Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009


These photos are from our current snow storm in the Washington D.C. area. Librizzi doesn't get much snow, just a dusting every few years. I want to share and dedicate these snow photos with my Librizzi family and friends and my American family and friends as well.

Cari amici e familiari librizzesi, queste foto sono per voi. So quanto vi piace una buona nevicata e dedico a voi la bella nevicata in Virginia di ieri. Le foto mostrano la neve vicino la mia casa. 



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.  


Friday, December 11, 2009

Message for Carol Muscarà Lanning


Hello. You have added your name to my blog. Could you please tell me if you are connected to the Librizzi Muscara and how?
There are two lines of Muscarà in Librizzi, they are NOT related.
Happy Holidays to you and yours.

Thursday, December 3, 2009



Recently I read a historical fiction titled “Mistress of the Art of Death” by Ariana Franklin. It is a medieval mystery featuring Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar or as one of the characters in the book says “Dr. Trotula, if you prefer, which is a title conferred on women professors in the school”. The school that conferred Adelia the title of Dr. Trotula is the Scuola Medica Salernitana.

Intrigued by the idea of a woman doctor practicing medicine in the 11th century, I decided to do a little research. I am going to share the information gleaned from my research, hopefully you will find it interesting.

Salerno, a city in the region of Campania in Southern Italy has its origins in the IV century B.C., when it was an Etruscan center. Later it became a Samnite territory, where in 197 B.C. the Romans founded the Colony of Salemum (later called Salerno). After the Roman period Salerno passed from one ruling entity to another acquiring a multicultural identity.

Sometime in the IX Century the Scuola Medica Salernitana was founded in Salerno. According to traditional lore the Scuola was founded by four teachers, an Arab, a Jew, a Latino, and a Greek. They taught in their respective languages. The School was the first University of Medicine in the Western World, and throughout the Middle Ages the University and the many local hospitals enjoyed an enormously prestigious reputation. It was at this center of learning where future doctors studied and where renowned doctors treated their patients. The city of Salerno earned the title of Hippocratica Civitas, a title still used today as part of the city’s Coat of Arms.

In 1076 Salerno became the Norman Capital (think Crusades) but in 1127 the Norman Capital was moved to Palermo. Salerno however remained one of the more important cities in the Kingdom of Sicily. The Kingdom of Sicily was founded by Roger II in 1130 and lasted until 1861. The Kingdom consisted of the Island of Sicily and all of the southern part of the mainland up to the Vatican States, south of Rome. Salerno began to lose its importance under the French and Spanish rulers.

In 1231 Frederick II (“stupor mundi”) as king of Sicily, officially recognized the University of Salerno and forbade the practice of medicine and the teaching of medicine within his dominion without a Royal License. The License was conferred after exams administered by the King’s Court and by the Masters of the University of Salerno. Later The Edict of Salerno, instituted by Frederick II, legally mandated separation of the profession of physician and that of apothecary.

Granted that the Scuola Medica Salernitana holds the distinction of being the first Medical School in the Western world, and that it certainly was the most prestigious center of education during the 10th through the 13th century, but for me the most interesting fact about the Scuola is that in the Middle Ages WOMEN were trained as PHYSICIANS and were also PROFESSORS of medicine at this renown university.These women doctors are historically known as “mulieres Salernitanae”. Of these ‘mulieres’ Trotula was the first woman doctor, considered the world’s first gynecologist, and the most famous.

It is believed that Trotula De Ruggiero was born in the 11th Century in Salerno where she lived, became a doctor, practiced medicine, and trained other doctors. Her husband was the doctor Giovanni Plateario, they had two sons whose names were Giovanni and Matteo, also doctors. Trotula, known in her own day as ‘magistra mulier sapiens’, was not only a smart and strong woman but, reportedly, she was also a beautiful and fascinating woman of her times! Supposedly when she died in 1097, there was a funeral procession three kilometers long. Trotula was such a legendary and idealized figure of the Middle Ages that in later centuries men refused to believe that she actually existed.

Trotula was the author of many medical works, one of which was “Passionibus Mulierum Curandorum (The Diseases of Women), also known as Trotula Major. The book, consisting of 63 chapters, deals with women health issues and diseases, and their treatments. Another of her works was “De Aegritudinum Curatione” or “De Ornatu Mulierum”, also known as Trotula Minor. Trotula’s literary work was used to train physicians for many centuries.

One of Trotula’s opinions was that both men and women could be responsible for infertility, a courageous stance for her times! She also believed that women should not suffer unrelenting pain during childbirth and advocated the use of opiates to dull the labor pains. Of course this also contradicted the opinion of those times that women should suffer pain of childbirth to atone for the sins of Eve. Trotula was an early advocate of balanced diet, regular exercise, cleanliness, and a low stress lifestyle.

Trotula’s fame went beyond Salerno and Italy, as seen in the accounts of well known personages including Geoffrey Chaucer. In the famous “Canterbury Tales” Chaucer refers to Trotula as “DAME TROT”! (According to the sources read by me, Dame Trot is found in the “Wife of Bath Tale”. It has been many years since I read the Tales, as soon as possible I will be re-reading the Bath Tale and hopefully I will find Trot).

The following quote is from tan article written by Jackie Rosenhek on the website

“But nearly a millennia before these fine society ladies were trading med-school war stories over tea and crumpets, one amazing woman was blazing a trail toward equality. A woman who -- if not for the sharp mind and winsome ways which earned her the respect of her patients and male colleagues alike -- would almost certainly have been condemned as a witch. Trotula was her name and illuminating the Dark Ages was her game.”

Around 1840 in honor of Trotula a bronze medal was coined in Naples. It can be found in the Museo Provinciale di Salerno.