In Marradi, Palazzuolo sul Senio and Firenzuola recipes and cooking secrets have been passed down by word of mouth: the culinary tradition on this side of the Tuscan Apennine, which overlooks Romagna, includes foods that are made from simple ingredients but that can be prepared by only greatly skilful hands.
Sweet foods were the most difficult to prepare and were made mostly to celebrate important holidays: Christmas, New Year’s Day, the Epiphany, Easter and the patron saints.
The area is rich in chestnuts and marroni woods, making marroni the main ingredient in numerous sweets, which range from the sugar coated roast chestnuts covered in Grappa - used to welcome the soon to be son-in-law - to the famous castagnaccio - a simple cake made with chestnut flour that was enhanced with morsels and tidbits from the pantry: dried fruit, rosemary and citrus fruit peels - to the more elaborate torta di marroni - the typical Marradi sweet. Every household had its very own special recipe for this delicious cake - which combines smooth and tasty marroni puree with light and crumbly puff pastry.
On winter eves and Carnivals, when families and friends gathered in enormous kitchens with huge welcoming fireplaces and played games or told riddles and anecdotes while an accordion or harmonica played softly in the background, simpler, less elaborate sweets were offered. The guests ate hot or cold ballotte, marroni boiled in water with laurel leaves, croccante, a sweet made from sugar, water, nut kernels and hazel nuts, and frittelle di farina di castagne, fried chestnut flour dumplings.
Most of the sweets bore the influence of the nearby Emilia Romagna, but also the city of Florence that lies some distance away.
During the Epiphany housewives prepared crisp and crumbly biscuits with lard and brigidini to fill stockings for the Befana. In this same period housewives prepared the crispy zuccherini, which were suited to the strong and healthy teeth of children, and were eaten with milk. These biscuits were easily preserved because the recipe does not include yeast.
On November 2, All Souls’ Day, round dry biscuits, either white or red - with the addition of kermes - were prepared: they were the fusaie of the Dominican nuns, eaten also during Lent because they were prepared without lard. And for dessert, Portuguese milk was very popular, especially for pregnant women. The women of the town delighted all the children by preparing spumoni, a simple biscuit similar to meringue made with sugar and egg whites.