This time of the year, Italians make fig cookies.
Most fig cookies I’ve seen are cucidati, similar enough in shape to a Fig Newton, but with a totally different dough and frosted.
[A quick aside: there’s really no comparison between Fig Newtons and Italian Fig cookies. While I’ve liked Fig Newtons since childhood, the filling of Italian fig cookies is an explosion of flavors that puts Fig Newtons to shame. Sorry Fig Newtons!]
The cookies we make — cosi di ficu — take a lot of time to make. While cucidati are made by rolling out the rough and wrapping it around a long cylinder of fig filling and then cutting into smaller pieces, cosi di ficu are made one by one, each cookie taking 10-15 minutes to make.
When we’re done and give the cookies to friends who aren’t familiar with them, they often feel guilty because they know the effort that went into making them.
A Matter of Time
I often draw parallels between things in my life and writing. When I write, I take my time. I respect those who can produce 2-6 books a year. I have it in me to crank out writing, but it doesn’t feel right for me. Even if I’m writing something leaning more toward genre fiction, which has the reputation of being a speedy first draft, I take my time. It’s the same thing with the fig cookies my family makes.
I love taking the time to get each cut just right, just as I love taking my time with writing. Why would I rush a first draft when it — and future drafts — can be stronger if I step back and think about things more, instead of racing to the end? I admire those who take part in NaNoWriMo, but it’s not right for me. I never bought into Hemingway’s sentiment that, “The first draft of anything is shit,” as an excuse to just crank something out and then really start working on it.
It may work for some, but it doesn’t work for me.
Taking Time to Write
I can spend the entire day working on just one juggling trick in order to perfect it; I can spend the extra time cutting cosi di ficu while thinking about where part of my family came from; I can spend time sitting back and thinking about every word that ends up on the page, even though it might be in my best interest to just bang out a first draft as fast as I can and fix things later.
But I’ve always enjoyed slower things.
This isn’t a knock at those who write fast. Just as there’s no reason to argue which is better, cucidati or cosi di ficu, there’s no reason to argue the merits of genre fiction and upmarket/literary fiction over the other. I’m fortunate to have a good friend down here in Texas who makes cucidati each year. One year, he gave me more cookies than usual during our swap and I was able to let some friends try cucidati and cosi fi ficu side by side. People loved and appreciated both kinds of cookies, just as people love and appreciate different kinds of fiction.
We all find our own rhythm and move to the beat that’s right for us.
In Praise of a Steady Pace
When I’ve thought about just plowing through a novel, I think about how it’s never worked for me. I think about relatives who took their time plying their trades: art, woodworking, and even running a butcher shop. I think about my great grandmother who came over from a village in Sicily and the time she put into making fig cookies. When I think about those who came before me — just as when I think about the writers I’ve admired since childhood — I know the pace at which I work, steady and focused but still fast enough to get things out on time, is the right pace for me.
Nice entry, and true. And the cookies look beautiful.
M.E. Anders, the Cult Slayer says
Thank you, thank you, Chris. I’ve been struggling with adapting my writing pace to a reasonable output. When I hear how colleagues harp on writers’ being able to crank out a book every six months, I’m flabbergasted. How can I even fully develop an idea in merely six months?
I may be able to write a rough first draft (extensive formatted outline), but I need months of simmer time before even attempting the next draft. I second your motion to find the right pace for me. 🙂
Christopher Gronlund says
Mary: I didn’t get too many photos this year. This photo is from a previous year.
M.E.: I have a couple friends who crank out several books a year. I love the thought of doing that, but when I rush, the stories are never all they could have been. As long as I write more days than not, I’m okay. If I can look back on a week and see that I produced some good stuff — even if it means I may only produce a book every couple years — I’m fine with that.
John Irving has been publishing books since the late 60s. In that time, he’s put out only 12 books. But some of those books are brilliant, and he’s not alone with that kind of pace and writing books that hit in different ways than many books that are cranked out.
I seem to be a “write fast, edit/revise agonizingly SLOOOOWWWW”. I’d be happy to write a little slower if I could speed up my revisions.
But it’s sort of like wishing I could be a ballerina — I can wish it all day long, but it ain’t nevah gonna happen. 🙂
Christopher Gronlund says
Thank you for the reply, Wendy. I’ve written one fast novel, and — like you — the edits/revisions took much longer. I try to be able to look at the week and see if I wrote more than I didn’t. Generally, I’m pleased with my progress and don’t go for any specific word count. I’d rather have a slow day that feels right. But those quick days when it all comes together in a mixture of progress and quality…I wish I could bottle that, take a sip each time I sit down to write, and sail through books.
I could never be a ballerina, either, so I just keep writing 🙂 Good luck with all you’re doing!
Susana Blanco says
I have seen your beautiful picture of this wonderful fig cookies and I have fell in love. Seing them so pretty is easy to feel that you want to try them. I have been searchin in Internet but I haven’t find any recipe like this, so gorgeous. I don’t know if it would be possible that you share with us the recipe of your family. It would be a pleasure to make this fig cookies.