The history of food is one with the history of peoples’ civilizations. In it, customs, habits, culture, the dimension of the sacred and the relationship that the different communities have given themselves in the interpretation of the vital and divine breath that materializes in the energy of food are refracted.
The identity bond with a territory, the spirit of belonging have crystallized over time also through the different ways in which the communities have declined the approach to the canteen and the kitchen. And, while waiting for them, that is to say in preparation for the meeting with food (on the table, in the banquet, in the banquet), that bond and that spirit have settled even in the approach with the plowed land and with the crops in the fields and with the animals from the breeding.
Thus, at the same time, the rhythms of weekdays and holidays were also marked. And with the various times of meals, the breaks for penance, abstinence and fasting have also been fixed.
Empty and full, raw and cooked, sweet and salty, lean and fat are the icons of functional adjectives typical of the journey of man who, in a state of health, has always bowed his head, in a natural and physiological way, to taste the products food places on the canteen.
And with that bow, now voluntary just before the meal, now mechanical and instinctive, he marked in his posture his dependence on a higher dimension, as if to associate, with his head bent, the reception of food with the intimate thanks that the Christian elevates to the Father for having received daily bread. And thus also the encounter with the simplest, most modest, most ordinary food becomes prayer, in the moment in which the gesture is supported by the thought towards Above.
It becomes a reason for the union of the part with the whole, it becomes contact and synthesis between the materiality and spirituality of the individual with the materiality and spirituality of the Cosmos, it becomes the vehicle of man towards the Mystery, towards God.
Within the complexity of the relationship between customs, religiosity and food, in this evocative setting, we are now going to explore the meanders of collective memory to bring back to the present a ritual typical of the Po peasant house of the past, bringing our minds towards that microcosm which animated farm life in the Cremona area.
It must immediately be said that in rural civilization, in ancient times, food was not as sophisticated as it is today. Everything was packaged in house. In the fields it was cultivated el melegòt (corn) e ‘l furmèent (wheat). The garden gave the verdüüra (the vegetable) e the fröta (fruit). Almost every family raised el nimàal o ròi (the pig), an animal that he offered to the people of the fields gràs and salöm (fat and salami).
They were raised on the farmyard more (chickens), nàadre (ducks) e òoche (geese), which gave meat and fat. In addition to meat, the geese also offered piöme (the feathers) to make i cuséen (the pillows) e materàs (mattresses) for the bed.
Nothing was thrown away in the kitchen. The “great mothers”, the grandmothers, sharpened their wits and with what little they had in the pantry they managed to create, as if by magic, truly special dishes. Archetype of nutrition was in any case the pulèenta (polenta) in all its many variations: pulèenta pastinàada (seasoned polenta); pulèenta càalda in sö’l fóoch (roasted polenta); biàade de la pulèenta (the part still attached to the cauldron); pulèenta scotadìit (very hot polenta); pulèenta sùurda (polenta without bread); pulèenta cun i gratòon (polenta with cracklings).
Three ingredients were needed to produce this heart of the peasant diet: potions of farìna alreadyalda (yellow flour), aqua (water) e saal (salt). On the pages of a recipe book from the fifties of the last century, we found the formula to create this archetypal and popular course, definable in a poetic key, due to its fragrant and warm color, as a sort of “metaphor of the sun”. This recipe says: “It focuses on the water in de ‘n word (in a cauldron), in an amount equal to the size of the polenta you want to obtain. When the water boils, add a little coarse salt. Then the flour is poured slowly, always stirring and making sure that it does not make lumps. When the dough is firm enough, but still soft, it is left to boil for half an hour, stirring occasionally. After half an hour the flour is adjusted until the dough is consistent but not too hard and, always stirring, it boils for another half hour. When the polenta begins to detach from the cauldron it means that it is cooked. It is then poured onto the cutting board. The dough is smoothed with the water-wet shovel, giving it a round shape and marking a cross in the middle ”.
The reference to the rural life of the past and the memory of pulentàda (“Polentata”), with the family meeting at the table on a feast day in front of a plate of “corn cake”, Is offered to us by a short poem by Ivalda Stangaelementary teacher of Soresina, in memory of the days of her childhood spent in the farmhouse.
The title of the composition is “Na taulàda“(” A table “). In the verses we are going to read, together with the polenta we will also find el pès rustìit (the roasted fish), obtained during the sgüra (periodic cleaning of ditches), i grügnòs (radicchio), el vén de li ìdi(the wine of the vines), na féta de pagnòch (a slice of homemade cake with little pretension).
na bèla taulàda
ne l’era grànda
de la casìna
cume na òlta:
el pès rustìit
de la sgüra,
and the grügnòs de l’òrt,
el vén de li ìdi,
na fèta de pagnòch …
and little ciciaràa,
cüntàse sö li ròbi …
fìn that stéli
li sbüša ‘l fùsch …
But the me šèent
la pöl mìa ‘egnìi:
adès la và legéra
for them stràdi de ‘l céel
A TABLE. In spring / I would like to have / a nice table / in the big yard / of the farmhouse / as it used to be: / a nice polenta, / the roasted fish / the cleaning of the ditches, / the tender sprouts of the garden, / the wine of the vines , / a slice of donut … / and then chat, / tell each other things … / until the stars / pierce the dark … / But my people / can’t come: / now it goes light / for roads of heaven / without borders! //
In the peasant house it was prepared as well el pàan (the bread), with its own “magical” components included, which we find reported in an old recipe book:
5 ounces of white flour
30 grams of brewer’s yeast
water – salt – oil
“The yeast is dissolved in a little salted water, the flour is added and mixed well. Put the mixture in a tureen, cover and leave to rest in a warm place for an hour or more. Then add salt and work well with your hands for a long time. Finally, the sandwiches of the desired shape are packaged. The sandwiches are placed on a plate greased with oil and left to rise covered in the lukewarm.
When they have risen well, they are placed in the oven, which must already be hot. When you feel the scent of cooked and if the bread is golden in color, turn off the oven and leave it warm for at least five minutes. If you want bread with milk, you have to dissolve the yeast in warm milk“.
In any case, it must be said that together with bread and polenta, another element of primary importance in the diet of the peasant family, experienced as a sort of “food safe“, Was made up of the pig, da’l nimaal.