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The serpentone is a typical cake of central Italy, especially of Lazio, Umbria, and Abruzzo. It has the shape of a long thin snake, and it is presented curled up in a spiral. It is produced all year round, but more specifically for Sant’Antonio Abate’s feast and for that of Sant’Anatolia, which falls on July 10. It belongs to the strudel family.
The preparation of serpentone is very ancient and has been handed down for generations. The shape of the snake is connected to Christian iconography and, particularly, to the martyrdom of Saint Anatolia occurred in 249 AD. The woman was closed in a sack full of poisonous snakes. The executioners found her safe and sound the next day when they opened the sack. The Virgin Mary figure is linked to the same theme, and she is often represented while crushing the serpent of evil, Satan.
It is uncertain whether the sweet or some of its ancestors existed before the Christian era; however, some relate it to the god Eusculapio, whose symbol was that of the snake. An ancient legend tells how, in 293 BC, a terrible epidemic broke out in Rome. The sibylline books suggested to go to Epidaurus to the temple of the healer god Aesculapius and to take the sacred snake that was its symbol to bring it to the city.
The animal was loaded on the ship that returned to Rome going up the Tiber. At the height of the Tiber Island, it slashed into the sea and disappeared from view, swimming safely to the island. The event gave rise to the custom of baking buns in the shape of snakes and offering them to the god to watch over citizens’ health.
Serpentone is a lemon-flavored almond paste cake. It is presented almost like a colorful toy and decorated with bright colors. Two red cherries simulate the eyes, and an almond is placed at the mouth’s height to stimulate the tongue. There are similar sweets in Umbria, which have as an ingredient also apples.
The area of Perugia is better known as Torciglione for the characteristic spiral shape.
Regional Recipe from Latium, Umbria, Abruzzo