Thursday, February 08, 2007

Holiness and almond cookies

Today is also the memorial of Blessed Jacopa de Settesoli.

Jacopa was born in 1190, into a noble Roman family of Norman heritage, and was married in her early teens to a gentleman even more noble than she was, Count Gratien de Frangipani, whose family had been noted for generations for their charity.

In 1212 or thereabout, the recently widowed Jacopa met a tattered young preacher who was visiting Rome for an audience with the Pope and other Church business about his new young community. She was so impressed, she took him and his brother companions home with her for some personal counsel. If it were up to her, she'd follow him back to Umbria and join his Poor Ladies --- but it wasn't up to her. Her sons, the heirs to both the Frangipani and Settesoli estates, were not yet five years old, and it was her duty to manage the estates and see to the raising and education of her sons until they came of age. So, she asked Francis, how was she to live the Gospel, since she was not free to leave all and follow? He gave her very practical advice about humility and charity, and raising up her little boys in that way, and she followed it. This was the very first time Francis counselled a person who could not renounce all and become a religious. (But not the last. In due time he would write a rule of life just for them; the community that is now known as the Secular Franciscan Order.)

So she set out to live the Gospel, right there in Rome in her place of wealth and power as the Frangipani and Settesoli regent. She organized and financed direct assistance to the destitute of Rome. She located, bought, and donated the land for a hostel, then nursed in it herself once it was built. Whenever any of the Lesser Brothers needed to be in Rome, they were guests in her home, where they would be fed the same treats she made for her boys. She nursed St. Francis back to health several times. All of the brothers were entirely hooked on her almond cookies, so much so that Thomas of Celano wrote the recipe for them into one of his biographies of St. Francis. Once, in appreciation for the cookies, a brother gave her a trained pet lamb, which followed her everywhere and which would wake her up in the morning so she wouldn't miss Morning Prayer and Mass.

With the help of a vision, she was present at the Little Portion when St. Francis died, having brought with her from Rome all the stuff necessary for burial, and a double batch of the almond cookies, just as Francis has written to request in the letter that hadn't yet been sent.

Soon, her sons were both of age, and she moved to Assisi to be near the brothers and the tomb of St. Francis, and she continued her prayer and charitable activities there until her death in 1273, when she was buried in the same crypt as St. Francis, where her relics are to this very day.


Janet Cupo said...

Is it possible to find that recipe?


Karen Marie said...

Here it is, at least as best as the scholars who study such things can figure (and it matches the Celano description of the ingredients and technique) the modern name for these is Mostaccioli, and they are still popular in Rome:

1 pound blanched almonds
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
approximately one cup flour

Chop the almonds very fine or coarsely grind in a blender.

In a bowl, combine the almonds, honey, cinnamon (or vanilla), and egg whites, and mix thoroughly. Gradually add enough flour to form a thick paste.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the paste until smooth and stiff, then roll out to about 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into diamond shapes about 2.5 inches long. Place the diamonds on a lightly buttered and floured baking sheet and let dry for 1 to 2 hours.

Then, bake in a preheated 250 degree f oven for 20-30 minutes or until set, do not let brown. Makes about 3 dozen.

Be aware I haven't actually tried to make these yet. karen marie.