The cugliaccio (in arbërisht Kulac) is a typical dessert of the Arbëreshè gastronomic tradition of San Costantino Albanese. Since the sixteenth century, the preparation of this bread is linked to wedding ceremonies and Easter festivities, and is characterized by a strong religious symbolism, which acts on the construction and maintenance of arbëreshè ethnicity.
Preparation of the Cugliaccio
Rich in eggs, it is prepared with simple ingredients (soft wheat flour, milled semolina, oil, lard, natural yeast, brewer's yeast and wild fennel), to enhance life and Resurrection, recalling the traditional distribution of colored hard-boiled eggs during Easter Sunday. In the Middle Ages, in fact, it was forbidden to eat eggs, food of animal origin, during the very strict fasting impositions of Lent. The eggs baked by the hens during those six weeks had to be disposed of quickly, so they were blessed in church during Easter Sunday mass and then donated, hardened, to friends and relatives, as a wish for fruitfulness.
On the occasion of weddings, the Kulac is prepared and packaged by the groom's relatives on the Thursday before the wedding, which in San Costantino Albanese is officiated with the Greek-Byzantine Rite. In this case it has a circular dough, with a weave that forms four arms, which wants to represent the indissolubility of marriage.
Its surface is decorated with symbols in paste: a nest, two birds and two snakes. The nest, at the center of the cake, represents the new family and his home. The eggs, contained in it, are always odd, as a sign of good luck and fertility. The birds initially represent the in-laws; the snakes, on the other hand, represent the spouses, who look at the parents left feeling sorry. Later, the birds become the new couple and the snakes represent evil.
According to tradition, for each ceremony two "cugliaccio" have to be prepared, one decorated and the other simple. The simple one was put under the other, since during the Mass, the decorated one was offered by the priest, after being bathed in wine, and given first to the bride and then to the groom, as a sign of mutual belonging.
The symbolic intertwining of the cugliaccio
That of kulac, as we see, is not simply a culinary recipe, but one representation and representation of the arbéreshè world, which tells a story and marks a change. This rite of passage concerns change which, with the celebration of the marriage, will take place within the small community, the gjitonia, the families involved, and above all the life of the spouses. Iconic and visual representation of the marriage ritual that is being consumed; of the passage of the two young people to the new social status; of the opposition and alliance of the two families; of the compensation paid by the groom's family, through the offer of the compensation gift to the bride's family. Very probably, in fact, the spouses will follow the virilocale norm and they will go to reside near the relatives of him.
But above all the cugliaccio is the representation of the change within the lives of the two young people, depicted at the beginning as "snakes that look on birds, that is, the parents left behind" ... Later, the two young men opened the eggs and left nest, become themselves "birds" capable of facing snakes, that is evil, which the interference of relatives, within their own family life, can represent.
depiction, we said, also of physical space, closed and circular in the country, since each arbéreshè village is built around the square dedicated to its founding hero, Giorgio Castriota Skanderbeg, from which the main streets then depart, generally arranged according to the four cardinal points.
Spatial representation of gjitonia, of the division of the country into neighborhood courts. Every year, to overcome latent tensions, the various social groups and gjitone unite and divide, facing each other and challenging each other in the Carrese ritual. Within the gjitonia, every value is remembered and shared, every sanctioned behavior, subjected to the approval of everyone or criticized: first of all the respect of the endogamic rule, that is of the preferential marriage with an Arbéreshè of the own village (village endogamy) or, failing this, of the southern Arbéreshè minority (ethnic endogamy).
Even the marriage celebrated with the Greek Byzantine Rite, establishes the ethnic closure with respect to the Latins, the affirmation of their own ethnic pride, and the respect of the endogamic rule. In some countries the celebration still takes place in the arberisht language. During the crowning of the spouses (ie marriage), the kulac becomes Food-Eucharist, offered by the relatives of the groom, to sanctify the union of the two spouses in front of the whole community, replacing bread and wine.
In fact for the Eucharist the Byzantine Greek Rite does not use unleavened bread, that is without yeast, like the hosts and the particles of the Latin tradition, but leavened bread. The bread used for the celebration (called in Greek prosphora, that is "offer"), in general, is prepared just before the actual Eucharistic celebration, during the ritual of prothesis, ie "Preparation", according to another complex symbolism. Communion is usually made under the two Eucharistic species, bread and wine: the host, as we know, is an "invention" of the Latin Church (introduced by Honorius III in the 1220 and confirmed by the Council of Trent in the 1551), and a way to affirm his legalism.
But without going too far into religious matters, what we want to say here is that gastronomy is not simply one of the expression of folklore and of the local color, because food, is not a fact linked only to the physiological need for nourishment or to the sphere of "subjective taste and pleasure": it marks the passage of every society from nature to culture. In fact cooking symbolically represents a submission of nature to culture, as once prepared, food loses its naturalness and takes on different meanings and flavors depending on the culture.
Above all, food is a language that reveals the deepest structures of every society. As Claude Fischler writes: "Every culture has a specific cuisine that involves classifications, particular taxonomies and a set of rules based not only on the preparation and combination of foods, but also on their collection and consumption. It also has meanings, which are strictly dependent on the way the culinary rules are applied. "
As the anthropologist Mary Douglas noted, food is also important medium, as it represents a means of communication, through which the individual expresses itself and at the same time differs from the others, or those who do not have the same dietary habits. The preparation of food is part of those practices of the self, which help us to draw symbolic barriers between us and the Other. In this way they help us
to better understand the meanings of the self. Thus, as different civilizations have shown us, sharing the same food introduces people into the same community and makes them members of a single culture. But just as it creates belonging, so food underlines differences and serves to separate "us" from "others".
But above all, food is a mechanism that reveals ethnic, cultural and social identity. It is an expression of religious identity, for which the assumption of some foods goes beyond their materiality: for example bread and wine for the Christian tradition. It is an expression of the solidarity and family sharing and friendship between groups. An example is represented by banquets for weddings and births. Bringing together the various parental generations around the same table originates from a sacred conception of the meal, which recognizes eating, precise religious, moral and social values.
The culinary arbëreshë triangle.
In this sense it is possible to affirm, with the structuralist anthropologist Mary Douglas, that "man is (essentially) a culinary animal" and that the arbéreshè gastronomy - as "good" - is a material and immaterial part of the Arbéreshè culture; visible and invisible, tangible and intangible expression of the knowledge of Arberia (in Latin "know"And"flavor"Have the same etymological root); hardware and software, so to speak of an information system and a "language" that we still have to learn to read and decode.
But what, then, is the structure that underlies the Arbéreshè cuisine, that is, the habits and consumption of food by the Arbéreshè? What social, economic, historical and psychological meanings does this structure reveal?
According to anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the fundamental opposition, which precedes and characterizes all other food relationships, concerns the "state" of food and is represented by the so-called "culinary triangle". At each vertex of the triangle is one of the three "states": "the raw", which represents the original condition of non-transformation of food; "The cooked", as a cultural transformation of the raw; "The putrid" as a natural alteration of both raw and cooked.
Within this culinary triangle, it is possible to place foods such as: “dromesat”, a paste made with flour lumps, cooked directly in the different sauces chosen for the seasoning; the "shtridhelat", mixed flour noodles, cooked with beans or chickpeas; the "rrashkatjele Skanderberg" (rascatelli Scanderberg), seasoned with tomato sauce and seasoned ricotta.
On the Crudo side, the "veze petul" or wild thistles with endive and capers tops.
On the side of the Putrid, not because it is, but - as already mentioned - as "natural transformation of the raw", the "kandarate", meat preserved in salt, saucice, supersat, kapekol, frittula.
The “petullat” or “krispelet” (soft donut-shaped pancakes) are part of the party's food; the "kasolle megjize" (tasty roll stuffed with ricotta); the "kanarikuj" (large dumplings impregnated with honey); the "nusëza", a dessert that takes on anthropomorphic features. Also there nusëza it is a representation of the arbéreshè self: food that marks identity.
- Douglas M., Anthropology and Symbolism, Il Mulino, 1985
- Fischler C., The omnivore. The pleasure of eating in history and science, Mondadori, 1990
- Lévi-Strauss C., Raw and cooked, Il Saggiatore, Milan, 1964
- Scholliers P., Food, Drink and Identity: Cooking, Berg Publishers, 2001
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