Here we go, these are the most controversial moments in our calendar. Do you celebrate Halloween today or do wait until tomorrow to celebrate the religious holiday of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day? Do you team up for tradition or for innovation? or more simply, being a gourmet, you just take what both holidays have to offer as long as scrumptious food is involved, on the one hand muffins and pumpkin pies, on the other – at least in Tuscany – some thick slices of dense pan co ‘santi, a sweet bread dotted with walnuts and raisins. With the other girls of the Italian Table Talk we noticed that it was a too interesting opportunity to be missed, we wanted to search for Italian traditions and pagan influences in these early days of winter.
So you discover traditions that hover between saint and pagan, which already carry within themselves the seeds of the unusual, perhaps because everything begins from the same human urge to face and exorcise the deepest fears, such as death, to explain the inscrutable. As we are accustomed to see, everything is eventually traced back to food, a powerful tool for sharing and celebrating. Follow us then to discover more or less traditional recipes today: on the traditional side, we have Jasmine‘s pan de’ morti and Valeria‘s sweet potato cake, while on the innovation fence you can enjoy Emiko‘s All Saints’ biscotti and my raisin, walnut, red wine and black pepper muffins.
When grandma was a child, before the passage of the American front that brought not only rock’n’roll and chocolate but also traditions and holidays not belonging to our culture, we were already carving a big pumpkin with eyes, nose and a lopsided smile. The adults would put the pumpkin just on the well, with a lit candle inside, to scare to death all the children with the eerie shadows it would cast on the house wall. It was called morte secca, the representation of Death, a macabre welcome to the religious All Saints’ day, which bears the sign of a distant pagan origin.
The holiday menu was always the same: a rich broth (a good home made broth with chicken or even better, with capon), roasted game birds and potatoes and pan co ‘santi, bursting with walnuts and raisins, a sweet bread from Siena who betrays his medieval origins thanks to the use of a generous dose of black pepper.
For me, All Saints’ Day has always been the weekend in which I could finally renew a winter coat, a pair of warm corduroy pants or a new wool sweater to wear with those lace collars you would add on top, I don’t know if you remember them or if you have ever had the (unlucky) chance to meet them on your way in the roaring ’80s. It was often a day we would spend in San Gimignano to visit my granddad Remigio with the whole family and my cousin Margherita, with my aunt’s roast pork and the pan co’ santi we would buy in a local bakery. I was happy because I could stay at home from school for a day or two, to me it was the official start of winter, the season of chestnuts. Unknowingly, it has always had the same meaning of the Celtic Samhain.
Both Halloween and All Saints’s day have in fact common origins: they celebrate the moment when the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. It was Pomona for the Romans and Samhain for the Celts, the moment of passage from the summer season of life, harvest and abundance to winter, the dead season, when nature sleeps quietly.
My recipe today hovers between tradition and innovation: I did a quick dessert that is not part of our culinary tradition, muffins, but I have enriched them with walnuts, raisins, red wine and black pepper as befits the Tuscan pan co’ santi. With these muffins you can appreciate in a very short time an old world taste that often takes too long to be kneaded, raised and baked, and you know, in these days we are all in a hurry.
The recipe is adapted from the dried fruit muffins you can find in The River Cottage Cakes Handbook. I really love this small book, full of simple recipes that call for a flowered apron and a wooden spoon. Small and manageable, it is one of my favorite books lately, a beautiful birthday gift from Emiko. If you are looking instead for the traditional pan co’ santi, here’s my family recipe, tested over and over again, now fully guaranteed.
- 125 g plain flour
- 125 g of whole wheat flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- A pinch salt
- 100 g raw cane sugar + a few tablespoons for dusting the muffins
- 125 ml red wine
- 125 ml white yoghurt
- 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1 egg
- 4 handfuls shelled and chopped walnuts
- 2 handfuls raisins, soaked in water and squeezed
- Preheat oven to 200°C.
- Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper in a large bowl, then add the brown sugar.
- In another bowl, pour all the liquid ingredients: red wine, yogurt, extra virgin olive oil and yogurt. Whisk all the ingredients until homogeneous.
- Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir gently, cleaning up the edges without overworking the dough, just to dissolve any lumps of flour.
- Add the chopped walnuts and raisins and stir to mix.
- Scoop the batter into 12 muffin moulds lined with paper cups. Fill the moulds up to three quarters of their capacity and sprinkle with a pinch of cane sugar to get the muffins crispy and glazed on the surface.
- Bake the muffins for about 20 minutes until they are puffed, golden and springy.
- Cool on a wire rack of before eating.
Not to lose a single post by the Italian Table talk girls, these are our Social Accounts:
- Emiko, her blog is Emikodavies.com, @emikodavies on Twitter, and her Pinterest
- Valeria, her blog is Life Love Food, @valerianecchio on Twitter, her FB Page and her Pinterest
- Jasmine, her blog is Labna.it, @labna on Twitter, her FB page and her Pinterest
- Juls, my twitter @Julskitchen, FB page and Pinterest
The hashtag to follow the conversation on Italian Table talk on Twitter is #ITabletalk (easy, isn’t it?). We are curious to hear your voices, to find out what you celebrate, both for tradition and for fun, and to to understand which is your typical food of All Saints’ Day.