Wheat of Saint Lucy  

Cuccia di Grano 

 

Saint Lucy was born in the fourth century in Syracuse,  Sicily and died at the time of the prosecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. She was reported to the Roman governor as a Christian by the young suitor she had refused, having promised her virginity to God. She was tortured, her eyes pulled out, then slaughtered. Saint Lucy’s Day is celebrated on December 13, the anniversary of her death. She is the patron Saint of Syracuse.  

 

Saint Lucy is implored to help in all eye sicknesses; she is celebrated all over Sicily, in many cities in the Italian Peninsula  and far away.

In Northern Italy, Saint Lucy is also popular among the very young because, as the legend goes, she brings gifts to good children and charcoal to the fresh ones. 

                             

 Saint Lucy - Santa Lucia

 


 

December 13, the shortest day and the longest night of the year, coincides with the winter solstice, when the sun is at the greatest distance from the earth. In the old times, this event was ritualized in the Scandinavian  Peninsula, in Denmark and in Finland by burning night fires outdoors.

The longest night was illuminated to wish for longer and prosperous days ahead with abundant crops and good fishing. It was a time for celebration, for dancing and drinking. Food was prepared and pigs were roasted on the fire. 


A story goes that in this period, around the year 1000, a severe famine occurred, and Saint Lucy saved the population by bringing in a ship full of food. This explains why the Great King Canute, a Viking warrior who ruled England, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and part of Finland, declared December 13th Saint Lucy’s Day and a day to celebrate fire and light during the traditional Christmas season. In those Nordic countries, Saint Lucy’s Day is honored with prayers, family meetings, banquets; young girls dressed in white gowns with red scarves and young boys carrying lighted candles paraded singing Yuletide hymns. They would go from house to house, offering warm wine, tea or coffee and saffron buns or gingerbread cookies, made especially for this saint’s day.
 

 

The city of Syracuse  honors Saint Lucy with a week of festivities, including fireworks, sweets and the vow not to eat pasta or bread. Here, a similar mythical story is upheld: that the city was affected by a harsh famine and the saint rescued the population when two ships loaded with wheat miraculously delivered it to Syracuse.  


 

 

Wheat

 

People were so eager to eat that they boiled the wheat and ate it simply dressed with olive oil. This was the first cuccia ever made. 

Later, in Syracuse,  chickpeas and fava beans were added, and sweet cuccia was made by adding cooked wine or honey. 


Santa Lucia is known to protect the eyes and, for this reason, she is honored in every town in
 Sicily. Many and varied dishes are made and the rule “no pasta, no bread” is observed. The cuccia is made in all the towns, but every town makes it in their own way and every family has their own version. 


In my paternal home, Saint Lucy was a feast rigorously observed: no bread, no pasta, and no meat! My mother and my aunts prepared a large variety of sweets and cooked many special dishes to fill in a traditional menu followed by my family while my parents were alive and we had no dietary restriction.
 

The morning started with cuccia al cioccolatte, wheat and chocolate, followed with allessi vugghiut”, boiled, dried chestnuts with dried figs and carobs.
 

Lunch consisted of a delicious and memorable dish: rice with beans and dried chestnuts and boiled potatoes instead of bread.

Afternoon snack comprised of boiled eggs and potatoes. 

At dinner, a myriad of vegetables, rice balls, fish salad and stewed potatoes.

At every meal, cuccia was served with ricotta, chocolate, honey and nougat with sesame seeds or almonds, pine nut cookies and more sweets.

At every meal, my mother or Aunt Francesca made us recite a prayer to Saint Lucy to protect our eyes; it was done swiftly so we could enjoy the delicacies on the table. 

 

Cuccia (Basic)

Cooked Wheat 

INGREDIENTS 

·        2 lb of skinless wheat 

·        4 oz unsalted butter 

·        Pinch of salt 

·        1 bay leaf 

Cooked Wheat - Grano

 

PREPARATION 

Place a small amount of wheat in a large, shallow pan and inspect it, a little at a time, for any small stones or foreign particles.

Soak the wheat overnight, changing the water and rinsing it a few times.
Place the wheat, butter, bay leaf and salt into a large pot. Add enough water to cover it. Then add an additional 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, lower flame and simmer until cooked, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Stir occasionally; keep a small pot with hot water on the side to add in case the wheat absorbs all the water before it is cooked. 

When wheat is cooked, if the water has not been absorbed, drain the excess water, remove bay leaf, cool it, cover and refrigerate.


This is cuccia.


It is advisable to cook the wheat a day ahead. Because a skin forms, before using it, scrape the dry wheat on top. 

 

Cuccia with Ricotta
(Cuccia alla Ricotta) 

 

Serves 4 to 5 

INGREDIENTS 

· 1 cup ricotta 

· 4 tablespoons sugar 

· ½ cup assorted candied fruits 

· ¼ cup chopped chocolate or chips 

· 2 drops vanilla 

· Zest of ½ orange 

· 3 cups of cuccia 

· 1 teaspoon of sugar mixed with a pinch of cinnamon powder 

 

PREPARATION 

 

Candied fruits

 

Combine the ricotta, sugar, half of the assorted fruits, chocolate, zest of orange and the vanilla. Blend the ingredients thoroughly. Add the cuccia and keep mixing until smooth and creamy. If it is too dry, add some milk and adjust the sweetness by adding sugar to taste.

Place in a serving dish. Garnish with remaining candied fruits and a dusting of sugar and cinnamon. 

 

  

Cuccia with Ricotta (on left) and with Cream (on right)

 

Cuccia with Chocolate
(Cuccia al Cioccolato) 

 

Serves 6 to 8 

INGREDIENTS 

· ½ cup bitter cocoa for baking or dark chocolate 

· ¾ cup sugar 

· Tip of a teaspoon of cinnamon 

· 1 ½ cups water 

· 1 quart milk 

· 3 cups of cuccia 

· 5 large eggs 

· 2 drops vanilla 

· Zest of ½ orange 

PREPARATION 

 

In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the cocoa or dark chocolate, sugar and cinnamon; add ½ cup of water, whisk it until mixture is smooth, then add remaining water. Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously. When it starts to bubble, turn heat very low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Increase heat to medium and add milk. Bring it near a boil. Remove and reserve 1 cup of the warm milk-chocolate.

 

 

Chocolate cream

Mix the cuccia with the milk-chocolate and keep stirring.

Beat the eggs in a bowl, add the cup of reserved warm milk-chocolate mixture, vanilla and orange zest and set aside.

Keep mixing the cuccia until it is smooth and creamy. If it becomes too dry, add some milk. Taste for sugar and add to your preference. 

When the cuccia starts to bubble, turn the flame to low, blend in the eggs, and stirring continuously, cook for an additional 3 minutes. 

The cuccia al cioccolatte is made!

Pour in a bowl, cover with buttered wax paper and refrigerate.

Serve at room temperature or cold. 

 

Cuccia with Honey
(Cuccia al Miele) 

 

Serves 4 to 5 

INGREDIENTS 

· 2 cups of cuccia 

· 1 cup of honey 

PREPARATION 

 

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup of water and the cuccia. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

Pour into a serving bowl and serve hot or at room temperature with the honey on the side so that each table companion can add it to cuccia according to his or her own taste. 

 

 

Cuccia with Chickpeas
(Cuccia con Ceci) 

 

Serves 4 to 5 

INGREDIENTS 

· 2 cups of cuccia 

· 1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed 

PREPARATION 

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup of water and the cuccia. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
When it starts to bubble, lower heat, add chickpeas and simmer for 3 minutes. 

Serve hot or at room temperature with olive oil and a black pepper mill on the side. 

Chickpeas

Note: In Syracuse, boiled fava beans are added along with the chickpeas. 

 

 

Fava beans