Pitigliano, the sweetness of a Jewish tradition


Hi everyone,

welcome back to our regular date with ‘Toscana Newsletter’, which will keep us company this month up to the end of 2009… Christmas is just around the corner, with its joy, its parties, its presents for friends and relatives, its frenzied making of dinners that often bring people together who haven’t seen each other for a long time. A chance to be happy and put our worries and problems behind us.

December is also when we think over all that has happened over the past year, when we draw up a balance of the months just past, and then mark an end from where we can start the new year a fresh, even if often nothing changes from the year before and our lives keep following the same routine that we’re used to.

This year I would like to remember all those who could not be happy with 2009, those whom luck did not smile on. Many suffered what happened in these past twelve months. But I want to give a special tought to the victims of the earthquake in Abruzzo and their families. Their lives suddenly changed on April 6th, when the earth shook terribly, wrecking certainties, the future, history and tradition.

I would also like to remember the victims and their families of the railroad accident in Viareggio on June 29th, of the Messina landslide in October and all those who will look at this Christmas more sadly than most.
We wish everyone, but them especially, our sincere best wishes for a better, new year.

This month I’ve decided to wish you happy holidays, suggesting a recipe which will be sure to make your Christmas even sweeter. Sweets are said to be a natural remedy for depression and sadness… even if they represent a fleeting moment of escape from every day life. Giving them up would be a sin and a violation of our right to happiness!

We often hear about Tuscan Christmas traditions, but this month I would like to recommend some sweets whose story and fame are often overshadowed by the brighter renown of panforte, cavallucci and ricciarelli. This time the hometown of those Christmas delicacies (which are good all year long) is not Siena, but Pitigliano. Pitigliano, a town near Grosseto in the Maremma area, is unique since it is entirely built on a massive tuff rock. At the end of the traditional Christmas dinner, people bring to the table the sfratti of Pitigliano (literally, ‘Evictions of Pitigliano‘). These delicious sweets (officially recognized as a typical local product) are made of honey, orange peels, nutmeg, anise and walnuts (according to the original recipe). But the reason for such a rude name, hardly suitable for the Christmas season, comes from this unique village’s history. In fact, Pitigliano is also called ‘Little Jerusalem‘ because a large Jewish community lived there going bach to the 17th century. They succeeded in, becoming integrated with the local inhabitants and surrounding setting in model fashion, even if 19th century marked an irreparable decline.

Still today, the synagogue and the old ghetto represent silent witnesses of the passing of centuries. It is specifically that ghetto where Jews were confined when Pitigliano came under the rule of Grand Duke Cosimo II dei Medici. That event inspired the creation of these sweets. Their shape resembles the staff that the Grand Duke’s messengers used to knock on the Jewish families’ doors to announce their eviction from their homes. Despite the perfect harmony that they had succeeded in achieving with the Pitigliano community, they were all confined in a single area near the synagogue: the ghetto.
The ‘evictions‘ were created in eternal remembrance of these events (or at least as long as this tradition stays alive). As in Dante‘s fateful ‘laws of corresponding punishment‘ in the Divine Comedy, these ‘evictions’ are as sweet and delicious as the Jewish families’ fate was bitter, a fate indelibly marked by that decree.

And if, as tradition has it, these sweets also ward off unpleasant events, what present could be a better omen for a happy and prosperous new year? But be careful not to overdo it. You might end up in Dante’s circle of the gluttonous with Cerberus (the threeheaded guardian-dog) dressed as Santa Claus…! But fortunately, that’s another story!
Merry Christams to everyone!

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