During the Christmas season many people like to spend their days out and about to escape their daily routine. However, many others prefer to stay home, perhaps following their own traditions.
In Florence, the main festivity was not traditionally held on Christmas Eve, as compared with many other regions in Italy. Mostly, Florentines preferred to spend Christmas Eve strolling around the streets of the city center to admire the richly decorated shop windows, then hopping off to church for the traditional midnight Mass.
For the Florentines, the real festivity was lunch on Christmas Day.
The whole family used to gather around the fireside early Christmas morning, where a huge wooden log (the so-called ceppo) would burn, and play bingo or the Goose game while awaiting lunch.
Almost all middle class families possessed The Science of Cookery and the Art of Eating Well (La Scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene), the Italian recipe Bible by Pellegrino Artusi, printed for the first time in 1891 and closely followed the preparation of the dishes as handed down by the master. Filled with amusing anecdotes and recipes, the book is a perennial best seller in Italy and has been translated into Spanish, French, Dutch, German, English and, most recently, Portuguese.
Canapes and Tortellini Soup
However, even the most humble abode served up a capon, first used to make a good consommé in which either tortellini (ring-shaped pasta stuffed with a mix of meat or cheese) or cappelletti (ring-shaped pasta bigger than tortellini with a top that curls outward, giving them the three-cornered cap appearance) floated.
The soup was always preceded by hors d’oeuvres, the typical Tuscan canapes smothered in a capon liver and giblet paté, with the addition, on occasion, of veal spleen. The capon could be used up in a galantine or served in sauce.
Sometimes there was more than one second course. This could consist of tasty spiced pork sausage, usually cooked in a sauce, served with vegetables such as the typical Tuscan cowpeas or white beans. Those who could afford it also feasted on roasted meat, usually pieces of pork, but also spit roasted pigeons or other game.
Christmas Fruit and Dessert
Since fruit was only seasonal, there were usually apples, nuts, dried figs, and oranges.
For many, chestnuts were no longer a daily source of food, and were instead boiled and roasted to become part of the dessert, a course that also included homemade cakes and sweetmeats together with the odd ”cavalluccio” (honey cake), pieces of Sienese panforte (hard fruitcake) or Prato Cantuccini (almond biscuits). All these local products were washed down with excellent vinsanto (literally, “holy wine”) or even a glass of the local dessert wine Aleatico, a red Italian wine grape variety. It is notable for being the primary grape in the cult wine Aleatico di Portoferraio made in Isola d’Elba.
Another festive tradition is that of placing a bunch of grapes on the table on New Year’s Day, because, as the saying goes: ”Whoever eats grapes on New Year’s Day can count their money throughout the year.” What this really means is that those able to put aside a few grapes during harvest time and eat them on the first day of New Year will have planty of money, more than enough, for the following 365 days of the new year, perhaps because they are thrifty, one could argue.
Enjoy your Christmas meal!