Culecas and Monas

A “Mona” is a heavy, sweet bread made of flour, sugar, eggs, and either butter or olive oil that is traditionally eaten throughout Spain on Easter Monday.  Although today’s monas can be elaborate chocolate sculptures or cakes that are quite different from the simple classic tea cake version, the tradition of placing one or two eggs in the center of the pastry is still widely respected. “Mona” is a derivation of the Arabic word munna, which I am given to understand refers to sweets given as presents at the end of Ramadan. In early times, when Lenten fasting included not only swearing off sweets but eggs as well, the mona celebrated the reincorporation of both into the family diet.

In Aragon, Saint George’s Day is celebrated with a “culeca”, a culinary cousin to the mona whose name is derived from the word clueca, which means broody hen. In Soria, a more savory version of the culeca that includes chorizo sausage is eaten during the pilgrim’s festival honoring Saint Mark.

Kneading the heavy dough of a culeca is daunting work. My eighty-seven-year-old mother-in-law, Carmen Ibañez, made three very lovely culecas this year, an amazing feat considering that she broke her left shoulder in January. Duly blessed by the village priest, they were a fine homage to the patron saint of Aragon.