Sunday, December 10, 2006


In my posts, A Love Affair Begins and A Place Called Syracuse I told you a little about how I first came to know and love Sicily. Today, as I look around my apartment, now decorated for Christmas, I reflect upon how many of my seasonal ornaments and knick-knacks came from here in the first place, so each one brings back a flood of memories, as do the photos of other Christmases spent here. And I remember how very much those first Sicilian Christmases meant to me, at a time when I was facing bereavement and then a career crisis. So I thought I would tell you about them. I wrote these notes some years ago as part of the draft of a Sicilian cookbook which I still hope to write some day!
1993: A First Sicilian Christmas.
Linda, sensing how lonely I would feel facing my first festive season without Mum, had invited me over. Even the check-in staff were "holiday happy" that Christmas, in the days before the normal apprehension which most people feel about flying, if they're honest, metamorphosed into fear. The young man in front of me at the Alitalia desk had two suitcases - yes, suitcases! - which he wanted to take on board as hand baggage. When challenged, he just shrugged and declared, "Regali sono" [="they are gifts"] . And then he was given the OK. [I have, many times since then, when my luggage has been overweight , smiled and pleaded, "Regali sono" - which has been true! - and have rarely had to pay any excess.]
For some reason we all had to disembark for a customs check at Pisa and then get on again, so when we arrived at Catania we were treated as a domestic arrival. So there I am, waiting in the Arrivi Nazionali section for my luggage to appear, when Linda, every inch an Englishwoman in a raincoat and brandishing a very large umbrella, walks right in past the barrier and customs police. No one takes any notice.
Linda's son drives us through torrential rain to Modica and I know I am in Sicily when I am served delicious lemon tea made with fresh lemons.
On Christmas Eve everyone eats focaccia filled with spinach or broccoli [or, more often, cauliflower], sometimes accompanied by fish - the baccalà or salt cod - and various salads. [Focaccia, the filled flat bread, is familiar to most British people now, but it wasn't in 1993, and no British supermarket version can compare to those for sale or made at home here.] "Eat lightly tonight", counsels a TV presenter. On Christmas Day, most people eat boned chicken or turkey with a rice and pine-nut stuffing, but Christmas Eve is the main celebration. So we partake of the focacce [plural form] or scacce before attending Midnight Mass at the Capuchin Church, where we are, rather charmingly, put through our paces by the monks in a full rehearsal of the carols prior to the two-hour service!
Focacce can have many fillings, as I witnessed on my second Christmas arrival in Sicily, in 1994. That year I took the bus from Catania and very good time it made, driven by the "no messing" autista whom I christened my "Christmas driver". I arrive in Modica at 4.30 pm on Christmas Eve, to be met by Chiara and a hailstorm. When we arrive at the house, Papà Franco is already preparing the scacce, some filled with broccoli and others with a chilli mixture. I also remember Linda combining spinach and sun-dried tomatoes to fill scacce for the New Year's Eve of 1993. Once again I am refreshed by the glorious lemon tea and the scent of the lemons confirms that I am in Sicily.
At around 9pm on that Christmas Eve of 1993 the scacce are taken to the house of Franco's brother Giorgio and his wife Concetta. The menu consists of antipasti - delectable bite-sized morsels, including Concetta's olives; the scacce; various meats in aspic, much beloved of the Modicani and usually bought ready-prepared; melanzana, the delightful dish of aubergine, peppers, tomatoes and parmesan which is versatile enough to serve as main course or starter; and panettone, the Italian celebration cake. [I have heard British people say they find it dry, but maybe they have never had it dipped in the Vin Santo!] Then - for, just as you think you can't eat any more, Sicilians present you with yet another culinary surprise, and in this land so fond of miracles, you find that, miraculously, you can, just, make room for this next delight! - we are regaled with fruit, torrone [the rock -hard Sicilian version of nougat] and, of course, some Limoncello and Vecchia Romagna brandy!
I posted a focaccia recipe that will work with British flour here and you can see photos of scacce here and here.


Maria said...

Thank you for another wonderful recipie.. I am telling you ... you should do a book! lol I collect all the ones you post. With my Mom gone ( I collect as many as I can find because I never had patience to sit and learn) and my Dad not willing to sit and teach me recipies.. I am lost for ones on traditional home made dishes. Thank You.. I am forever in your debt. ~M

James Higham said...

Shows my ignorance. You don't work the dough by hand?

Liz Hinds said...

That all sounds fabulous! What wonderful hospitality and friendship. No wonder you love the place.

Anonymous said...

That first Christmas must seem a long time ago, you must feel like one of the "locals" now.

Liz Hinds said...

I'm sure I posted a comment on this! Or was it not approved by the blog author?!

You make it all sound wonderful and it's easy to understand why you should want to make your home ther. What hospitable and friendly people, and yummy-sounding food.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Ellee. Well, I do feel kind of at home here!
Liz, I didn't get another comment from you on this but the whole system here went down last night so I think some comments might have got lost in the chaos. They are wonderfully hospitable people - a lot like the Welsh, in many ways!

Anonymous said...

Quite a few bloggers seem to have been having problems recently.

Liz, I think we could end up visiting next Christmas!

Ballpoint Wren said...

You know what, Pat, whenever I imagined of traveling to Italy, I never thought of Sicily, but now it is all I can think of. The way you describe Sicilian food is enough to make me want to put a down payment on a retirement home there.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Buona sera, Bonnie. I'm glad I've inspired you re Sicilian food. It really does have to be tasted to be believed, so come on over when hubby is better!


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