The Legend of the Taganu, A Folk Tale


“Six dozen eggs?! Grandma, are you sure that is right? What are you making? Where did you get this recipe?”

“Taganu [Ta-ah-noo] D’Aragona.” Grandma started pulling cartons of eggs from the refrigerator.

“This recipe came across the Atlantic on the S.S. SanGiovanni when your Great Grandmother Emanuella Cacciatore immigrated to the United States. It’s the traditional Easter pie that is made in Aragona, Sicily on Holy Saturday.”

“Now,” Grandma handed Maria a butter knife and a dozen eggs and winked, “Let’s get crackin’.”

It was Holy Thursday, and Grandma was handing down a tradition that had arisen centuries ago. She told her granddaughter the folk tale of the Taganu as the two cracked eggs at the kitchen table.

*********

The woman panted, her bent form outlined against the rugged hillside as she walked slowly toward her home. Today there was something in the air that wanted to make winter a memory, something hinting at joy and changing seasons—the opportunity to start anew. She thought happily of the blossoms that would soon be covering the almond trees, and the fresh nuts that she and her children could collect and sell.

It had been a rough winter. Their small patch of land had not yielded much last summer. Nobody’s had. All around, the fertile ground that normally supplied abundance had not produced much. What was produced ended up on boats destined for places off the island.

She lived in Aragona, Sicily. Sicily was a storied island. It had been conquered and ruled at one time or another by just about every people who had ever conquered and ruled another over the course of history. At the time this woman was making her journey, Italy was not yet its own country, and Spain claimed Sicily, though in many places on the island feudal lords still ruled their own lands. Perhaps foreign nations could conquer the island, but they never could conquer the spirit of the Sicilians. Spain had taken much of what the island produced. In exchange they had lent their religious festivities and traditions, which the Sicilians had claimed and adapted into their own joyous celebrations.

The woman inhaled the changing air around her. Yes, it seemed that winter was over. Even the woman’s children had realized this and were looking forward with great anticipation to the Easter celebrations and processions.

Over the winter the woman had sold practically everything of value they had to provide food for her children, and she didn’t have much left. Today was Holy Thursday, and she wanted badly to give her family a special Easter meal and to celebrate the oncoming spring. But, she couldn’t buy any special food.

She had some pasta, carefully put away and stored all winter, made from the wheat flour that she was able to get. Their sheep was giving milk, and she had set up some cheese just last week. It had not been salted or aged yet, and would have the rich, earthy taste of raw milk. And, they did have eggs. And a little meat. She thought about these things that she did have as she walked toward her home. She remembered the little bit of dried parsley hanging from the ceiling, and decided that she would use those things to create a special Easter meal.

The woman made a pie. She collected fresh eggs from the hens. She lined the bottom of her teraccotta pan with the sheep’s-milk cheese (Tuma) and the pasta. She cracked many eggs and beat them and poured them over the Tuma cheese and pasta, adding the little bit of meat, salt, pepper and parsley that she did have. These layers she made several times, until the pan was full.

She lifted the heavy terracotta dish and carried it to the wood fire where she let it bake.

While the pie baked, the woman returned to the chores of life; soon she was aware of a perfume drifting in the air. Her children gathered around the baking pie, which was rising now, almost above the pan. They inhaled deeply the amazing aroma of the baking Tuma cheese.

When it was baked, she sliced pieces of the golden pie for all of them. She shared the pie with others around her. They were happy. It was Easter, and the hard winter was over.

**********

“And so, was born the tradition of ‘the Taganu’.” Maria’s grandma concluded as she lifted the heavy turkey roasting pan that was now filled with Tuma cheese, rigatoni noodles, beaten eggs and meatballs.

Maria wondered how they were going to eat all of this.

But she knew. The Taganu would be served today, Holy Saturday and on Easter. It would be cut into bricks and distributed to children, grandchildren, cousins and neighbors. Some of the bricks would be frozen to be thawed and enjoyed later in the year.

As the Taganu baked, the kitchen filled with a golden perfume that wafted its way throughout the house. Maria inhaled deeply and sighed, joyous.

And, for her, the words “Get crackin,” had just gained a whole new meaning.

© 2009 Michele Arduengo.

I created this folktale based on stories that I have heard through my husband’s family. The story was created for a writing contest from which I just received a rather casual e-mail rejection, complete with my name spelled “Michelle”. Ouch! That’s an ‘L’ of a way to spell my name…

Author: Michele

Michele Arduengo is a life science and medical writer by profession and a creative non-fiction writer by hobby. In addition to publishing Grits and Purls since 2008, Michele has published essays in Wisconsin Woman, Chicken Soup for the Soul and has a weekly column in her local newspaper.

11 thoughts on “The Legend of the Taganu, A Folk Tale”

  1. Dear Michele,
    I loved your story about the “Taganu.”
    It reminds me of an Easter pie called Shattone we make every Easter in my family. Don’t you love those Grandmothers!
    Adagio

    1. Hi Chuck,

      Wow, it’s so nice to find other people who share the same tradition. We are looking forward to Easter Sunday at Grandma’s and this year’s taganu as well. Enjoy!

      Michele

  2. My Grandmother also made Taganu. Since she’s gone I started making it for the past few years and will continue to make it. I’ve cheated a few times and made it a couple times throughout the year instead of just on Easter. It’s funny I never new anyone else who made it until now. Not many people know about it. It’s nice keeping our traditions alive and passing it on to our children

    1. Hi Phillip,

      I never knew about it until I married into an Italian family. It seems to be a tradition linked to Aragona, and most people who know about it have relatives who immigrated from that region. It is important to share these traditions with our children though. I think knowing the family traditions helps them find their place in the world. Happy Easter.

      Michele

  3. Michele,
    It is so wonderful that so many of the families originating from Aragona have carried this traditional Easter Dish down through the generations. My father and his family made it every Easter and then my brothers and I also. I was not sure my children even cared, and then one Easter one asked me for the recipe and the other two soon followed. I hope it continues on for years to come. Happy Easter

    1. Hi Mary,

      We put the recipe in the family cookbook along with the story and a traditional poem about taganu in Italian. Hopefully that will keep it around for a while. It’s a neat tradition, and it’s really fun to hear about so many other families that have the same traditions. I’m really glad I posted this story. It’s been great to get all of the comments, and I can’t wait to show my in laws this Sunday.

      Michele

  4. We also grew up on Tagano as an Easter tradition. I made it once but wonder if anyone will share their family recipe with me so I can compare with mine. Much appreciated and Happy Easter.

    1. Hi Mary-Lou,
      Here is the recipe our family uses:
      Ingredients
      2 lb. rigatoni noodles
      4 lb. tuma chese, sliced
      1.5 lb grated Romano cheese
      3 lb. coursely ground round beef
      Salt and pepper to taste
      6 dozen eggs, beaten.
      Grating cheese (add to beaten eggs)
      1 c. chicken stock
      1 c. chopped fresh parsley
      Directions
      1. Thoroughly butter a large turkey roasting pan.
      2. Fry the ground round and and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
      3. Beat about half of the eggs in a large bowl, and add half of the grated Romano cheese.
      4. Beat the remaining eggs, and add the remaining cheese.
      5. Cook the rigatoni noodles for 10-15 minutes. ( You do not want them al dente)
      6. Line the bottom and sides of your roasting pan with the sliced Tuma cheese.
      7. Next, add a layer of rigatoni noodles.
      8. Pour the beaten egg/cheese mixture over the top of the rigatoni noodles.
      9. Sprinkle one-third of the ground round over the egg mixture. Salt and pepper over this. Add chopped parsley over all.
      10. Add another layer of Tuma cheese, noodles, egg/cheese mixture, meat, salt and pepper and and parsley.
      11. Continue adding layers until your pan is full. End with Tuma cheese as your top layer.
      12. Poke six holes in the top layer using your finger or the handles of a wooden spoon and pour in the chicken stock.
      12. Place the now very heavy roasting pan inside a jelly roll pan with sides. Bake in an oven at 350°F for 3 hours. The taganu will rise above the roasting pan, and the crust will be very dark brown.
      14. Remove from the oven and cool for 3 hours. Cover with a kitchen towel. Serve warm slices for dinner.
      15. Cut remaining into chunks and wrap in heavy-duty Al foil and place in a freezer bag. Can be eaten warm or cold. Can be warmed in a microwave.

      Notes.
      1. Depending upon the size of your eggs, you may use fewer eggs. The size of your roasting pan will also determine the number of noodles needed.
      2. Tuma is a fresh, unsalted cheese. It is normally available at Easter at Italian grocers. Shelf life is not very long, maybe a week.

  5. Many years ago I married into a Sicilian Family. My husband’s mother was born in Louisiana but her parents & older siblings came from Godrano, Sicily. My father in law came from Aragona, Sicily. I was taught how to cook by the family. Taganu was one of the first things I learned & I made it every year faithfully. Thank God for the Internet now. As I am learning more about it from others. The correct spelling, the town & of course various “family” recipes for the dish. Of course I was sworn to secrecy about the “family” recipe which I think is sad… but now (how did this happen) I am part of the older generation. My oldest daughter & my granddaughter are carrying on the tradition. In the years since I was young & learning.. I have been widowed, remarried (another Sicilian whose family came from Bivona, Sicily) & and even been Blessed enough to have visited the ancestral towns in Sicily. My youngest daughter & I made Taganu the year benore last. Finding Tuma cheese out West has proven impossible. 😢. But I read one of the previous posts & it said they found it at Costco. So I’m on a mission to once again find Tuma cheese.

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