Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Piece of Cake by Barbara Quinn

It’s nearly St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish High Holy Day, a holiday that I celebrate happily with my Irish-American husband. I love hearing Irish music, which is what we did last night, and going out for corned beef or shepherd’s pie. Tom has his Guinness and I my Tullamore Dew. But for me, St. Patrick’s Day also signals another holiday, one that is high in my Italian-American pastry pantheon: St. Joseph’s Day.

St. Joseph’s occurs March 19. This holiday is usually celebrated quietly and privately here in the United States. The thing that it is best known for in many Italian-American homes is the St. Joseph’s pastry. (How unusual, huh? an Italian holiday that revolves around food!) But some churches, including ones in Lousiana, construct intricate St. Joseph's altars, which are also popular in Southern Italy.

Many cultures have special cakes or pastries. One of my favorites is the King Cake which makes its appearance around Mardi Gras down in Lousiana. Every year someone mails me one and I am thrilled to receive it. A plastic baby that symbolizes the infant Jesus is hidden inside a rich icing covered coffee cake. The person who finds the babe gets good luck, and is responsible for bringing the next King Cake.

Growing up in an Italian-Americans home many of our holidays had special desserts. Easter had grana, a wheat pie, Christmas the honey-coated strufoli, and St. Joseph’s its two mouth-watering pastries: the cannoli filled sfinge, and the custard filled St. Jospeph’s zeppolle. The zeppole is not like the fried and powdered sugared one that they serve at street fairs. St. Joseph’s zeppole is a cream puff, often baked, and then split open and filled with a custard that may have almond and vanilla flavors, and cherry juice. The sfinge is often a fried dough, split and stuffed with a sweetened ricotta that is found in cannoli. Both types of pastries have their camps and fierce aficionados. I like them both. They’re a southern Italian tradition, popular in Naples and Sicily. They are my favorite harbinger of spring. I’m extremely grateful that they only appear for the month of March, or I’d be eating way too many of them.


Kathryn Magendie said...

ohh, now i'm hungry for something sweet!

King Cake is quite tasty - we can't get them here unless we order them, or as we did last year and this year, we made our own - since my hb is from New Orleans.

I always think of Christmas and my mom's Lemon Squares--yes, they are capitalized -- OHHHHHH are they gooooooood.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Mouth watering! We're cranking up the ovens here for both the Irish (had the annual parade and green beer shabang yesterday) and Italian clans with the coming of the St. Joe's altars. If you've never been to one, you must. Catholic churches being plentiful in Louisiana, along with Italians and Cajuns, women work long and hard to create mouth-watering confections and savories of all kinds in honor of that patron saint of Italy. The St. Joseph altars here are legendary. I'll try to find a picture of one and email it to you. Talk about drooling! Here's to the cultures and peoples and foods that make this good ol' USofA what it is!

Barbara Quinn said...

Angie, I would love to see your St. Joe's altar pictures! I've seen pics of ones in Italy but haven't everseen one live. Thanks for telling me about them in Louisiana.

Barbara Quinn said...

Kat, I LOVE Lemon Squares. If you'd share your recipe I'd love to have it.

Nannette Croce said...

Gee somehow I missed post. We never celebrated St. Joseph's when I was young, but that was probably mostly because we were heathens. The first I knew of San Giuseppe being a big holiday was during my year in Florence. It was celebrated with a day off, and as I recall some made a big deal out of it, while for some it was like our Easter. Something everyone celebrated in the past but had become just another day off for many urbanites. I do remember that my grandfather Joseph (Giuseppe) always received greeting from his Italian relatives because it was also his name day. He was an atheist. They did it every year to get his goat.

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