Brustengolo, Rural Flavors, Rural Memories

March 5, 2012 / Food & Wine
Umbria

Deep snow now covers our fields where corn stood tall in past summers. After the picking the corn in late summer, the dried cornstalks remaining resembled bent-over old men standing forlornly in the fields. When we farmed in the 1970’s, some of the corn was pulverized for chicken feed or for the corn mash to fatten the pigs, turning their rear thighs into tasty prosciutti. Some of our farm neighbors’ corn was always ground for corn flour for polenta or brustengolo (recipe below), one of the few sweets which highlight Umbrian rural cuisine.

We spent many a winter evening at our nearest farm neighbors’ home, sitting around the fire, helping them husk the corn, as the older people told us stories of their farm childhood quando c’era la miseria (“when we were poor”). Nowadays, combines do the job. Farm families watch TV in the evenings in their kitchens – often alone. Modernization of agriculture perhaps has brought “progress”…?

Looking out over those snow-covered cornfields now, I remember the hot sweaty days of hoeing by hand (no weed killers in those days!) a couple of acres of corn (for feed for our pigs and fowl – and for some corn flour for home use). The work was so intense and exhausting that I remember nights of dreaming (“nightmaring”?!) that I was hoeing, hoeing, hoeing.

We picked the corn by hand as well – and when our sons were small, they played with the corn husks as we threw them into the wagon behind the tractor. We miss those days. I don’t miss the endless hoeing of the rows of corn on sweltering July days, but I miss the picking of the corn on sunny fall days and the husking around the fireplace with our farm friends on winter nights. I miss using our own corn flour, too, in baking. So I’ll use the corn flour I bought to make brustengolo today. If we can get through the snow, we’ll take it tonight to our farm neighbors for a visit – and a chat around the fire about the old days, quando c’era la miseria. There won’t be corn to husk, though…..and I can only hope the TV will be off.

Ingredients (for about 6 to 8 persons)

300 g of corn flour – about 1 1/4 c
100 g of cake flour – about 1 – 1/4 c
1/2 c. of extra-virgin olive oil
2 glasses warm water or more if needed
150 g raisins – just over 1 cu[
150 g pinenuts – approx. 1 c will do
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
4 sliced apples
about 1 c of sugar
1/2 grated lemon peel
1 small glass of anisette liquer (quantity to taste! – can be eliminated if desired – add more water in such case)

Put flour in mixing bowl and add slightly salted boiling water, mixing with wooden spoon. Peel the apples and slice, covering them with lemon juice so that they do not turn black. Add the raisins, pinenuts, walnuts, and grated lemon peel to apples. Stir sugar, olive oil and liqueur into the mixture. Add the flour mixture. Adjust quantities as needed. Put in buttered baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 mins.
The rural people would not have had mascarpone in their farm kitchen but if you want to add a rich touch to this simple farm dish, add a topping you can easily make of creamed ricotta, mascarpone, and sugar.

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See www.annesitaly.com for more on her Umbria tours. Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

19 Responses to “Brustengolo, Rural Flavors, Rural Memories”

  1. Lyn Beckenham

    I like the sound of that recipe – I have copied it into my folder with your other Italian recipes and hope to make it someday.
    Thanks

    Reply
  2. Denise

    Love this family picture Anne! It was wonderful to meet you in Seattle at your fabulous cooking class. I have already made the pasta with asparagus and my son made your pork chop recipe! Hope to meet up with you in Italy in a few years!

    Reply
  3. Denise

    My mom tells stories about when she was a little girl in Pieve San Paolo, Lucca ( she is 91 yrs now) and how a truck would unload a huge heap of husked corn in the middle of the court & everyone would sit up on top of the heap & husk the corn while talking & laughing

    Reply
  4. Linda Boccia

    This is a note for Denise with the mother who is from Pieve San Paolo, near Lucca. I have been writing, after spending 6 months in a friend’s apartment in Pieve San Paolo, about Lucchesi nel mondo and I would love to interview your mother either in Italian or English, about how she got to Seattle. I grew up in SEattle and now live in the Bay Area, but I write for an English language magazine in Lucca. My email is: casaboccia@comcast.net Grazie!!

    Reply
  5. Denise

    Linda-it seems there are 2 Denise’s in this reply. I am from Seattle but my mother is not from Italia! Good luck!

    Reply
  6. Thanks for the fond memories. As a pre-teen I actually participated in the husking by hand of our corn harvest. We lived in the Ciociaria area in Lazio. The corn was picked by the family and neighbourhood during the day and piled in the “ara” sort of atrium. In the evening we all gathered around the pile and husked away till the wee hours of the morning. There was always someone who played the “organetto” mostly playing tarantellas but also accompaning the “stornellate”. We all have heard the famous Stornelli Romani, well these were impromptu singing jabs between a man and a woman and if I remember correctly they would be either a married couple or engaged otherwise the whole town would be gossoping about it the next many months. Often if the organetto played the right ritm those same related couple finished the stornellata dancing the tarantella. I will try your “Brustengolo”….mom used to make occasionally the “Fallone” a corn bread, a novelty to us but bad memories of the miseria of our ancestors. Yes, in the 50′ we started to consider ourselves rich. And perhaps that is why Italians say that corn is for chicken and pigs, it reminds them of the only abundant staple of their youth.

    Reply
  7. Suzanne Kinney

    Grazie Mille, Ann, for this article and all your articles in Italian Notebook. The foto of you & your family in this article is very very dear – un tesoro!
    Your Assisi friend in Chicago, Suzanne

    Reply
  8. Anne Robichaud

    Thanks, Suzanne, for your note and sorry to miss you in Chicago / only there on the 8th for one cooking class. Denise, great to cook with you in Seattle / Lyn, when are you coming back to Umbria!?

    Reply
  9. We need more family/group activities. No computers, no TV, no phone calls. Just “down time” together. I wound yarn into balls with a friend between our concerts a few months ago. Such a simple thing to do, but so comfortable.
    Of course, food-related activities sound like even more fun right now, as I haven’t had lunch yet.
    My Sicilian grandmother-in-law once gave me a recipe for Sfingi di San Giuseppi. My totally barbaric Italian read it as “San Giuseppi’s fingers.” I was relieved to learn that it was not. Oh, stop, I want to make it right now, and eat the whole batch without sharing.

    Reply
  10. Virgil A Franco

    I enjoyed this story as I do all Notebook notes.This brought me back when I was growing up in Arkansaw U.S.A. when we would pick the corn by hand and we put them in piles five rowes apart, then with horse and wagon we loaded and hauled to the corn crib.Some times I miss those days, but I don’t think I want them back.I don’t think I could handle it now that we are so modern.

    Thanks for all Notebook stories.

    Reply
  11. Denise

    John-you reminded me of when my dad used to say….lettuce is for rabbits and then we make stew!

    Reply
  12. Glasses? How big? How many ounces? Thanks. (PS My mother’s recipes call for “glasses” but I know what size glass she used.)

    Reply
  13. Gian Banchero

    Anne, thank you for the recipe, for sure I will try it soon but one question first. Just how large are the requested glasses for the warm water (in ounces please)? Your presented cake is such as I grew up with that to this day I prefer over the overly sweet frosted ones, a cake such as the one you’ve presented goes oh so well with spumante or the likes, even red wine. A cake like this fosters good cheer and conversation, again thank you.

    Reply
  14. Mary Cappiello

    Annie—

    Loved the article and the photo and the recipe. Are you sharing your wonderful recipe for the pasta with tomatoes and walnuts that you did for us in San Francisco with your cooking classes? Hope so! They will love it!

    Mary

    Reply
  15. Carissima Anna,

    You are an amazing dream and testimony to all who have ever loved and lived in Italy. I so enjoyed meeting with you yesterday.

    Although we could not go to my favorite restaurant, I hope to see you in Houston again. If not in Italy–my second home.

    Saluti–

    Janice

    Reply
  16. Anne Robichaud

    THANKS to all for your notes / and how much is a “glass”? About 8 oz? but you know how Italian cooking is: “quanto basta” (“as much as is needed”) is the most common cookbook annotation!
    :)

    Reply
  17. Aldo Brustenghi

    Hi Anne,

    I was very suprised and pleased to find this recipie today and I wanted to thankyou for posting it on the web.

    I thought I might add a little more info on the comments as this very much like the cake my Grandmother used to bake in 50s/60s. Nerver thought it might become a locally baked cake, my family orginate from Perugia,so I am guessing this could be a recipie that has been passed thru dawn various branches of the family over many generations.

    I will try to bake it and see if it is like my grandmothers.

    Many thanks again Aldo Brustenghi

    Reply
  18. Anne Robichaud

    Che bello! yes, I would guess your Nonna was making brustengolo!
    If her way of making it was slightly different, perfectly logical: Perugia is 22 km away from Assisi – so foods vary!

    Reply

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