‘The Little Virtues’ of Christmas

new orange pic

Giro’s shop was exactly opposite our house. Giro used to stand in the doorway like an old owl, gazing at the street with his round, indifferent eyes. He sold a bit of everything; groceries, postcards, shoes and oranges. When the stock arrived and Giro unloaded the crates, boys ran to eat the rotten oranges that he threw away. At Christmas nougat, liqueurs and sweets also arrived. But he never gave the slightest discount on his prices. ‘How mean you are, Giro,’ the women said to him, and he answered ‘People who aren’t mean get eaten by dogs’.

At Christmas the men returned from Terni, Sulmona and Rome, stayed for a few days, and set off again after they had slaughtered the pigs. For a few days people ate nothing but sfrizzoli, incredible sausages that made you drink the whole time; and then the squeal of the new piglets would fill the street.

Natalia Ginzburg, 1944
from “Winter in the Abruzzi”  in The Little Virtues
(Reprinted with permission from Arcade Publishing)

This December scene takes place in Pizzoli near L’Aquila where in the early 40s Natalia Ginzburg, her husband Leone, and two sons lived. Leone was exiled to Abruzzo to curtail his anti-fascist activities. Whenever I read “Winter in the Abruzzi” I am moved by the hardship she describes.

If I read this correctly and make some guesses, the sfrizzoli of which Ginzburg writes is awfully close to what rural Americans call cracklins. And so “after they had slaughtered the pigs” they may have rendered chopped chunks of pork fat for several hours- outdoors in a big caldron- until the pieces colored and floated becoming crispy nuggets with maybe a sliver of meat in each piece.

The sfrizzoli  must have tasted as good as a piece of sweet torrone in winter. I hope Giro got his fair share.

Used with permission from http://www.ambrosianapictures.it

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