Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Remembrances of Christmases in Librizzi

I remember with great nostalgia the Christmas celebrations in Librizzi. They are of course, the memories of a child who grew up during the Second World War. 
I remember that mom used to prepare traditional cookies and other specialties enjoyed at Christmas time.  The traditional Librizzi sweets were the torrone, ‘panuzzi’, biscotti, pignolata, and ‘crispeddi’(crispelle).  The torrone was a mixture of sugar, honey, orange zest, hazelnuts and almonds.  The panuzzi were made with sweetened dough, shaped into ovals, and studded with toasted hazelnuts.  The panuzzi were prepared for us children and for all of the young cousins.  Traditionally, on Christmas day children visited all of their relatives who gave to them gifts of panuzzi, dried figs and other dried and fresh fruit, nuts, and small gifts.



The biscotti (soft cookies not the biscotti that Americans are familiar with) were made with a sweet dough similar to the one used to make the panuzzi.  The dough was fashioned into intricate shapes such as circles, the letter S, pretzels, crescents, spirals, etc.  Before baking the cookies they were decorated with jimmies, colored candies, nonpareils, ….
The preparation for the ‘crispeddi’ was a little complicated.  The procedure began with a mixture of flour, yeast, salt and hot water, mixed for a long time with one’s hands until it became   soft, almost a liquid dough.  The mixture would then be allowed to rise for a long time, at least three hours.  When the crispeddi maker (mother) determined that the dough was ready, the next phase began.  Oil was placed in a deep fryer and allowed to boil to the proper temperatures, then spoonfuls of dough was dropped in the oil and cooked until it obtained a golden color.  Some of the crispeddi were prepared plain and after they cooled down, they were topped with honey and or sugar. Other crispeddi were filled with small pieces of anchovies before they were dropped in the hot oil. My favorite crispeddi were the ones covered with honey and sugar.

Food photos by Carmelo Rifici
The special foods were only a small part of the Christmas celebrations because for the Librizzesi Christmas was primarily a religious holiday.  Many days before Christmas Zampognari, shepherds, arrived in town and until Christmas day, in the wee hours of the morning, they would walk the streets of Librizzi to wake up people with the sounds of their cornamusa, bagpipes.  Once arisen people went to church even before sunrise, to recite the Novena as part of the religious preparations for the arrival the Baby Jesus.

The Christmas Eve Mass was a special event.  The church was decorated with oranges, mandarins, lemons, and the leaves and branches of the trees that bore these fruit (remember this is Sicily where citrus fruit grows in abundandce).  I still remember the delicious fragrances of those delightful Christmas vigils in church.  The Presepe, or Nativity Scene, was the most important decoration in the church, children were allowed to go up to the  Presepe to admire the statue of the Baby Jesus.  Many Librizzesi erected Presepi in their own homes, they would recreate imaginary towns with waterfalls, snow, stars, shepherds,  ….  I remember them as true artistic creations.

A few people put up Christmas trees and these were of interest and curiosity to most people, because Christmas trees were unusual and strange in those times.  The people who put up the trees had visited or lived in the United States and then returned to Librizzi.
I keep up some of the Christmas customs of my childhood.  Each year I put up a large Presepe, I prepare the cookies, panuzzi, and torrone.  And of course, I also put up a Christmas tree, prepare American style cookies and other popular goodies, I have a large collection of Santa Clauses, and another large collection of Angels.  I try to remember the true reason for the celebration of Christmas, even though we live in a materialistic and secular world where Christmas seems to be an excuse to get as many gifts as possible.  It seems to me that the values of our ancestors should not be forgotten or belittled.  May there always be:


Small section of my Presepe

Della Robbia


1.    Pignolata (another name for this dessert is Strufoli).
·         3 large eggs
·         1 tablespoon butter, softened
·         1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
·         2 cups all-purpose flour
·         1/2 teaspoon baking powder
·         1 cup honey
·         Vegetable oil for deep-frying
·         Colored sprinkles  
   Whisk together eggs, butter, and the 1 teaspoon of sugar, whisk until frothy.  Stir in the baking powder and the flour. When well combined, with your hands work the mixture into a soft dough.
When the dough is ready, divide it into 4 pieces. Lightly flour a work surface, and roll each of the four pieces into a rope about the width of an index finger. Cut the ropes into 1" pieces.    
In a deep fryer, heat oil to 375° Place a few pieces of dough at a time in the hot oil, fry the strufoli until they are golden brown. They will puff up as they fry. 
Transfer with a slotted spoon to a paper towel to drain. Let excess oil drip back into fryer before putting strufoli on paper towels.  
Combine honey and 1/2 cup sugar in a large saucepan over low heat.  Stir constantly until sugar dissolves into the honey.  Turn heat to very low, just enough to keep warm.  Add the drained strufoli, a few at a time, and turn them with a wooden spoon to coat on all sides.
Transfer strufoli to a large platter and mound them into a pyramid. Sprinkle with the colored sprinkles, (pine nuts may also be added) and let stand for 1 to 2 hours. They will adhere to each other. Break off pieces to eat.  

2.    Aunt Grazia hazelnut ‘cookies’:

Roast and then finely chop about two pounds of filbert nuts. Add a cup of sugar and mix. Add about 90 grams of Perugina Cacao (if using regular cacao, add some vanilla). Add about half a cup, or less, of strong coffee and mix. Take about a spoonful of the mixture and roll into small ball, then coat with sugar. Eat and enjoy. The ‘cookies’ can be kept for about a week in a tightly sealed container.

3.    Torrone:

Two and a half cups granulated sugar
Two and a half cups almonds, toasted and slightly chopped
Two and a half cups hazelnuts toasted and slightly chopped
One quarter cup honey

Dissolve the sugar with the honey in saucepan and add the almonds and hazelnuts.  Cook for 5-10 minutes over slow heat to allow the flavors to blend.  Pour on a slab of oiled marble (I use a well oiled cookie pan), spread it out with a spatula and cut into short lengths. When the nougat (torrone) is cold, place it in an air tight container. Place wax paper between single layers of torrone pieces.  The torrone will keep for a few weeks, provided you do not eat it within hours of making it!

 My favorite childhood Christmas Carol:

Tu scendi dalle stelle

Tu scendi dalle stelle
O Re del Cielo

E vieni in una grotta
Al freddo al gelo
E vieni in una grotta
Al freddo al gelo.

O Bambino mio Divino
Io ti vedo qui a tremar,
O Dio Beato!
Ah, quanto ti costò
L'avermi amato.
Ah, quanto ti costò
L'avermi amato.

A te che sei del mondo,
Il creatore,
Mancano panni e fuoco,
O mio Signore.
Mancano panni e fuoco,
O mio Signore.

Caro eletto pargoletto,
Quanto questa povertà
Più mi innamora,
Giacchè ti fece amor
Povero ancora.
Giacchè ti fece amor
Povero ancora

My favorite Christmas song in English:


O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.  



  1. What a lovely post about your childhood memories of Christmas!

  2. Hi Dorothy, thank you.
    I have not been able to use my computer due to some serious problems. I will write soon.

  3. What an absolutely wonderful post. I'll be trying the Torrone this year, just for fun.
    With luck, I'll have Panetone, also - it's going to be a food-filled Christmas!

    I've always enjoyed Della Robbia. I was given four hand-painted water goblets years ago with Della Robbia decoration, and just found a set of four more in a shop quite by accident. Merry Christmas to me!

    I love O Come, Emmanuel, too. Such a lovely celebration we share.

  4. Hi Shore, I finally am taking the time to sit down and rest for a while.

    Thank you for your comments, much appreciated.
    When you try the Torrone, be careful the sugar gets very hot and sticky, you definitely do not want any of it to get stuck to your hands. :)

    If you do not have a recipe for Panettone, I have one that I like and is fairly easy to make. The consistency is like fruited bread, and indeed that is what it is. The kind that we buy in those cute Panettone boxes is soft and good too but quite different. I prefer the bread like, similar to Stollen. If you would like the recipe, I would be glad to post it here or the other blog, or send it to you.

    WOW! MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU! The goblets must be beautiful. I have some Lenox plates with Della Robbia wreath designs. I love anything that is patterned like a Della Robbia design.

    I must admit it, of all of the celebrations Christmas is my favorite. This holiday offers so many things to enjoy, from the food, to the decorations, to the message of peace, to concept of family,....

    A very Merry Christmas to you and yours.


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