by Julia Powers.
Through a magical alchemy of sugar, flour, eggs, family lore and tradition, families celebrate by making time-honored delicacies which grace their tables but once a year. Several eSS&SC readers generously shared the stories behind the foods that are an integral part of their holiday celebrations. Join us as we learn why these delicious traditions are so meaningful to them.
Family Traditions: Meet Rosa Galeno
Raised in Italy, Rosa Galeno grew up steeped in a culture that reveres both good food and celebrations, and she brought this aesthetic with her when she moved to America. For her family, it wouldn’t be Natale, or Christmas, without pizza di sette sfoglie, a seven-layer cake studded with nuts, raisins, chocolate and fruit preserves, scartedatta, a delicately fried cookie drizzled with vino cotta, (cooked wine) on the table, and her make-ahead Anytime Cookies.
Rosa traces this culinary holiday tradition back to her family’s small Italian village in the years just after World War II. Shortly after the war and while still a young woman, Rosa’s grandmother passed away, leaving behind Rosa’s dad, who was then just seven years old. Among his many cherished memories of his mother were the confections that she baked each Christmas. When he ultimately married, eager to continue his family’s beloved holiday traditions, he asked the women of the village to teach his new wife the dishes that had played such a big part in his childhood memories.
Rosa’s mom, Guiseppina, was a quick study and these holiday confections soon became a treasured part of Rosa’s childhood. These desserts were labor intensive and took months of planning. As Rosa recounts, “pizza di sette sfoglie is a dish you have to start planning for in the fall.” Her mom would “start making the cooked wine in September. Soak the raisins in liqueur in October or November and pick the filbert nuts (hazelnuts).” After months of preparations, the actual cake had to be baked in the local baker’s oven since the tall-sided dish (used only once a year) was too large to fit in the oven at Rosa’s home. Not wanting to waste any of the delicious dough, Rosa recalled her mother would “carefully cut long strips of leftover dough, pinch each pleat with a little water to make sure they remained intact. As she deep fried each scartedatta, I patiently waited to sprinkle each one with chocolate sugar and spices….if I close my eyes, I am standing next to my mother waiting to carefully sprinkle chocolate sugar and spices on our once a year scartedatta.”
After moving to America, Rosa’s mom continued to make her signature cake and cookies each Christmas. This cake was such a masterpiece that “you had to create a party for this cake,” Rosa says. Like many old-world cooks, Rosa’s mom did not cook from a written recipe, so Rosa painstakingly recreated both recipes through trial and error. After tasting her daughter’s version, Guiseppina remarked, “Rosa, you did it right.”
Rosa was thrilled because, as she put it, “I gave her the joy of the memory.” She continues, “Real, traditional foods tug at the heart. They pull you back into the memories that mean so much.”
Rosa Galeno’s Anytime Cookies
- 3 eggs
- 5 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the oil or butter, sugar, vanilla, and beat until fluffy.
In a separate bowl, blend flour, baking powder, and salt, then add this mixture to the batter, alternating with the milk. The dough should be firm and not too sticky.
Pull off bits of dough and roll into spheres the size of a walnut. Place ½-inch apart on parchment-lined cookie sheets and bake for 9 to 11 minutes, or until bottoms are just a little brown. Remove to a rack to cool.
- ¾ cup milk
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 teaspoons anise vanilla, or lemon extract
- 1 pound confectioners’ sugar
- Sprinkles, optional
In a medium saucepan, warm the milk and butter over medium-low heat until the butter melts. Let cool a bit then add flavor extract and beat in confectioners’ sugar.
Quickly dunk each cookie into the icing and apply sprinkles if desired. Let dry and store in a tin for up to 5 days.
You may freeze the rookies un-iced for up to 3 months, thawing and icing them as needed.
Makes about 60.
Julia Powers bakes a few holiday treats from her childhood, with her mom’s holly cookies being the hands-down family favorite. These cookies, a throwback to the 1970s, combine butter, green-tinted melted marshmallows, cornflakes, and red-hot candies—nothing fancy, but oh so good!
Article condensed and reprinted from the 2018 holiday edition of edible South Shore & South Shore. Read the full article here.
Joe Sybertz made Rosa’s cookies and sent in this photo. Great job Joe!