Halloween in Italy

Happy Halloween to all of you! Halloween is a funny one… I really love this time of year, and when I was a kid (and when I was a student to be fair) it was a fantastic excuse to dress up in as silly and as outlandish a costume as I could possibly conceive and have fun – eating lots of sweets when I was younger and drinking far too  many cocktails a little later on.

Something happened along the way however and I seem to have lost the “Halloween spirit”. It’s the 31st today and I honestly can’t be bothered to dress up, or to go out drinking. I want to sit in and drink hot tea and watch a movie. Not even a scary movie – I want to watch chick flicks, something feel-good. Am I getting old? Perhaps. It is also because a) it is raining cats and dogs and b) Italians don’t really do Halloween, not the way we do in the UK and the US.

Funny thing is, despite that, the 1st is a bank holiday here, and when the 2nd is a Friday, like this year, most people take that day off too and “fanno ponte“, or bridge.

This is because here the 1st of November is a religious festival in which people celebrate “Ognisanti” or all Saints – just in case you didn’t know, in Italy every day has its saint and people celebrate on the day of the saint they are named after. The first is celebrated by everyone. The second on the other hand is a day of remembrance for the dead, and Italians in their thousands flock to the cemetaries to pay their respects to deceased relatives. A bit different to getting dressed up as a pumpkin and waking up with orange face paint smeared over the pillow because you forgot to use the makeup remover before falling into bed (that is not actually anecdotal. I promise).

Now as with many (read “all”) things in Italy, where there is a tradition, a culinary accompaniment cannot be far behind. As one of the versions of the story of the night between the 1st and the 2nd of November is that the souls of the dead return from the beyond to visit the living, there are many regions which show their respect by making sure that the dead don’t suffer from hunger or thirst when they arrive.  In Campania and Lombardy, it is traditional to leave a jug of water on the kitchen table. In Piedmont families add an extra space to the table. In Puglia and Tuscany a table is laid specially for the purpose. In Sardegna, after dinner the plates are left until the morning. In Basilicata and Calabria it is traditional to go to the cemetary and leave food and drink by the graves.

For the living, there is plenty of sustenance too however. In many regions it is traditional to eat broad beans, either alone (and sometimes directly at the graveside!) or with various other ingredients at the table (stockfish in Liguria, rabbit in Sicily and so on).

My personal favourite is the sweet though. Found across Southern Italy, Cicc’ cuott is made of soft cooked wheat kernels, pomegranite, walnuts, dark chocolate, candied peel, cinnamon, sugar and vincotto  (a syrup made from boiling grape must).

This image is borrowed from http://iraccontidiafrodita.blogspot.it. Se da fastidio all’autore, lo tolgo, I want to make this recipe tomorrow… but in the meantime :)

You will need:

500g wheat grains
One ripe pomegranite
150g of shelled walnuts
150g dark chocolate
150g candied peel
A pinch of cinnamon
A glass of vincotto

1. Place the wheat in a cover pan with plenty of cold water and bring to the boil for about 10 minutes.

2. Leave to soak in the pan overnight.

3. Drain the wheat and mix the dry ingredients

4. Once this has been mixed, add as much vincotto as you would like (not too much)!

This will keep for about two days in the fridge.

With love, from Italy

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