If you happen to be in Italy during Lent and you find yourself in Calabria, do not be startled if you come across what appears to be an old lady type ragdoll hanging from a balcony or the side of a house. No need to be concerned, this is not some form of malocchio or evil-eye. It is Corajisima, a traditional practice during Lent, most specifically in Calabria but also in some other areas in southern Italy.
Corajisima is more a who than a what. She could be called the wife or more accurately the widow of Carnevale. She can also be called sorella or sister of Carnevale. After the great feast of Martedi Grasso or what we call Fat Tuesday, the embodiment of revelries dies and poor Corajisima remains alone. She is usually depicted as an ugly, bony old woman with a very unsettling appearance. Corajisima represents abstinence in the Lenten period.
Corajisima typically starts immediately after midnight of Martedi Grasso. The story is that she roams the streets setting out pots of boiling water to burn the throats of those who dare to eat meat or sweets during Lent. Just that mere thought has been known to scare the children to observe the rules of Lent and be good.
Quaresima is the word used for Lent, or the forty days between Carnevale or Mardi Gras and Easter. It is a period of abstinence in preparation for Easter for Catholics. Italy remains a very Catholic country and takes religion and religious traditions very seriously. The younger generation might be less so than their parents and most definitely their Nonni, but Roman Catholicism is still a strong family influence.
Led by the example of the Pope, Catholics are expected to fast for the full forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday to reflect on self-sacrifice as shown by Jesus as he fasted for forty days in the desert before his crucifixion. It is also as a penance for the excesses of the previous year.
Following a tradition almost as old as the Church in Rome herself, the Pope goes to the Basilica of Santa Sabina to mark the beginning of Lent on the afternoon of Ash Wednesday. There the Pope leads a penitential procession from the Basilica of San Anselmo to the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome. After a prayer service in San Anselmo a procession begins accompanied by the singing of the Litany of Saints, invoking the assistance of all martyrs and saints during the 40 days ahead and for a successful Lent. Arriving at Santa Sabina, the Pope celebrates Mass, thus marking the beginning of Lent with a traditional visit to several Churches to follow.
Lent is observed in our home too, though not as austere as in Italy or even years past when I attended Catholic school. (I had 14 years of catholic schooling and 12 years of wearing blue and white uniforms). Our introduction to Lent begins on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent starts. In our house it is known as Pancake Tuesday because we will sup on Crepes and Pancakes. This tradition for my family goes back for as long as I can remember. My maternal Grandmother, Nonna Giovanna, would make crepes and we filled them with her homemade prune jelly. It continued after her passing and so it continues in our home to this day, albeit a little different. The family will come over, I will make crepes and pancakes along with bacon and sausage. The family will fill or top them with a variety of jams, jellies and syrup. I don’t have Nonna’s recipe for prune jelly, although I wish I did as it was delicious.
On Wednesday we will receive our ashes and then the fasting of Lent begins.
We fill the crepes using an assortment of jams, jellies, Nutella, warmed, drained cottage cheese and top them off with maple syrup. All these jelly choices for the younger grandchildren is like a meal in a candy store! There is also an assortment of breakfast sausage and bacon to go with the crepes.
This recipe usually makes about 12 crepes depending on the size of the pan.
- 1 ½ cups whole milk – room temperature
- 3 eggs – room temperature
- 2/3 cup flour
- 2 tbs butter – melted
- ¼ tsp salt
- extra butter – for coating the pan
- ½ tsp vanilla extract – optional
- 1 tb sugar
- In a medium bowl with a wire whisk, beat the melted butter with the remaining ingredients until smooth. This can be done (and I do) in a blender.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- Remove from the refrigerator and whisk or blend again for a few seconds.
- When ready, brush the bottom of an 8-inch or 9-inch crepe or flat bottom non-stick pan with melted butter. The crepe batter should be a little thinner than heavy cream.
- Heat the pan over medium heat and then pour ¼ cup of batter into the pan, quickly tipping the pan to coat the entire bottom.
- Cook for about 1-minute until the top is set and the bottom is slightly browned, but not very brown. Carefully loosen the crepe and turn over to cook on the other side.
- Slide out onto wax paper and proceed cooking the next crepe until all the crepes are cooked. Usually, the first crepe is a throw-away so don’t be concerned.
- If you want to make Chocolate Crepes, add 3 Tablespoons of Cocoa, ¼ Cup of Sugar and a little more Vanilla, to taste.
NOTE: when you start making the crepes, start warming your oven to 200º and place the crepes, as they are done, on a large platter and then into the oven to keep warm.
And….tomorrow we fast!