I have a beautiful cookbook written by Rosa Mitchell, who runs a Sicilian restaurant in Melbourne, “Rosa’s Kitchen”. I adore the book (she even personally autographed it!) because it’s filled with stories of her Sicilian childhood and Australian life post-immigration. It’s clear that one thing has always connected her to home: food. Her cookbook features a Sicilian cake, Buccellato, typically prepared at Christmas using fruits preserved from summer harvest.
It’s made of nuts, candied citron, orange and dried figs, raisins and dates, wrapped in pastry and baked as a wreath. These goodies are typical of Sicily, a region where warm weather allows fruit trees to thrive.
Citron, a lemon-like citrus fruit, is synonymous with Sicily, preserved by candying for use in winter (notably when Buccellato is made). It is Sicily’s ‘terroir’ or “taste of place”– its micro-climate, soil and the custom of candying – that produces this characteristic regional flavour so notable in Buccellato. Through abundant use of regionally distinctive produce, Buccellato reflects Sicily’s unique landscape, the people’s cultural practices and regional identity.
Potentially evolving from the ancient Roman bread ‘buccellatum‘, Buccellato has been made for centuries. It was originally given at Baptism to the christened child’s parents. Being very rich it symbolised wealth and good fortune. Like a competition where larger cakes represented greater prosperity, the largest ever was supposedly the size of a ferris-wheel! How is that possible!
While Buccellato isn’t something I’ve seen around Melbourne, many Sicilian immigrants still make it. Just like the British plum pudding or the French fras grois, it’s synonymous with Christmas. Rosa’s inclusion of Buccellato in her cookbook exemplifies its importance to Sicilian immigrants, offering a connection to their homeland and identity as Sicilians.
Buccellato’s story is as rich as the cake itself. One thing’s for sure…I’m going to “Rosa’s Kitchen” to see if it’s on the menu!