Wheat of Saint Lucy
Saint Lucy was born in the
fourth century in Syracuse,
Sicily and died at the time of the
prosecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. She was reported to the Roman governor as a Christian by the young
suitor she had refused, having promised her virginity to God. She was tortured, her eyes pulled out, then
slaughtered. Saint Lucy’s Day is celebrated on December 13, the anniversary of her death. She is the patron Saint
Saint Lucy is implored to
help in all eye sicknesses; she is celebrated all over Sicily, in many cities in
the Italian Peninsula
and far away.
In Northern Italy, Saint Lucy is
also popular among the very young because, as the legend goes, she brings gifts to good children and charcoal to
the fresh ones.
December 13, the
shortest day and the longest night of the year, coincides with the winter solstice, when the sun is at the greatest
distance from the earth. In the old times, this event was ritualized in the Scandinavian
in Denmark and in Finland by burning night fires outdoors.
The longest night was
illuminated to wish for longer and prosperous days ahead with abundant crops and good fishing. It was a time for
celebration, for dancing and drinking. Food was prepared and pigs were roasted on the
A story goes that in this period, around the year 1000, a severe
famine occurred, and Saint Lucy saved the population by bringing in a ship full of food. This explains why the
Great King Canute, a Viking warrior who ruled England, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and part of Finland, declared
December 13th Saint Lucy’s Day and a day to celebrate fire and light during the traditional Christmas season. In
those Nordic countries, Saint Lucy’s Day is honored with prayers, family meetings, banquets; young girls dressed in
white gowns with red scarves and young boys carrying lighted candles paraded singing Yuletide hymns. They would go
from house to house, offering warm wine, tea or coffee and saffron buns or gingerbread cookies, made especially for
this saint’s day.
honors Saint Lucy with a week of
festivities, including fireworks, sweets and the vow not to eat pasta or bread. Here, a similar mythical story is
upheld: that the city was affected by a harsh famine and the saint rescued the population when two ships loaded
with wheat miraculously delivered it to Syracuse.
People were so eager to eat that they boiled the wheat and ate it
simply dressed with olive oil. This was the first cuccia ever
Later, in Syracuse,
chickpeas and fava beans were
added, and sweet cuccia was made by
adding cooked wine or honey.
Santa Lucia is known to protect the eyes and, for this reason, she
is honored in every town in Sicily. Many and varied dishes
are made and the rule “no pasta, no bread” is observed. The cuccia is made in all the towns, but
every town makes it in their own way and every family has their own version.
In my paternal home, Saint Lucy was a feast rigorously observed:
no bread, no pasta, and no meat! My mother and my aunts prepared a large variety of sweets and cooked many special
dishes to fill in a traditional menu followed by my family while my parents were alive and we had no dietary
The morning started with cuccia al cioccolatte, wheat and chocolate, followed with allessi vugghiut”, boiled, dried chestnuts with dried figs and carobs.
Lunch consisted of a delicious and memorable dish: rice with beans and
dried chestnuts and boiled potatoes instead of bread.
Afternoon snack comprised of boiled eggs and
At dinner, a myriad of vegetables, rice balls, fish salad and stewed
At every meal, cuccia was served with ricotta, chocolate, honey and nougat
with sesame seeds or almonds, pine nut cookies and more sweets.
At every meal, my mother or
Aunt Francesca made us recite a prayer to Saint Lucy to protect our eyes; it was done swiftly so we could enjoy
the delicacies on the table.
2 lb of skinless
4 oz unsalted
Place a small amount of wheat in a large, shallow pan and inspect it, a
little at a time, for any small stones or foreign particles.
Soak the wheat overnight, changing the water and rinsing it a few
Place the wheat, butter, bay leaf and salt into a large pot. Add enough
water to cover it. Then add an additional 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, lower flame and
simmer until cooked, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Stir occasionally; keep a small pot with hot water on the side
to add in case the wheat absorbs all the water before it is cooked.
When wheat is cooked, if the water has not been absorbed, drain the excess
water, remove bay leaf, cool it, cover and refrigerate.
This is cuccia.
It is advisable to cook the
wheat a day ahead. Because a skin forms, before using it, scrape the dry wheat on top.
(Cuccia alla Ricotta)
Serves 4 to
· 1 cup
· 4 tablespoons
· ½ cup assorted candied
· ¼ cup chopped chocolate
· 2 drops
· Zest of ½
· 3 cups of cuccia
· 1 teaspoon of sugar mixed
with a pinch of cinnamon powder
Combine the ricotta, sugar, half of the assorted fruits,
chocolate, zest of orange and the vanilla. Blend the ingredients thoroughly. Add the cuccia and keep mixing until smooth and creamy. If it is too dry, add some milk and adjust the
sweetness by adding sugar to taste.
Place in a serving dish. Garnish with remaining candied fruits and a dusting of sugar and
(Cuccia al Cioccolato)
6 to 8
· ½ cup bitter cocoa for
baking or dark chocolate
· ¾ cup
· Tip of a teaspoon of
· 1 ½ cups
· 1 quart
· 3 cups of cuccia
· 5 large
· 2 drops
· Zest of ½
In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the cocoa or dark
chocolate, sugar and cinnamon; add ½ cup of water, whisk it until mixture is smooth, then add remaining water.
Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously. When it starts to bubble, turn heat very low and simmer for 10
minutes, stirring occasionally.
Increase heat to medium and add milk. Bring it near a boil. Remove
and reserve 1 cup of the warm milk-chocolate.
Mix the cuccia with the milk-chocolate and keep stirring.
Beat the eggs in a bowl, add the cup of reserved warm milk-chocolate
mixture, vanilla and orange zest and set aside.
Keep mixing the cuccia until it is smooth and creamy. If it becomes too dry, add some milk. Taste for sugar
and add to your preference.
When the cuccia starts to bubble, turn the flame to low,
blend in the eggs, and stirring continuously, cook for an additional 3 minutes.
The cuccia al cioccolatte is made!
Pour in a bowl, cover with buttered wax paper and
Serve at room temperature or
(Cuccia al Miele)
4 to 5
· 2 cups of cuccia
· 1 cup of
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup of water and
the cuccia. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
Pour into a serving bowl and
serve hot or at room temperature with the honey on the side so that each table companion can add it to cuccia according to his or her own
(Cuccia con Ceci)
4 to 5
· 2 cups of cuccia
· 1 can of chickpeas,
drained and rinsed
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup of water and the cuccia.
Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
When it starts to bubble, lower heat, add chickpeas and simmer for 3
Serve hot or at room temperature with olive oil and a black pepper mill on the
boiled fava beans are
added along with the chickpeas.