“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…