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December 13th in Palermo: what’s the story?
Do you know why here in Sicily on December the 13th, which is the day of the Sicilian Virgin and Saint Lucy, we eat some stuff called: “cuccìa”, “panelle” and above all the famous “arancine”?
Let’s make it clear once and for all 🙂
The story has got ancient roots, in the XVIIth century the city of Palermo and probably all the areas around were suffering from a terrible famine; people were starving and had nothing to eat, so they started to pray Saint Lucy who was originally from the Sicilian town of Siracusa.
On the day of her festivity in 1646 (during the famine) a huge ship arrived in the harbour of Palermo and it was full of wheat.
The tradition: Why we don’t eat “FARINACEI”? (farinacei are flour-based food)
People were so hungry that use the grain just as it was, boiled and eaten it with the few things they had like oil of olive, ricotta and vegetables.
Little by little the tradition of cooking the wheat in grains spread on that day and people started to make also a sweeter version which in Sicily has always to be with ricotta cream.
The name of this dish is “cuccìa” (the pic above is the sweet cuccìa).
Probably coming from the word “cocciu“, which literally means grain.
So this day is the only day of the year in which pasta and bread are banned from our tables, to remind us the story of this miracle.
Having banned all the food made of wheat people had to eat other stuff apart from the cuccìa, so they started to eat potato pies, panelle which are chickpea fritters (the big pic above).
Here on the right there is the sweet version called panelle dolci, filled with little custard cream and caster sugar sprinkles on top.
What is the most popular food associated with December 13th?
The food that the majority of Palermo citizens relate to this day are the unique “arancine”, scrumptious fried rice balls filled with different ingredients: ham & mozzarella cheese or minced meat ragout (the classic ones) but today you also find them with spinach, salmon, sausages and other flavors.
Although it started like a day of penitence (back in 1600) today by contrast it is popularly known as “the day of arancine”.
That means that the “average palermitano” (palermitano = Palermo dweller) stuffs himself/herself with minimum 4 or 5 (and sometimes even 8,9,10!!!) rice balls!
Probably, if you ask them why there is no bread or pasta they don’t even know how or what to answer.
They just know it’s the arancina day!
I am a huge fan of traditions, but I think it’s important to know their stories and where they actually come from, so if you wanna try an arancina, or a sweet panella or some cuccìa on this very special day for us, feel free to do so, but at least now you know why!
To find out more about saint Lucy, read HERE