There is no magic without the idea of preparing them. Before tasting them, with your hands still in the dough, Santa Cecilia’s breasts (or pittule) warm your heart because they open the doors to Christmas. The tradition of Taranto origin, widespread throughout Puglia, is deeply felt and is celebrated with its special rites, such as that of family gatherings to eat, rigorously hot, the soft balls of fried leavened dough. Covered in sugar or salted, legends are crowded on the breasts, among all that which traces the birth of the iconic pancakes to a housewife from Taranto who, on the day of Saint Cecilia, prepared the dough for the bread. The woman, attracted by the music of the pipers, left the house and followed them through the alleys of the Ionian city.
Returning to the base, she realized that the dough had risen too much and, so as not to throw it away, the housewife fried it by the spoonful. Her children liked the recipe so much that they named the small pancakes “pettole”, probably in reference to the “pitta”, a typical local focaccia. A story with a romantic flavour, which however would not find confirmation in historical and linguistic reconstructions: referring to the etymology of the word, in fact, the origins would be Latin. According to some glottologists, the root of the term goes back to Syriac, an ancient oriental language, perhaps also to Indo-European. Yet, the theme of “carelessness” also returns in the Christian legend, according to which Saint Elizabeth, distracted by a long chat with the Madonna, forgot the dough for the weekly bread, which thus grew enormously. To recover it, all she had to do was dip the pieces of pasta into the boiling oil. Consumed in Puglia, Lucania and in a large part of Campania, despite the more or less reliable testimonies, it must be said that for the people of Taranto, but for all the people of Puglia more generally, the Breasts truly mark the beginning of the Christmas celebrations . The smell of fried food pervades the streets of Taranto on November 22nd.
It is in the city of the two seas, in fact, that the ritual is most strongly felt. From Salento to the Gargano – where “Baby Jesus Pillows” are widely offered, typical shortcrust pastry sweets filled with a cream based on pureed chickpeas, dark chocolate and liqueur – the fried dough balls represent one of the most important culinary traditions Apulian festival.
Every family jealously guards its perfect recipe, the one handed down by mothers and grandmothers, and every town has its own name to identify the beloved fritters: “pittula”, “pittola”, “pettula”, “pettele”, but also “pettuli ” (in the Brindisi area), popizze (in the Bari area), “zeppole” up in Irpinia, “scorpelle” in San Severo, “pettl” in Matera. Ultimately, the name can vary, certainly also the recipe (the addition of ingredients such as anchovies in oil or tomato with basil and pecorino cheese is frequent), but one thing is certain: on the day of Saint Cecilia the breasts cannot missing on the tables of the Apulians.
It is curious that in some places in the region the date set for their preparation falls on December 7th, as in the Brindisi area, or on December 8th, as in Lizzano, where there is a proverb that goes like this: frizzulata, the Cannilora is the last frizzola”, “on the day of the Immaculate Conception the first preparation of breasts, on the day of Candlemas, the last”. In many municipalities of Salento, it is customary to prepare “pittule” even on the day of San Martino, November 11th: they are accompanied by new wine and grilled meats, such as horse and pork. In Gallipoli, pittule appear on festively laid tables as early as October 15th, the day on which Santa Teresa D’Avila is celebrated, which introduces the festive period to the pearl of the Ionian Sea. Long live the fried pizzelle, whether empty or filled, always fragrant and romantic, because when they arrive, yes, Christmas is really upon us.