March 26, 2014

Sanguinaccio: From Mexico, Naples to Brooklyn

Making sanguinaccio with Vincenzina
D'Amato and Elena Loguercio
By Danielle Oteri

There are many laments uttered about the passing of traditions in the Italian American community. 

Nobody does it the old way anymore. Not like we did it. 

All the old ways are gone. Who has time these days? 

And the heaviest, most guilt inducing of all these: Once I die, that’s it.

I appreciate why Italian Americans feel this way. We’ve experienced the slow fadeout of our old neighborhoods, the rise of packaged foods, less time spent with our extended families and a strong lean toward products of convenience. But as a historian, I see transformations instead of endings and a chance to see how traditions are always changing.

The perfect example is sanguinaccio, a rich chocolate and pig’s blood pudding that I’d been told absolutely nobody makes anymore. It can be found at some of New York’s oldest pastry shops like Egidio’s in the Bronx and Rocco’s on Bleecker Street. Friends in Italy told me this disgusting concoction could only be found in remote, rural pockets of Campania, made by very old-fashioned farmers. 
First, Vincenzina and Elena prep the ingredients
I took everyone’s word for it until I received an invitation from my friend Patrick to taste his own homemade sanguinaccio. He had just purchased pasteurized blood from a butcher in Newark, New Jersey who supplies it to Hispanic restaurants that make morcilla, or blood sausage. Patrick reported that he had sent several Italian American friends to Newark as they had plans to resurrect the old sanguinaccio tradition as well.

Surprised that sanguinaccio was resurging among my peers, all born in the 1970s, I looked to social media to see where else it might be alive and well. A quick hashtag search on Instagram, where 90% of its 150 million-person audience is between 18 and 35, revealed 846 recent pictures of sanguinaccio! 
Then, they strain the blood
Sanguinaccio may just be pudding, but it tells an important story about the Southern Italian experience that many Italian Americans no longer know. The myth begins in colonial Mexico with the Aztecs who were noted for a potent drink made of hot spices and cacao all stirred together with the fresh blood of a sacrificed human. Southern Italy was under the crown of Spain when many of Italy’s signature ingredients including tomatoes, corn, and peppers arrived on ships returning from the New World explorations. The story goes that the pig’s blood sanguinaccio is an adaptation of the Aztecs’ famous chocolate drink.

Its appearance during the pre-Lenten season is entirely secular and due to the necessity of Southern Italian farmers to slaughter their pigs in the cool, more sanitary late winter air. Neighbors from around the countryside would be asked to help and invited to feast on every piece of the pig that could not be preserved. The first product was always the sanguinaccio, which utilized blood from the pig’s freshly slit throat. With chocolate and milk, it would be carefully transformed into a silky pudding.
Next, the chocolate is melted with milk
The photos on Instagram hashtagged with sanguinaccio revealed everything from a fancy, jarred version made in an elegant Naples pasticceria to an image of a sullen pink hog, about to meet her fate. Nearly all the pictures showed the fried ribbons of dough called chiacchierre that are dipped in the pudding.

Mario Batali developed a blood-less version of sanguinaccio and after seeing all the chocolate used in the traditional recipe used by Elena Loguercio, a native of Sassano in the Cilento, I wondered if the blood was really necessary. The consensus among those I asked was that the blood added a certain depth and intensity to the pudding that was matchless. And so, a 400 year tradition born in Mexico continues. It’s now been traded across the Atlantic twice, adapted, lost and reborn.
Espresso is added to the mixture
Elena Loguercio’s Sanguenacc’ from Sassano

1 liter of pasteurized blood
3 liters of regular milk
3 k of chocolate
1 kg sugar
1 pack of Perugina cacao
1/2 kg flour
1/2 kg granulated cookies
12 cups espresso
1 stick of butter
2 squeezed oranges, juice
1 cup of Sambuca

Melt chocolate with milk and let it cool off for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add blood to the pot, add the melted chocolate, slowly stir in dry ingredients and then the espresso. Turn the flame on to medium and stir all the ingredients in the pot in a consistent clockwise motion until it hardens, which takes about an hour. When it starts to feel like a soft pudding add the orange juice and Sambuca and keep stirring until the pudding has a firm texture. 
Finally, stir until the pudding is thick
Photos courtesy of Marilena D'Amato
Danielle Oteri is an art historian, writer, speaker and founder of Feast on History. (

Come Celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph and Easter with the Figli Maria S.S. Addolorata

March 24, 2014

Simona De Rosa Announces March Mini Tour with Inside Quartet

Hot on the heels of her success at LaFrak Concert Hall, Simona De Rosa announces an end of March mini tour before the band’s triumphant return to Naples.
• March 26th at 5:30pm
• March 27th Italian American Museum at 6:30pm
• March 28th at 7pm
• March 29th in Merrik at 7pm

March 19, 2014

A Look at the 2014 Festa di San Giuseppe in Ridgewood, NY

Viva San Giuseppe! 
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
On March 16th several local Italian American societies gathered in Ridgewood, NY to participate in the Annual Festa di San Giuseppe. The cold weather could not deter the dedicated and friendly crowd from attending the procession. Grand Marshal Stephen La Rocca, president of the San Rocco Society di Potenza, led the festivities.

It is traditional during this feast to read Sicilian poetry in honor of San Giuseppe after the march, and it was a real treat to hear. Afterward, blessed loaves of bread were generously distributed to everyone. I was greeted with warmth and sincerity; it was an honor to be among these people and their families.
Grand Marshal Stephen La Rocca helps prepare the statue before the ceremony
Carrying the Saint to the church
Members of the Italian American Association of
Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal gather before Mass
As always, there was a large turnout for Mass
Leaving Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal
(Above and below) The procession makes its way through the neighborhood
During the procession, members of the Societa Concordia Partanna brought
San Francesco di Paola out to greet San Giuseppe
Another look at the procession
The Giglio Band is always a welcome sight
The friendly crowd braved the cold weather to participate
After the Procession celebrants enjoy coffee and cookies in the gymnasium
St Joseph’s Bread was raffled off for charity
For more photos visit us on Pinterest

March 17, 2014

Celebrating the Traditions of Saint Joseph’s Day at the Italian American Museum

Dr. Joseph V. Scelsa speaks to a packed audience at the IAM
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
With the Feast of Saint Joseph just a few days away (March 19th), what better way for the Italian American Museum to inaugurate their new event space than with a presentation about the Traditions of Saint Joseph’s Day? Warmly welcomed by the museum’s friendly staff, the venue quickly filled with an enthusiastic audience excited to learn about their ancestral folkways. Museum President Dr. Joseph V. Scelsa spoke at length to the standing room only crowd about his saintly namesake, beginning of course with the origins of the Feast in Sicily. 
According to legend, during the Middle Ages a severe draught struck Sicily causing a terrible famine. The people petitioned San Giuseppe for help and through his intercession the crops of fava beans yielded enough food to deliver the hungry populace from starvation. In gratitude, wealthy families set up tables or altars, called la tavulata di San Giuseppe, with food to help those who were less fortunate than themselves.
Known as the “lucky bean,”
fava was given as a token of luck to the museum’s guests
Over the centuries the tables have become more and more grand and bountiful. They’re decorated with flowers, fruits and grains (common symbols of fertility) as well as celebratory foods illustrating the Saint’s vocation, such as bread and cakes shaped like carpenter’s tools and bowls of toasted breadcrumbs (mudiga) symbolizing sawdust from his carpentry shop. 
In fact, just about everything connected with the tables has some sort of cultural or religious connotation. For example, the altar itself—with its three tiers—stands for the Holy Trinity. It should go without saying that meat is eschewed for Lent and the presence of fava beans is essential.
Stephanie Trudeau
Naturally, the tradition was brought to America and is popularly celebrated in places like New York and New Orleans where large numbers of Sicilians settled. Some guests shared their family’s customs, which included lighting bonfires in the town squares and wearing red for good luck. One gentleman described how to prepare a traditional dish from Bari called Saint Joseph’s Pasta or Mafaldine di San Giuseppe. Alluding again to carpentry, the mafalda pasta looks a lot like serrated saw blades. It’s typically served with cooked anchovies and toasted breadcrumbs (i.e. “sawdust”).
Picking up from where Dr. Scelsa left off was special guest speaker Stephanie Trudeau. Ms. Trudeau (who researched the Feast of Saint Joseph in Sicily as part of her 2005 Fulbright project called “Festa, Family and Food”) focused her Power Point presentation on some of the food traditions in Salemi, Sicily—specifically bread making.
Some wonderful examples of St. Joseph's Day bread were on display
During her talk, she showed us several examples of private and public altars and the myriad ways bread is used in the celebration. I knew that the loaves could be elaborate, but I had no idea how intricate and complex some could really be. Bread making for Saint Joseph’s Day has evolved into a serious art form. Sicilian women have expertly done with dough what some conventional sculptors do with clay and stone. Imitating exuberant baroque designs and Christian motifs these breads are fashioned into incredible expressions of piety and devotion to the patron of the Universal Church, Sicily, family and the working man.
More pane di San Giuseppe
Following Ms. Trudeau was “Baby John” DeLutro, proprietor of Caffé Palermo on Mulberry Street. Mr. Delutro spoke a little about the history of NYC’s Little Italy and his expertise in Sicilian desserts. Keeping with the theme of Saint Joseph Day, he told us the non-biblical story of how San Giuseppe became the patron saint of bakers. According to popular folklore, during the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, he worked for a time in Alexandria as a baker to support his wife Mary and infant Jesus. 
Afterward, guests were invited across the street to Mr. Delutro’s fine establishment to have some coffee and try his delicious zeppole and sfingi, popular southern Italian desserts during the Feast. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful evening.

Announcing the 85th Annual Grande Festa in Honor of San Rocco, Malden, Massachusetts

March 10, 2014

The Queens' Bacchanal

A Look at the Società Gioventù Quagliettana’s Annual Gara Dei Vini and Festa Della Donna
In Italy it’s customary to give women mimosa for Women’s Day
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
Saturday, I had the great pleasure of attending the Società Gioventù Quagliettana’s Gara Dei Vini and Festa Della Donna, an annual celebration of wine and women in Astoria, Queens. As always there was plenty of lively conversation, delicious food and, of course, some of the best homemade wine I’ve had in years. Bacchus himself would have approved.
While tasting the wine and watching the competition was fun, the night truly belonged to the ladies. In a reversal of traditional roles between the sexes, the men showed their love and appreciation for the fairer sex by doing all the cooking and cleaning. The ladies were waited on hand and foot by the menfolk. Free of any of its original political meaning, here in Queens International Women’s Day has become a festive celebration of motherhood and the nobility of women.
During the festivities I was unexpectedly honored by the society with some kind words and several bottles of wine. Touched by their generosity, I still insist that it’s really them who deserve my thanks and not the other way around. Associations like the Società Gioventù Quagliettana are the true custodians of our culture. They don’t just document our traditions, they keep them alive by living them daily. They give us a chance to participate and contribute to them. In an increasingly materialistic world that puts little stock in culture and faith, it gets harder and harder for these groups to survive. They are living treasures and they need and deserve support from those of us who still place value in such things.
A special day for some special ladies
With so many great wines to choose from,
picking a winner was no easy task for the judges
A look at the coveted trophies
The proud winners of this year’s homemade wine competition
Celebrating family 
Some vino from Avellino was also on hand
We capped off the evening with some delicious cake