King’s biscuits

Biscotti del Re

During the final year of the Great War (1915-1918), more precisely on 6th June 1918, Vittorio Emanuele III, King of Italy, payed a visit to the town of Altedo.
His Royal Highness, who had just returned from the north-eastern front, was escorted by the Prefect of Bologna, by the Commissioner, by high ranking Carabinieri officers and other civil authorities. The cortege consisted of approximately ten of the King’s grey-green cars driven by Fiat. They were coming from the direction of the towns of Argenta and Molinella, their previous stops, and had driven through the centre of San Gabriele, Baricella and Rivabella. They arrived in Altedo at 10.15 am, parked close to the mill which was at the time owned by the mayor Zeno Pezzali, and everyone – including the King – had to wait for him to come down from his bedroom.

According to the story, Zeno Pezzoli had a habit of sleeping until late, and apparently even having a guest did not make him feel the need to hurry. Whatever the reason, the mayor of Altedo surely gained the enviable record of having made a king a wait for him to sleep a little longer. His daughter, Anna, perhaps trying to hide a little bit of embarrassment, offered the King a bunch of flowers which were in a vase on their table – but she dripped some of the water onto his austere military suit. Definitely an unusual welcome!

Finally, the mayor came out of the bedroom and the group headed towards the Cooperativa Agricola Marsiglia, the local farmers cooperative, where the counsellors Minozzi, Bignami and Minghozzi were waiting for them. The official reason for the inspection was to demonstrate to the King the new techniques for cultivating rice, an extremely popular cultivation also further north, in the vercellese region – particularly cable ploughing in the rice fields, with machinery no longer powered by steam locomotives but by electric motors. The King, in any case, demonstrated interest also for the transplanting of the shoots to the rice nurseries.

But, in reality, these visits on the national territory were programmed in order to help the home front, undoubtedly depressed by the run of the war and by vicious political battles. At the end of the visit to the farm, the King and the rest of his group were offered a sumptuous refreshment, and on that occasion Mrs Tuda Martinelli Pezzoli, mother of the aforementioned mayor, created a type of biscuit which was similar to the hard taks given to the soldiers: sweet and slightly bitter, with almonds, cooked in the oven and a little crunchy.

The King liked them so much he though to send some back to his estate in San Rossore, for his children, and asked Mrs Tuda if she would have liked the Royal House to patent her biscuits. She replied they had been cooked exclusively for His Majesty and were not to be sold to others, then she picked up a napkin, filled it with biscuits and tied the four corners together (as was the habit in the fields) and gave them to be sent to the King’s children. She did however ask for permission to call them, from that moment on, the “King’s Biscuits”.

After eighty years, this recipe is still being used in Altedo, especially at Christmas and Easter time, and for other religious celebrations. Together with the green asparagus and with the “witches of the dè Conti valley”, another kind of dry cracker, they have become true culinary specialities of the area.

THE RECIPE

Ingredients: 2 teaspoons baking soda, 2 liquor glasses of dry aniseed, 250 grams of butter, 250 grams of almonds (whole), 100 grams of candied cedar peel (chopped up), 700 grams of sugar, 7 eggs, 1 kilo of flour, 150 grams of icing sugar. Yields about 2 kilos of cooked biscuits.

Preparation: Mix the flour and the baking soda together. Make a well in the flour and add the sugar, melted butter, eggs and aniseed so that you obtain a smooth and quite compact dough. Peel the almonds, keeping them whole, and add them to the mixture together with the candied cedar, finely chopped. Work the dough until all the ingredients are evenly distributed, then shape it into squashed, elongated rolls (about 35 cm long, 5 cm wide and 2 cm high). Place in heated oven at 180°C for about 20 minutes. Be careful not to overcook. Once taken out of the oven, let them cool totally, then cut the rolls obliquely into slices about half a centimetre thick to make the biscuits. Put them 3 or 4 minutes more in the oven, and take them out while they still have a light colour. Once they have cooled down, sieve the icing sugar on the top with a colander.

These biscuits keep for a long time if kept in a tightly sealed container (for example a tin can): put them one layer over another, sprinkling abundantly with icing sugar.