When I was just a baby Cream Puff, I remember that I was never really into Halloween. I suspect that part of this was due to the fact that Halloween was scary for me, but also because Halloween was not a holiday with which my family was very familiar.
Putting on costumes and eating lots of sweets was something you did at Carnevale.
In Italy, Carnevale refers to the festivities that take place after Christmas and before the beginning of Lent. In some parts of Italy, Carnevale can be a month-long celebration, however, in most places, Carnevale generally falls in the days just before Ash Wednesday.
As the kids of Italian parents, we learned early on about the traditions of Carnevale and the characters that took centre stage. I always wanted to be Colombina. But there were many you could choose from.
The various characters that came out to play at Carnevale were traditional characters seen often and in various forms in Italian theatre and plays. Everybody knows that Arlecchino is a tricky fellow and Pulcinella will always make you laugh.
While people probably associate the idea of Carnevale and elaborate masks with the city of Venice, Italians all over Italy will celebrate by dressing up, dancing and eating.
My own family is celebrating with a costume party and a cenone (a dinner) tonight to be followed by an elaborate lunch tomorrow. My aunts have already made the traditional ravioli with various fillings (meat, ricotta and so on).
Wish I was there. Sigh.
Growing up, we always had a special meal on the Sunday before Lent but as we grew older, that tradition waned. I think we’re still trying to get over Christmas!
This year, however, I decided to do something special to mark the celebration of Carnevale so I made castagnole (“little chestnuts”).
Castagnole are yet another variation on the wondrous and beautiful thing we know as fried dough. They can be served in a variety of ways, including drizzled in honey or rolled in sugar.
In Ascoli Piceno, where my father is from, my aunts will roll the castagnole in sugar and then drizzle on a liqueur called Alchermes. If you’ve never had Alchermes, it can be tough to find. My parents would always bring a bottle back with them from Italy. It’s a red liqueur that has a spicy sweetness to it and is very common in Italian desserts.
The castagnole, piled on high on a serving tray, certainly made for a festive atmosphere and it certainly felt like Carnevale, at least for a brief moment.
I just wish I had that Colombina costume. Sigh.