Christmas, in Umbria as in the rest of Italy, rhymes with gluttony. Among all the typical sweets, however, there is one that refers to the municipal history of Perugia and the municipalities it subjugated: the pinocchiate.
The Main Ingredient
Called also pinoccati, pinocchiati or pinoccate, to indicate the nature of the basic ingredient – the pine nut – these sugary sweets typical of the Christmas period are born from the massive diffusion of the domestic pine (Pinus pinea) across the European continent. Umbria has not been excluded from such diffusion, so much that it is not so unusual to come across odorous pine forests.
It is difficult to find the precious seeds, as the pine nuts take three years to reach maturity. Despite this difficulty, pine nuts, rich in protein and fiber, have been consumed since the Paleolithic era, especially because they were believed to have aphrodisiac properties. This allowed them to become part of the most refined and delightful human creations, such as the pinocchiate, as they were already known in the fourteenth century.
«The nobles and the rich eat them frequently with the first and the last plate. With pine nuts wrapped in sugar dissolved in a teaspoon, you can make the tablets to which you apply thin tears of beaten gold, I think for magnificence and for pleasure.» Thus wrote the gastronomist Bartolomeo Sacchi, called Plàtina, at the turn of the fifteenth century and the sixteenth century; they aren’t our pinoccate yet, but surely they are very close.
Pinoccate were eaten already in 1300 and this does not seem fortuitous, if we think of the colors of these tasty sweets. Sometimes flavored with lemon, sometimes with chocolate, they are always served in pair, in a delicious two-color white and black match. The memory of the factions of the communal age – the white Guelphs and the black Guelphs – now comes to mind, recalling those struggles between secular power and temporal power that did not even save the areas where these sweets are most widespread – Perugia, Assisi and Gubbio.
Perugia, in fact, in the thirteenth century subjugated first Gubbio and then Assisi, but not before having suffered excommunication for having carried out an offensive against the Ghibellines, contravening a papal veto. Even though the two factions were historically of Florentine origin, these struggles multiplied in every municipality of the Italian peninsula, demonstrating the strong influence of the Florentine capital in that fervent era.
The conditioning is also found in the architectural style and in the heraldic, characterized by decorations in balzana: look at the emblem of Siena, a truncated shield consisting of two full glazes, one silver and one black. And that the city of the Palio had influences on the capital Perugia is out of the question: Perugia, pursuing an expansionist policy, got near not only to Gubbio and Città di Castello, but also to the area of Lake Trasimeno, Città delle Pieve and Val di Chiana.
Shape and packaging
Peculiar of the pinocchiate is also the lozenge shape which, doubled, gives life to the regular octahedron, one of the five Platonic solids. These figures, in an era like the humanist one, held allegorical, transcendental meanings but at the time aware of the abilities of the man. The octahedron, made up of equilateral triangles – as they were a symbol of transcendence, of divine perfection and of the ascent from the Multiple to the One – symbolized the air, an element par excellence linked to the impalpability of the Divine.
We have to point out that pinocchiate, wrapped like big carnival sweets, were nothing more than throwing sweets, pulled on the nobles who attended the rides and jousts. Sweets with a heavenly taste that, tossed in the air, looked like divine gifts fallen from the sky.
Recipe by Rita Boini
- 1 kg of sugar
- 500 g of pine nuts
- 200 g of flour
- 1 tablespoon of bitter cocoa
- Peel of an untreated lemon
Melt the sugar over a low heat in a glass and a half of water; add the syrup to the grated lemon peel and pine nuts. Mix and add flour. Mix well and, when the mixture is firm but still soft, quickly pour half on a marble surface or on a baking sheet and roll it with a knife blade, in order to obtain a layer of about 2 cm high. Add the cocoa to the dough remaining in the casserole, stir and pour into another corner of the marble top or on another baking plate. Cut and lozenge the two layers and let them clothe. Wrap the pinoccate combining a dark and a light one.
Courtesy of Calzetti – Mariucci Editori