by Gordon Nary
St. Lucy (Lucia) was a fourth-century Sicilian martyr She was engaged to a Roman pagan nobleman who did not know that she was a Christian. After her engagement, she made a vow of virginity and poverty at the tomb of St. Agatha's in exchange for the Saint's help in curing her mother from a very painful and incurable disease. After her mother was cured, Lucy told her fiancé of her vow and tried to explain why she could not marry him. Her fiancé, enraged at the loss of a wealthy marriage, denounced her as a Christian to the Sicilian governor, Pascasius.
Pascasius brought her to trial and demanded that she make a sacrifice to the Roman gods. When Lucy refused, Pascasius had her blinded and ordered her to the public whorehouse to be a prostitute. When the soldiers attempted to drag her away, she became immovable. Pascasius then ordered Lucy to be burned alive on the spot where she was standing. When the pyre that was hastily built would not burn, her throat was slit.
Lucy is venerated as the patron saint of people with eye disease, especially blindness. Paintings and statues of St. Lucy often show her holding a plate containing two eyeballs. Before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar. St. Lucy's feastday fell on the shortest day of the year. In Norway and Sweden, Lucy was the saint of light that heralded the gradual return to spring. She is also the patron saint of the gondoliers in Venice. The song "Santa Lucia" is the gondoliers' tribute to her. In Italy, her feast day is celebrated with torchlight processions and bonfires, clear indications of her role as light bringer.
The Sicilians have an unusual penchant for foods shaped like human body parts such as Ie Minni di Sant Agata (St Agatha's breasts), fedde del cancelliere (chancellor's buttocks), and Pali del Nonno (grandfather's testicles). Untroubled by the gruesome imagery, they sometimes eat St. Lucy’s eyes, (cakes or biscotti shaped like eyeballs.) More gastromically appealing is Cuccia (wheatberries or hard wheat kernels) which, according to legend, St. Lucia taught Sicilians how to use them in cooking. So each year Sicilians celebrate Lucy's feastday with this special dessert.
St. Lucy is one of the few saints celebrated by the overwhelmingly Lutheran Scandinavian peoples (Danes, Swedes, Finns and Norwegians). In Sweden, December 13th opens the Christmas celebration. In ancient Sweden, the word "Lussi" was written on fences, doors, walls. This graffiti was used to tell the demons of winter that their reign was over and longer days were returning.
Traditionally, either the eldest or youngest daughter in each Swedish family dresses in a white dress with a crimson sash, and wears a whortleberry or lingonberry wreath crown with lighted candles. She brings hot coffee and saffron buns called Lussekatter (Lucia buns or Lucia cats) to wake her family.
Other traditional foods served in her honor include a crown-shaped cake called St. Lucy's Crown which is similar to and served in lieu of the Lucia buns, ginger biscuits (Luciapepperkakor), and glogg, a hot spiced wine with aquavit. The tradition continues, although often with electric candles, instead of the dangerous flames.
St. Lucy's Day Cuccia
1cup (5 ounces) hard wheat kernels (wheatberries) Water 1/2 tsp salt 1 1/2 cups high-quality whole-milk ricotta 3 TB honey 1/2 cup raisins
1 tsp grated lemon zest 1 tsp grated orange zest 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate bits 1/2 cup candied citron
Soak wheatberries in water overnight. If you aren't cooking them in the morning, the wheatberries can continue to soak, but change water in the morning.
Drain and place in a 3-quart saucepan along with the salt and enough water to cover by 2 to 3 inches. Cook at a slow simmer, partially covered, about 1 hour, or until tender. Kernels will open up slightly.
Drain the wheat and combine it with the ricotta. Blend in honey, raisins, zests, and chocolate Turn into a deep serving bowl . Serve warm or at room temperature in small bowls.
Lussekatter (Lucia Cats)
Lussekatter are made in any number of figures: cats, "s" shapes (resembling cat whiskers. or figure eights.)
2 pks dry yeast 1/4 cup tepid water pinch of saffron 1 cup light cream 4 TB light cream 2 large eggs 2 egg yolks 3/4 cup sweet (salt-free) butter, melted 3 to 4 TB soft butter
5 to 6 cups flour 1/4 tsp salt 1 cup rolled oats 1 TB grated orange zest 1/2 cup golden raisins 1 tsp cardamom seed, crushed 4 oz blanched and slivered almonds butter for greasing cookie sheets
Place tepid water in bowl. Add and dissolve yeast. Add saffron
Add 1 cup cream, 3/4 cup sugar, eggs, egg yolks, melted butter and salt. Mix well.
Add 2 cups floor, oats, cardamom and orange zest. Mix well to form a soft, sticky dough. Add enough additional floor to form a workable dough that will not stick to breadboard.
Turn on floured breadboard. Kneed for at least 10 minutes. Place kneaded dough in clean bowl. Rub top with soft butter. Cover with clean towel and place in warm place to rise until doubled (at least two hours).
Take risen dough out of bowl and place on floured breadboard. Punch down. Let dough rest for 15 minutes.
When dough has risen, knead lightly to push out air and divide into small pieces (about 10 - 12). Using the hands, roll each small piece into a strip about 8 - 10 inches long. Shape each strip into an 'S' or a figure 8. Place on lightly buttered cookie sheets. Roll sections of dough into 1/2 " ropes. Cut ropes in 5" sections. Form double-C-cross. Place rolls on cookie sheets. Cover with clean towels and place in warm place to rise until doubled (at least one hour).
Preheat oven to 350º F.
Brush rolls with remaining cream. Decorate with almonds and candied cherries. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until done.
St. Lucy's Crown
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads 1 cup lukewarm milk 2 packages dry yeast 1/4 cup of warm water (100-110 º F) 1/2 cup sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1/3 cup sweet butter
1 egg, lightly beaten 4 cups flour Grated rind of 1 lemon 4-5 TB blanched almonds, finely chopped 10 candied cherries 4-5 tablespoons chopped candied citron Confectioners' Sugar Glaze (see recipe below) Tapers or thin candles (optional)
Crush the saffron to a fine powder, and steep it in a tablespoon or two of the lukewarm milk for about 10 minutes. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Set the mixture aside for 5 to 10 minutes, or until frothy.
Scald the remaining milk. Stir in the rest of the sugar, and the salt and butter. Stir until the butter is melted. Let cool to lukewarm. Stir into the yeast mixture. Add the saffron milk and lightly beaten egg. Stir in the flour gradually, mixing well. Add the lemon rind, almonds, and citron, if you like
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. While you are kneading, add more flour if the dough is sticky.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Punch the dough down. Cut off one-third to make the top braid; set aside. Divide the remaining dough into three parts. Roll each part into a rope about 25 inches long. Place the three ropes close together on a buttered baking sheet and braid them together. (Try starting from the middle; you may find it easier.) Form the braid into a circle, pinching the ends to seal.
Divide the reserved dough into three parts. Roll each part into a rope about 24 inches long. Proceed as above: Place the three ropes close together on a buttered baking sheet and braid them together. Form the braid into a circle, pinching the ends to seal.
Cover both braids lightly and let the bread rise for 30-45 minutes, or until almost doubled in bulk.
Bake at 400 º F. for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for about 40 minutes longer, or until the two braided rings are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Place the smaller braid on top of the larger.. Optional: Stick thin tapers into the crown and light them.
Lucia Pepparkakor (Spice Cookies)
3 1/2 cups flour 2 teaspoons ginger 2 teaspoons cinnamon 1\2 teaspoons cloves 1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup sugar 1 cup butter (do not use margarine) 1 egg 1/2 cup molasses
Sift together dry ingredients; set aside.
Cream sugar and butter.
Add egg and molasses.
Blend in dry ingredients thoroughly. Let dough stand overnight.
On a well-floured board, roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into shapes and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.
© 2012 Gordon Nary