March 19th is the Feast Day of St. Joseph, one of the most beloved saints in the Catholic tradition, regarded as the protector of the family. His feast day is celebrated in many ways throughout Italy, but it has a special significance to Sicilians and Sicilian-Americans.
The origin of the celebration dates back to a severe drought which took place in Sicily during the Middle Ages. Crops failed, farm animals died, and famine spread across the island. The Sicilian people turned their prayers to St. Joseph, asking him to intercede on their behalf for relief from the devastating famine, and they promised that, in return, they and their descendants would honor St. Joseph each year on his feast day. Rain came and returned life to the dried land. The disaster was averted, and the Sicilian people gave thanks to St. Joseph with a celebration. The villagers gathered food and placed it on the Continue reading “The Tradition of St. Joseph’s Table”
Zuppa di Lenticchie Italian Lentil Soup
(as demonstrated and served at the 2017 IFAFA Conference in Rockford, IL)
Lentils are traditionally served at many New Year’s dinnersthroughout Italy. With their coin-like shape, they are believed to represent good fortune and money in the coming year. They are commonly served with either cotechino or zampone.
1 lb green lentils, rinsed and sorted
3 large yellow onions, chopped
2 leeks, white part only, chopped
1 T minced garlic (3 cloves)
3 T olive oil
salt and black pepper
1 t ground cumin (optional)
8 celery sticks, chopped
4-6 carrots, chopped
3 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
4 T tomato paste
2 T red wine or red wine vinegar (optional)
½ box ditalini (little thimbles) or other small pasta
freshly grated Parmesan cheese (to serve)
[The Italian version – Natale: la leggenda del panettone – appears at the end of this reading.]
Our beloved panettone, sweet symbol of the Christmas season, has a rather amusing origin. Panettone, as it is understood today, is a recent gastronomical specialty in the history of Italian sweets. In fact, it is said to have been invented only at the end of the 19th century in Milan according to a truly legendary episode.
As a greeting for a Merry Christmas or Happy New Year, here is the delightful story of the famous panettone. Once upon a time there was a bread-maker named Toni. One fine day, Toni fell madly in love with a certain peasant girl named Lucia. Lucia went to town every morning to sell eggs. Toni, every morning, awaited Lucia’s arrival with longing and enthusiasm, and then, when he saw her, so strong were the feelings that he felt for this young country girl that he never knew what to say and he remained dumbstruck. So many loving glances exchanged, so many sighs, and so many broken eggs, just because this poor devil was unable to express his love. Finally, Toni had a brilliant idea: he decided to prepare a dessert for his adored Lucia, not just any dessert, but a special dessert never made before!
Although Christmas is commonly viewed as a commercial holiday, for many families it is still a religious holiday steeped in tradition. This is especially true for the Italian-American population. In Italy, it is often said, Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi (Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever you wish). One of the many family traditions, alongside decorating the tree and attending midnight mass, is preparing seven types of fish dishes for the Christmas Eve meal.
The tradition of the seven fishes prepared for meals on Christmas Eve lends itself to a Central and Southern Italian tradition and is not prevalent in the Northern region. Some argue that this may be due to Southerners being a bit more superstitious than their Northern counterparts. Of course, you don’t have to look too far for an explanation of why fish is an obvious choice on Christmas Eve: Catholic rules prohibit the consumption of meat on Christmas Eve.
But, like many traditions, the Christmas Eve fish dish has many explanations. There are several arguments provided as to why there are seven fishes consumed, rather than say, six, or even ten. Some reasons are overtly religious: seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; seven sins: pride, envy, anger, gluttony, sloth, lust and greed; seven sacraments of the Church: baptism, penance, Holy Eucharist, Continue reading “A Christmas Eve Tradition”
San Martino, Umbria – Rural people baptized it l’albero del pane (“the bread tree”) for this tree grew on the mountains where wheat would not grow (and if elevation was also too high for olive trees, walnuts gave oil). The chestnut has starred in the culinary history of many civilizations and nowadays, highlights many a central Italy food festival.
To discover the apex of chestnut culinary creativity, don’t miss the mid-November Festa del Vino e delle Castagne (Wine and Chestnuts Festival) of San Martino in Colle, a minuscule castle-village near Perugia.
As you enter the village through the medieval arch, you’ll see red-cheeked Signor Agostino roasting chestnuts over an open fire. At a stand nearby, a volunteer sells il vino novello (new wine, i.e. of this year’s harvest). Chestnuts and wine are inextricably linked in central Italy’s rural culture. A much-loved saying, “San Martino, San Martino, castagne e vino” (“San Martino, San Martino, chestnuts and wine”) comes to life here in Umbria on November 11th, the feast of St. Martin, when rural families gather to inaugurate their new wine with roasted chestnuts.
Since the first days of language, humans have been passing on stories. From the sea shanties of Cornwall to the shadow puppetry of China, from the creation tales of Hula dancing to the drama of Caribbean calypso. Sicily is no different: its puppetry, dating back to Medieval times, is famous the world over for telling tales of knights in battle. But there’s another story too, the tradition of cuntu, dating back to Greek theatre and based on both sung verse and spoken prose. To discover its compelling history we have to go back to the ancient world.
Many modern cultures and languages can trace their origins to ancient ancestors, typically reaching back across decades, centuries and even millennia. European languages from Spanish to Portuguese, Romanian to English, for example, all owe a large debt of gratitude to the ancient Romans. Vulgar Latin forms the basis for several languages spoken by a sizeable proportion of the world’s population, not least of course Italians inhabiting the beautiful Mediterranean peninsula and beyond.
We only recently learned the sad news that long-time IFAFA member Victor Peck had passed away in March of this year (2017). Many of you will remember Victor and his constant companion, Vic Gugliuzza, as “the Victors” who attended IFAFA conferences from the 1990s through 2009.
Before his retirement in 1992, Victor Peck worked for the Nazarene Publishing House in Kansas City, MO, for 23 years. He was head of the Dock, overseeing the inventory and shipments. After both Victors had retired, they turned to their passion for folk dancing, teaching Dutch and Italian folk dancing at local community centers for decades. They enjoyed collecting music (records, tapes, and CDs), sheet music, and dances.
“The Victors” both loved dance of all kinds, but especially international folk dance which they had done for over 40 years. They had a special interest in Schottisches from various countries. Victor P and Vic G participated (and sometimes founded) several groups in Kansas City, MO, involved with dance and culture. They were members of the International Folk Dancers of Kansas City, UNICO, the Ethnic Festival board, and Scuola Vita Nova (a charter school where all students were exposed to the cultures, languages, and arts of numerous countries).
Since 1629, when the French influenced almost all European art forms, the most spectacular puppet presentations told of the Paladins of France and the villainous Saracens during the Crusades – filled with chivalry, love, hate, and terrible battles. The puppets themselves almost come alive! Made of padded wood, they’re dressed in authentic period costumes, including family colors and crest. Knights are well-equipped: from the helmet on the head, and iron breastplate, the sword in the right hand … the shield on the left arm. Only the King, the Ladies, and the Pages are without armor.
The Puparo (or puppet speaker) sets the stage for his audience: a mortal struggle between those hated Saracens and the virtuous Paladins. Our play begins:
ACT 1, scene 1: Gano, the brother-in-law of Charlemagne (King of France and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire) makes a pact with the Saracens to betray his fellow countrymen.
ACT I, scene 2: Gano returns to Charlemagne’s camp and tells of the Saracens’ wish to be baptized as Christians. Orlando, the strongest and cleverest of all Paladins, does not believe this surprising turn-about from his enemies. Yet, preferring a brave death to a cowardly life, he leads his men to Continue reading “I Pupi Macrì Acireale (Puppet Theatre of Sicily)”