Friday, December 23, 2011

A Tribute to a Wonderful Lady

On the night of 12th December we received the telephone call we had expected but dreaded. Dear nonna Lucia had passed from this life aged 98. Nonna Lucia is my husband's grandmother, she is my children's great grandmother. But to me she was friend, a confidante and a mentor. From nonna Lucia I learnt about honesty, I learnt about pride and I learnt about giving without receiving. We spent many hours chatting about her life and I absorbing her knowledge that comes from a century of experience.She was, as many nonnas are, a great cook and baker. From poor, humble beginnings, a servant girl by the age of 9 and then travelling far from home across the seas to Australia to be with her husband at 19, she knew how to make the most of life.

Nonna Lucia food was simple, wholesome and delicious -typically Italian. Most of her recipes were in her head. In Australia she learned to make the quintessential Australian cake - the sponge. And how well she mastered that recipe. However ask her the quantities and she would show you a teacup and say it would depend on the eggs - how large, what type (hen, bantam hen, duck) as to whether it is a heaped teacup or level. She just knew by judging the batter when it was just right,

One of her specialities was her Torta di Zucca made especially for Christmas. This is made by many in our town and each has their own recipe - some better than others though all claim theirs the best. This Torta contains a strange combination of ingredients and I often wondered where it originated as I had never seen such a torta in any Italian recipe book. Recently while googling I found something very similar at As Strong As Soup. Finally I found someone else makes this strange torta and loves it as much as I do.
This year I made this on my own for the first time - without nonna Lucia's guidance, without her making new suggestions and with her tasting and giving me her approval.
I miss you nonna Lucia. 

Torta di Zucca
Keep in mind that while we can use a food processor to crush and puree, nonna Lucia made this completely by hand in great quantities to be lovingly wrapped and given to family and friends at Christmas. It was a great effort for her and she continued well into her 90's preparing this by hand.
It is  only meant to be about 2 1/2cm/ 1 inch in thickness.

200g dried apricots
200g dried peaches
5 cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped coarsely
2 tablespoons sugar
4 cups steamed, mashed pumpkin, use something like butternut
1 200g packet amaretti  ( the crunchy type)
375g sweet plain biscuits (cookies) 
200g chocolate
2 cups sugar
7 eggs, beaten
90g butter, melted
1 cup sweet sherry
1 cup marsala
1/2 cup brandy
50ml almond essence
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 lemon, rind only, grated
1 tablespoon instant coffee

Simmer the apricots and peaches in a little water with the 2 tablespoons sugar for 10 minutes. Add the apples and cook until the apples are soft. Drain, reserving the liquid.
Crush amaretti and plain biscuits with chocolate in the food processor.
 Puree the fruit in the food processor. 
Process the pumpkin also to ensure it is smooth.

Preheat the oven to 275F/135C.
Grease and line with nonstick parchment two 30cm x 20cm baking pans.

Cool the fruit and pumpkin then add to the crushed biscuit/ chocolate mixture.
Slowly mix in the remaining ingredients.
Pour mixture into prepare pans and bake for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The mixture should come away from the sides when it is ready. Turn out onto paper lined board to cool. Once cool wrap in baking paper and keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator. It will keep for several weeks.

This torta is meant to be cut into small squares or portions and consumed as almost a "spoon sweet" with coffee as it will be enjoyed  in my home this Christmas.
My best wishes to all for a happy and joyous Christmas.

If you too have experienced loss this year and will feel it at Christmas, let us remember to give thanks for the gift of our loved ones and for the gift our Lord gave us - his only Son.

Ti voglio bene, nonna Lucia.
Dormi in pace con Dio.
Sempre nel mio cuore.


  1. My dear Marcellina I send you and your family a very strong hug !I'm sure nonna Lucia is proud of your Torta di zucca

  2. I'm so sorry for your loss - this is a beautiful tribute. The torta is lovely and you must be proud to have this handed on to you as a family recipe. To me, that seems a very valuable inheritance. Sadly I learnt my version of this unusual torta from a book originally but your tribute has added a new dimension to it for me. Have a peaceful Christmas.

  3. How sad to lose a treasured grandmother. The older we get, the more these losses affect us, it seems. How lucky you were to have her all those years, but I know her passing is still hard to confront. My condolences.

  4. Sorry for your loss Marcellina. Even though Nona Lucia gave without expecting anything in return, it's evident from your post she probably received loads of love back from those who surrounded her. Thank you for sharing her recipe.

  5. What a beautiful tribute to your nonna - may she rest in peace.

  6. I lost my Gram this fall, and have also been thinking about her a lot during this Christmastime, the foods we made and enjoyed with her for so many of my formative years. How lucky for you to have been close with your husband's grandmother, and how lucky we are to be able to see a little of her through a lovely recipe such as this one! I am sad with you, but it is indeed a good reminder of Christ's sacrifice for us... Thank you for such a kind, well-written tribute, I appreciate reading about wonderful women like your Nonna!

  7. dear Marcellina I'm very glad that you are now aa my follower i think we could learn to much each other let me see if you well like my recipe when you 'll have tasted .. my children are lovesofficini blessing simmy.. bag your perdon for my awful englis i try not to use when i can google translation just to make practise..

  8. I offer my condolences on your grandmother, she sounds a lovely lady. I wish I had someone to produce such a fine looking cake as this.

    I was going to try and make the cake myself and there are a couple of things that are unclear. This recipe is for 2 cakes? Is it 1.2kg or a one 200g packet of amaretti? Also you put 2 cups of sugar, is this about 400g. It is just most everything else is in grams so this threw me!

    Blimey I sound a nag. I am sure nonna Lucia is beaming on the cake you have made.

  9. Richard, sorry for my late reply - we have been away on holidays. Now to answer your questions. Use 200g amaretti not 1.2kg. And yes, 2 cups is 400g sugar. This recipe makes quite a lot - I made 2 cakes in the rectangular baking trays. You can also use smaller baking tins as long as the depth of mixture is no more than 1 to 1 1/2 inches. It will rise a little then sink on cooling. If you make it in smaller pans it will cook more quickly - start watching it after about 2 hours of cooking. The cakes don't brown a lot and stay very moist. Slice after refrigerating. This also uses lots of almond essence if you don't like that flavour reduce the amount or omit. A fairly flexible recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!


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