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Buccellato di Luccaontalcino

Perhaps you have already tried a slice of buccellato, the traditional Lucchese fruit bread? It is poor man’s food, bread made with a few simple ingredients which have made it a symbol of good luck, and therefore very suitable for New Year celebrations.

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It contains aniseed, thought to promote fertility in women, and raisins, still seen on the table today at
Capodanno as a sign of good luck for the coming year. And of course whilst you may find it in a baguette shape known as sfilatino, it is usually made in the shape of a circle or crown, the symbol of honour and glory.

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But not everyone knows the origins of the buccellato (and you are unlikely to find it in your dictionary). The name comes from the Latin buccella or sometimes buccilla, which means a morsel or bread for the poor. There also existed in Latin the word buccellatum, which is probably best translated as ‘hard tack’ or ‘ship’s biscuit,’ the sort of iron rations provided for Roman troops. So how does buccellato come to be associated with Lucchese cuisine?

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For the answer we need to go back to the 14
th century. On 8 April 1369, the first Sunday after Easter, Charles 1V of Bohemia, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire declared Lucca ‘libera dalla Signora dei Pisani,’ freeing the city from Pisan domination, which had held sway over Lucca since 1341, a situation both offensive and shaming to the Lucchese.

From that day onward, the first Sunday after Easter was celebrated as the ‘
domenica della Libertà,’ Freedom Sunday.

In the past it was a huge excuse for public and private partying, both religious and secular, complete with fireworks, bell - ringing and rounds of artillery fire! And in those days, knights presented their ladies with a

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Over the years, the precise reason for this custom has been lost, but you will still find the traditional celebrations of the festa della Libertà, taking place in the country villages around Lucca, and the custom persists of young men presenting their sweethearts with a buccellato. The larger the buccellato, the greater the compliment, and there have been reports of bakers having to widen the mouth of their ovens to accommodate over-sized tokens of affection.

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Recently, a Lucchese historian discovered the papers from a trial for magic and witchcraft dating from 1608. They tell of a young bride taken home by her new husband on horseback after their wedding, and wearing a traditional buccellato round her neck like a necklace – una filza dei buccellato.’ Suddenly, they were way - laid by a ruffian who seized the buccellato from the bride’s neck. Far from consoling his bride however, the husband accused her of being in cahoots with the villain and had her denounced as a witch! Not, one would have thought a recipe for future domestic bliss. Fortunately the judges absolved her, no doubt thinking that she has already suffered enough.

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Today we eat
buccellato all year round, and especially when there’s any kind of celebration. It is perfectly good form to dunk it in your wine or Vin Santo.
You will find it in any good
panificio or alimentari, and the buccellato from Taddeucci in Pizza San Michele is justly famous.

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Written by Alessandra Zucconi from Tuscan Talent