As we all know, today is St. Joseph's Day, honoring the earthly father of Jesus Christ. While I am not Italian by blood, I have lots of Italians in my extended family who have educated me on some of the important traditions. Most of us recognize that zeppoles are the most common tradition associated with the holiday, but here are a few things you might not know:
- Here's why St. Joseph is the Patron Saint of Sicily: At some point, during the Middle Ages, Sicily was experiencing a terrible drought. Sicilians prayed to God and St. Joseph (aka San Giuseppe), promising that if it rained, they would set an annual feast in honor of the Saint. Their prayers were answered, and the rest is history.
- Zeppoles - Whether you say "Zepp-oh-lees" like they do in New York, or "Zay-poh-leh," like most of us do in Rhode Island (including Federal Hill), the delicious custard and cream pastries are the food most closely associated with St. Joseph's Day here in the northeast.
- What's a Sfinci? - In parts of New York, like Staten Island, a variation of the zeppole looks more like a doughnut or doughboy and is called a Sfinci (suh-FIN-gee).
- Bread! - Italian bakeries sometimes bake loaves in the shape of a cross, a heart, St. Joe's beard...or even the figure of the Saint himself. What's the best shape you've seen?
- Bread Crumbs - often included in recipes in order to symbolize sawdust... meant to honor Joseph's occupation as a carpenter.
- Stuffed Artichokes - I have no clue why these are a St. Joseph's Day tradition. Do you? I assume it's because artichokes grow plentifully in Sicily?
- Fava beans - A tradition dating back to the early days of the holiday in Sicily. Priests would bless the beans. If you carried one in your pocket, it would bring good luck and prosperity. Today, some traditional St. Joseph's Day meals still include fava beans.
- Citrus Fruit - There are lots of citrus trees in Sicily, so enjoy some lemons, limes and oranges with your feast. I can only assume that means Limoncello (a liqueur) is part of the tradition as well!
- Hope you enjoyed the list. Let me know if you think of any more at firstname.lastname@example.org.