Sunday, November 28, 2010

Carmela Soprano's and Anna Sultana's Traditional Christmas Dinners: Seven Fishes, Eels and Caposelle

Last week we started getting ready for the holidays with Carmela's easy recipe for Cheese Puffs from Entertaining with The Sopranos.  

That is a handy recipe for anybody's get together.

But, to be honest, it isn't what the crowd just off the boat in the first half of the twentieth century would've sat down to eat on Christmas Eve.

Trust me.  

I was a kid just off the boat.

Carmela's a bit younger than I am.  So it's likely her folks had made the switch to the big bird before she was born.  Her grandparents might have cooked up some of the old time recipes.  But her Ma, from what I've seen, has her nose in the air and wouldn't admit to eating any of that stuff.  
Not at gunpoint.

Carmela had to sit down with Uncle Junior and ask him about his memories of when Christmas was Christmas.

He'd packed away his gun and a jug of wine works wonders at making folks chatty.

As expected, the gifts were simple and cheap.  No surprise there.  Very few Donald Trump types waltzed off the boat.  If they had it good there, why come here?

The food was also simple and cheap.  No crown roasts.  No turkey, either.

Christmas Eve was a night of seafood splendor.  The Feast of the Seven Fishes.  A very safe meal to serve in a Catholic home since Christmas Eve was a day of abstinence in preparation for the holy day, Christmas.  

Not eating meat on Christmas Eve was supposed to make us think more about Jesus, our family and our friends.

A bit of history...  Before the mid 60s, the Catholic Church had a lot of rules about what and how much we could eat.  Since then, the rules have been relaxed and people have gotten fatter and sicker.  
Coincidence or what?

Anyway, the Feast of the Seven Fishes most likely originated in Sicily.  Seven is a big number for Catholics.  We've got seven sacraments and seven deadly sins.  Seven of the Apostles were fishermen and, according to legend, it took seven days for Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem.

So, seven fish dishes were served on Christmas Eve.

Don't argue with tradition or you'll get a lump of coal in your stocking.

Seven main courses seems like a lot.  But, pound for pound, it probably wasn't more than a honking big roast would have been.
Back to the old time Christmas...
One of the fish dishes would be eel.
Now I've got your attention.
Yep.  Eel.
They'd be bought live, swim around in the bath tub for a few days, their heads would be cut off and they'd be skinned and cooked.

Now aren't you glad there were six other fish to eat?

There'd also be a platter of Caposelle.  Let's get through this quickly.  It's a sheep's head, roasted and served with the brains and eyeballs.

It wasn't RED meat, so it was acceptable.

Don't argue with tradition or you'll get a lump of coal in your stocking.

Malta and Sicily were once called the kingdom of two Sicilies.  
So, our Christmas traditions and menu are similar.

Why couldn't they have been called the kingdom of two Maltas? 

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