Already from the day of Saint Lucia, the kitchens of Salento begin to become animated by a feverish activity that sees the female members of the family gathered together, masterful interpreters of an ancient script that is renewed in the roles of those who knead, cut, fry, decorate, compose.The preparation of Christmas sweets is an integral part of a domestic liturgy fortunately preserved unchanged in the gestures from which purceddhuzzi, ncarteddhrate and pasta te mendula spring, once gifts of exchange between family members and neighbors.
The term purceddhuzzi or purcidduzzi derives from porcus because they individually appear similar to the snout of a pig. And so is linked a custom, now forgotten, of eating the residues of these sweets by the day of Sant’Antonio Abate (January 17) who is the protector of animals, but above all of pigs, an example of which he supports him in the iconography .
“The dessert – says the historian A. Politi – has two classic forms, there are rings and, especially, similar to small pieces of tarallo passed between the index finger and the comb of the talaru (loom). In fact, these boiled and baked because only in rich families could they be fried.Purceddhuzzo owes its name to the preparation technique which is the imitation of the defensive technique of the small crustacean, with an oval and elongated hole (similar to a small piece of pasta), gray-colored and very common in homes and gardens.
Often the children’s game called it “coculia”, the onisco is commonly called (also in France) “little pig of the earth or of Saint Anthony”. This small crustacean-isotope, if touched, coils, presenting, on the back, grooves similar to those that the comb produces on the small pieces of wrapped pasta. The term therefore refers to the “pig-woody” when the diminutive of the compound pyrros-killes is not intended, which means “asello of flour”.
According to A.E Foscarini, researcher and bibliographer of sources on the Salento gastronomic tradition, these Christmas sweets derive from the wheat focaccia cooked in oil and soaked in honey, which the Salento people offered to the goddess Minerva during the major Quinquatria, festivals that were celebrated for five days, beginning on the first day of March, around the temples dedicated to the Goddess, the most important of which was Santa Maria di Leuca or Finibus terrae.
The purceddhuzzi are made from semolina in which oil shaded with finely shredded mandarin peel and a little anise is poured to flavor the dough; after having worked the pasta well and obtained a sort of more or less thin stick according to the needs, many chunks are obtained with the knife that you use to go over the back of the grater. After drying, they are fried in abundant olive oil and once cooled, they are mixed in the pot where, in the meantime, the honey is melted; still hot, they are placed on plates of all sizes, decorating them with silver sprinkles, anisini, cinnamon, pine nuts and, if desired, pieces of dark chocolate, ingredients full of sacredness.
Each single ncarteddhata, on the other hand, indicates a strip of crumpled paper “made with the flower of flour and with the addition of a little oil, less than what is needed for purceddhuzzi (when you put oil in a dough it is because you wants to get the dough to become crunchy). The dough is “cracked” (it is manipulated for a long time) and is made by stretching it in all senses, “cu lu menaturu” (the rolling pin), a large “lacana” (sheet of dough) that takes up almost the entire surface of the table. Lacana is cut into strips 5-6-cm wide and 10-15 cm long. The cut is made with a very simple tool, the sperune, spur, a small bronze wheel that rotates in the center between two branches mounted on a handle: the circumference has a design such that, pressed on the sheet, it cuts it leaving a row of teeth on the edge … rolled up on itself with small pinches of glue, it gives the effect of a sunflower.
The cartarddate are fried and immersed for a few minutes in slightly elongated and almost boiling honey, and are placed in containers such as more or less large tureens, interspersed with other sweets, starting with the “polychrome and tiny sugared almonds” abundantly distributed with colored sugared almonds and chocolates “(Imperial)
Ritual is also the confection of almond paste fish that recalls the image of Christ since the fish is also nourishment and the risen Christ ate it: this explains the numerous symbolic figurations of the fish on the walls of the catacombs accompanied by the inscription Ichthy ideogram of the name of Christ in Greek language.The custom of preparing a special bread called Natale, a donut filled with a dry grapes, figs, walnuts, almonds and honey that was tasted with a glass of “rosoliu”, home-made liqueur, has completely disappeared.(text by Rossella Barletta-“Natale nel Salento “)
With us in the Locanda, Christmas still has the flavour of tradition, and we bring veil to the table with the Christmas lunch on December 25th. To enjoy with friends and family, here is the Menu for Christmas 2021 lunch.