From famine to feast... Let’s explore three traditional Sicilian recipes to celebrate Santa Lucia on December 13th! This special festival is an important part of the Sicilian calendar, but is also celebrated in many other regions and countries.
In Sicily, legend has it that in the 17th century, there was a severe famine, and the population was on its knees. One day, out of the blue, a ship laden with wheat arrived at the port (it's debated whether it was Syracuse or Palermo). The inhabitants, exhausted by hunger, couldn’t take the time to grind the wheat into flour for bread, they needed to eat straight away. So, they boiled it and seasoned it with salt and oil. At last, a real meal!
The people attributed the miracle of the ship’s arrival to Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy) and from that day began the Sicilian custom of thanking the saint by preparing cooked wheat, and never using flour, on December 13th, the day of her martyrdom.
In Sicily, no bread or pasta is eaten on this day, as they are made from flour, which wasn’t eaten on the day the famine ended. However, this certainly does not mean that it is a day of restrictions... It’s a feast! The boiled wheat eaten by the famished Sicilians all those years ago have developed into a range of delicious treats, obviously with one thing in common: no flour! The most popular recipes are Cuccìa, panelle and arancine.
Cuccìa is a dish (quite similar to porridge) made with cereals, that can be made savoury or sweet. Panelle are flat fritters made with chickpea flour, and arancine are fried balls of rice filled with various ingredients.
In many parts of Italy, it is traditionally Santa Lucia who brings gifts to the children, not Father Christmas. She is said to travel on a donkey (many say it’s a flying donkey!) on the eve of December 13th, and children leave bowls of milk and carrots and give the hungry donkey a snack and make sure Santa Lucia leaves something special for them.
It has been calculated that in Palermo, over a million arancine are made in a single day on December 13th!
Want to learn to make perfectly crispy Panelle? Have you always wanted to shape your own Arancine?
You'll find them in our Sicilian Street Food article.
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