Memories in Every Bite

Sicilian fig cookies are made for the Christmas holiday out of a sweet dough rolled out and filled with figs as well as numerous other ingredients. The ingredients are as varied as the names the cookies are called by, apparently a function of the town or region in which they are made. In most of Sicily (as in most Sicilian-American homes) they are called “cucciddati”, but in my house as in Serradifalco, they are called “puccidati”.  In NJ we called them “pucci-dots”.    The day after Thanksgiving was always the ceremonious “grinding of the figs”.  My mother would bring my grandfather’s heavy, metal meat grinder up from the cellar and sanitize it.  Once it was clean my father would attach it to the seat of a chair and place a bowl underneath the grinder to catch the mix.  When my mother had all of the ingredients ready we would begin.  First you put in some (dried) figs, then some raisins, candied fruit, chopped walnuts and crushed pineapple.  You would keep adding the figs after each wet ingredient so the consistency of the mix stayed solid.  When the bowl underneath the grinder was full we would empty it into a large yellow bowl.  This same yellow bowl was used for family shared popcorn and mixing the Thanksgiving stuffing (a Sicilian style rice stuffing that evolved over the years within the family). This yellow bowl holds great significance to me but that’s a topic worthy of its own entry.  We would continue this process until there was nothing left to grind.  Then it was time for the honey.  Standing on a chair (when I was too small to see over the bowl) I’d pour in some honey over the fig mixture and my mother would mix it in.  I’d pour a little more and she’d mix.  When it got to hard to turn with the big stainless steel spoon from my grandfather’s restaurant she would use her hands.  I put my hands in as well but really just liked to squish the sticky fig mix through my fingers.  Not very helpful but entertaining none the less.  Then it was time for the dough, which Mom had prepared earlier that morning.  It’s a sweet dough made from my Nana’s recipe.  The writing on the paper faded with every passing year but it was like a treasure map.  Wrinkled, creased and stained but it didn’t matter.  The end result was always the same – delicious sweet dough that Mom would let me nibble and THAT was the treasure.  After rolling out the dough into a long rectangle we would take the fig mixture and place it on the dough in straight lines.  The she took a wheel cutter and cut the dough in between the fig lines and we would fold the dough over it and they looked like logs or long worms.  Then we cut the logs into one inch pieces and baked them.  Sometimes we put sprinkles on them, other times we would ice them (with Mom’s homemade icing of course).  This tradition has since been handed down to my children (now young adults) and they looked forward to the traditional grinding of the figs every year.  Not because they liked the cookies, but because it was something we all did together in the kitchen.  It was fun.  It was love at its best.  Whether I was eating  these “pucci-dots” at my parents home, or while sitting on my foot locker in boot camp, I tear up with the first bite and smile and still hear my father’s voice saying, “More figs. Not too much pineapple. Now a little chopped nuts. Very good.”

In loving memory of PaPa 1925-2013

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