The holiday season is upon us and whatever holiday it is you are celebrating, it comes with traditions, religious beliefs, family and food. We don’t always care for some of the traditions, but we continue them because that is what we do.
We Italians center much of our traditions around food, at least that’s what we did every year at my godparents’ home or my Nona’s.
Christmas Eve at my grandparents was meatless — and I am sorry I saw the food before it was cooked. Watching a snail try to escape from the pot did it for me; I don’t care if it is a delicacy.
I prefer to think calamari comes already breaded or in a great salad. Needless to say, these are dishes I do not cook. Over the years I have tempered the tradition, making it simpler and eradicating some of the unpleasant memories.
But sweets at the Italian table are just that sweet! We always had panettone, which is a sweet bread that originated in Milan. Nothing is better than a slice toasted with butter. For those of you of Czech descent it is similar to a houska.
Nona and Kiki (the names we called our maternal grandparents) also had panforte which hails from the Tuscany region. If you are a fan of fruit cake, you will like panforte, because it contains fruits and nuts.
It’s not one of my favorites, but for some odd reason once a year, I have a piece for the sake of tradition. I also will have a small slice of fruit cake for the same reason. I can remember my mother receiving a fruit cake, which was round with a hole in the center in a sealed tin. She put a shot glass with brandy in the center and kept the lid on the tin, need I say more. I didn’t get to taste that fruit cake until I was older.
My family were not bakers, so the wonderful Italian cookies came from the bakery. I also am not a baker, but I am lucky enough to have a good friend who is a wonderful baker — her initials are T.H.
Candy didn’t come in the form of chocolate Santas. It was torrone, a nougat candy that came in little boxes with pretty pictures which I liked to save. They were either plain or chocolate with lemon, orange or vanilla flavors.
Whatever your beliefs, some traditions are fun to hold onto and pass on. But I’m still not going to clean octopus, eels or snails.