Step into a sweet-smelling pasticceria or bakers in Abruzzo thoughout January particularly in the Teramo province and you may discover a pastry treat less glamorous looking than you’d normally expect. In Abruzzese they’re known as ‘uccelletti’ (li cillitte de Sand’Andonie), a birdie shaped stuffed pastry that is eaten and given to celebrate San’Antonio, see here for a recipe.
Neither our lovely baker nor anyone in the village could explain how these little pastry birdies came about that are stuffed with grape jam and a combination of cocoa, rum, cinnamon, shredded tangerine/orange zest, roasted almonds and dark chocolate chips wrapped up in the very shortest of pastry. Like so many traditions we indulge in we haven’t a clue in its history but revel in its associated gorgeous sweetmeats.
My overactive imagination began to wonder about these birdies with a Saint whose main pre-occupation is the safe keeping of domesticated animals. One of the symbols used in art to help pick him out from a row of other Saints in a church is seeing a little sparrow by his side, was this bird’s inclusion a celebration of the birds beginning their annual migration back to cooler shores from Africa, birds do good as pollinators and pest control after all?
A Portable Bird In the Hand
The truth is much much simpler. The birds were created as a reward for the itinerant travelling musicians, actors and beggars (i Sandandonijre) who performed The Passions of St Anthony Abate on his feast day. The pastries providing much needed calories and an easy to manage holy spirit for a group of people who in millennium gone by weren’t regarded as your most wholesome.