Christmas Memories like a forgotten Italian Cookie: Chickpea & Chocolate
Plagued by that out of body experience that flying always engenders, I quake as Mom pulls a clip of papers off the refrigerator door and starts talking about her mom’s Christmas cookies- le nell or pizzelle. Ever year a box of these anise-scented waffle snowflakes would arrive by slow mail. A Big Box. Grandma’s Italian cookies. Ah, food memories. ”Look, someone gave me my grandmother’s cookie filling made with chickpeas, chocolate and grape jelly, (jet lag kicks in blah, blah, blah…) Hershey’s bar, anise, etc..” I woke up.
WHAT? Chickpeas, cecis, garbanzos? grape jelly? A Hershey’s bar? Let me see that!
I wake from a jet lag stupor long enough to scan the scrap of paper and promise to make the recipe tomorrow before going back to sleep. Now at 3 in the morning (about breakfast time in Gascony), I start to scour the web for this chick pea/chocolate combo and find it here, here and here in all its Abruzzese quirky glory.
When we rescued my Grandmother’s pizzelle iron from obscurity a few years ago, still flour dusted and weighing of a lifetime of cookie making, I thought we had already covered the topic of keeping the Abruzzese traditions alive in the family. Remember readers… once does not a tradition make!
So meet Petronella DiCarlo DiPietrantonio from Roccamorice in the mountainous Abruzzo of Italy. My great-Grandmother. I met her when I was nine. Mamuch was a tiny, scowling Italian-only speaking that lived with my Grandmother Julia in Portland Maine. She terrified me; at nine, I was already taller than she. Having arrived with the first wave of Italian Immigrants to Portland through Ellis Island she came to cook for her young husband and other workers living in a rooming house. I get the cooking DNA from her. Grazie!
I deciphered the key ingredients in this filling which seems to be traditionally made for a stuffed ravioli sort of deep-fried Christmas or Easter treat. Mamuch used it to fill the pizzelle cookie sandwich that my Mother remembers chunky with walnuts.
Chickpeas competes with chestnuts for texture, protein and richness. The Abruzzo is famous for both. One of my desert island foods, I love them and now will not hesitate to use them in sweet dishes, too.
Chocolate snobs will quake at the Hershey’s bar, so feel free to go with dark choc or cocoa but I am sure that my great grandmother used the newly developed and very American Hershey’s Bar.
Grape jelly. Even I questioned this until I found the original source here . Next year, I’ll make a few batches of this from my grapes at Camont but for the reasons as above, I am sticking to the nostalgia riddled recipe. I’m positive Italian cooks embraced the new and easier fast food found in their new life in America. The children and grandchildren like my mother, would have had that New World taste imprinted in their memory.
So as a tribute to the colorful taste threads that help weave a family’s story… here is my Christmas present to my own family this year around the Hill Family tree- boxes of snowflake Pizzelle cookies filled with Petronella’s Special New World Chick Pea & Chocolate Italian Cookie Filling.
Happy Holidays everyone from my Home to Yours. And from my mother’s grandmother to you…
Recipe for Christmas Pizzelle Cookie Filling thanks to cousin Eleanor and transcribed here…