immune from snake bites for another year.

Today, pizzelles continue to be revered and celebrated at feasts. In the small Abruzzi town of Salle, they honor a 12th century monk named Beato Roberto. Celebrants attach pizzelle to tree branches and proceed down the street with them.

Although my mother still uses her pizzelle iron (a cherished heirloom she brought with her from the old country when she immigrated to Canada in the 1950's, I prefer to use a modern, electronic model.

From the youngest to the oldest, I have yet to meet the person who did not like a pizzelle. During Christmas and Easter and other family get togethers, I see that they are the very first cookie to disappear from the cookie platter.

Here is my favourite pizzelle recipe, handed down through my Abruzzese mother and her mother and grandmother before her:

6 eggs
6 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons pure anise extract or a few drops of pure anise oil
1 cup melted butter or oil
4 tablespoons baking powder

Beat eggs and sugar. Add cooled melted butter or margarine, and anise extract. Sift flour and baking powder and add to egg mixture. Batter will have a dough like consistency. Form into 1 inch balls and place on the grids in the pizzelle baker. This will make about 150 small pizzelle.

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