when i first married len, he told me amazing stories of his mother's immigrant family, grandfather salvatore and grandmother angelina lentine. how they arrived from sicily traveling through ellis island, speaking no english and carrying few belongings and many dreams hoping that these would be enough in a new country. how they carved out a home for their growing family in new jersey where their descendents still remain.
how angelina raised her seven children alone once her young husband died, laboring and resolving to make it a happy and productive home. how she raised chickens and would gather the fullness of her apron at her waist, filling it with the day's supply of eggs. how she spent many years in mourning and dressed in black because of the loss of her husband and many children. how she would sit at the phone, dressed in black, calling on children and neighbors daily just to see how everyone was doing. how she would tell her girls to "make dinner and don't ask me what to make" because she had worked hard enough during the day to think any more.
how she would work in the kitchen with eager children watching, making gnocchi so fast that her fingers were blurred by speed. how she was ask len in her blend of italian and broken english to "fikisit lenny" (fix it) and when he would, she would praise him with "looka lika brand new".
i didn't know angelina but i know her kind. the kind who would cling to the words of her mother, remembering what she had been taught as a child and knowing that if she followed those rules, she would make it. a woman who despite the loss of her husband would forge through giving little thought (in public) to the fact that she was alone. it was only in her private moments that the tears would come, if they came at all. a woman who had the respect and love of her children and even though she was as tough as nails, they loved her and somewhere in the back of their mind, wanted to be just like her. a woman whose grandchildren marveled at the table before them, the italian delicacies of lasagna and meatballs and manocotti, all homemade with, well, secrets she never disclosed. a woman with such strength and resolve that it made your head spin.
i hope len never forgets angelina and the way she called him 'lenny' when no one else in the world dare would. i hope he doesn't forget her misshapen fingers working at the speed of sound assembling traditional feasts for her family. i hope i never forget the power of a woman to hold a family together despite death and struggle.
so each time i make and enjoy cucidati, i think of angelina, her family and her beginnings. i hope that she'll have this inkling of a southern lady trying to be just a little sicilian and a whole lotta strong.
Cucidati (Italian fig cookies)
i searched high and low for the recipe and it was tough to find. the one that is by far the best, in my humble opinion, is by brown eyed baker. she is the mastermind behind this recipe and i believe managed to merge tradition and flavor in one recipe.
4 cups all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup milk
sift flour, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. whixk in sugar and combine well. cut in the shortening with a fork or pastry blender and work the mixture until it looks like cornmeal. in a separate bowl whisk together the egg, vanilla and milk. add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and mix with an electric mixer for a full 3 minutes. dough will be soft. remove from bowl and knead by hand for 5 minutes. divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, wrap each with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.
1 cup dried figs
1 cup dried dates, pitted
¾ cup raisins
½ cup walnuts, chopped or ground in food processor
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup honey
¼ cup orange marmalade
grind figs, dates, and raisins in a food processor until coarse. add the remaining ingredients.
(i mix these a day before i assemble. i leave them in the frig overnight which seems to make the gooey goodness so much richer. use sourwood honey for a touch of southern sweetness.)
work with one piece of dough at a time. on a floured surface, roll the dough into squares - about 3" by 3". use an ice cream scoop and gather filling and place in the middle of each square. pull the edges over top, and pinch to seal.
(my cookies never look the same. the more filling i can get inside, the better. don't worry about looks; once you drizzle sugar and sprinkles on top, you'll forget about how 'creative' you have been.)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons milk (approximately)
colored sprinkles (optional)
mix together, adding only enough milk to achieve desired consistency. make sure it is still thick, not runny. drizzle on the tops of the cookies, then sprinkle with color. let them set before storing in airtight container.
(it takes about 2 days for these to completely disappear. as good as they are, they are still all about family and tradition. enjoy!)
Whether it is exploring this amazing world or being content on my own piece of real estate near Athens, Georgia, I'm spinning stories and fashioning tales from a Southern perspective. As an editor and writer, I get to meet incredible people and share their stories. As a photographer, I get to cement these moments in time. As a wife and mother, I'm always excited to see what's around the next corner, For it's anything but ordinary.