Panforte: ancient and legendary Sienese dessert
Anna Maria Tardiolo – By now we know: a region that you go sweets and customs that you find! While on the coffee tables of Lombard homes a slice of panettone is accompanied by a good cup of tea and on those from Puglia between a chat and the other a plate of cartellate rests, the Sienese tables are filled with slices of panforte or ricciarelli or if you prefer a glass of vin santo to coffee, a tray of cantuccini will appear. Certainly the oldest among the sweets of Siena and the one the city is proud of is the panforte. A history spanning more than eight hundred years. The first evidence of a spiced sweet bread dates back to 1205 when a document was drawn up kept in the convent of Montecelso on the outskirts of Siena. At the time, it seems it was not called Panforte but Panpepato; the text states that the peasants were obliged to bring a certain amount of pepper-flavored bread and honey to the nuns as payment of a tax. Siena, at that time, was the crucial hub for the spice trade along the Via Francigena. Despite this, pepper remained an expensive and rare spice. Imported from the East, it was considered so valuable that it was a bargaining chip or used as a substitute for coins. Spices were used for the preparation of medicines and for this reason, the preparation of Panpepato was entrusted only to the Art of the Medici and Apothecaries of Siena, who produced the dessert in their apothecaries with the surplus derived from the composition of the medicines.
Once the finished product was made, it was given to sell in inns, taverns, edible shops. Considering, however, the high cost of spices and the possibility of manipulation by a small number of people, Panpepato was for a long time a dessert within the reach of a few: mainly intended for nobles and clergy. With the passage of time, spices took on an increasingly leading role in the kitchen, especially in consideration of the possibility of preserving food and reinvigorating the soldiers. And it is precisely for this purpose that the Panpepato is transformed, according to the legends, into Panforte. That’s right: there are more than one legend about it. The first tells that the Sienese managed to win the battle of Montaperti thanks to this cake made more energetic, richer able to support the soldiers engaged in the fighting, by the skilled hands of the nun Sister Berta who modified the original recipe by adding almonds, cedar , melon and orange, ginger, pepper and other spices. A second legend tells a much more romantic story: a nun locked up in a convent as a result of an impossible love, Sister Ginevra, while she was preparing the classic Panpepato, heard from the window the voice of her beloved given up for dead during the crusades. Out of emotion, she spilled an immeasurable amount of pepper and spices, giving rise to Panforte.
How it came from Panpepato to Panforte will never be known exactly, but we certainly know that from the Middle Ages onwards this dessert was increasingly known and appreciated even outside the Sienese territory. The preparation took place mainly during the Christmas period and was offered as a gift on important occasions. A tradition that will continue over time, so much so that in the nineteenth century Ugo Foscolo himself gives an account of it between the lines of a letter dated 1813 while the European noble and noble courts were already aware of it. But in a dessert with such an ancient history, could a little secret be hidden? The Panforte recipe contains a secret number: seventeen. Since 1675 there are many districts of the Palio and there must be many ingredients that make up a perfect Panforte! The preparation of this dessert at home, in fact, follows very rigid steps precisely in order not to forget any food necessary to create that dessert that will be shared during the Christmas period when friends and family will exchange courtesy visits for the exchange of greetings and will be played at the Panforte game in which the Sienese dessert will be the protagonist and in which at the end in a serene and cheerful atmosphere a piece of panforte is shared all together! Hoping today that these times can come back soon !!