19 March: St Joseph

Before we get going - a little note - I'm going to update the look of the blog very soon, and one of the things I want to do is to insert a calendar so that you can search by date...it may take a little time and I may shift over to Wordpress. it seems to me to be a handy thing if you could see what dates have been covered in the last three years....anyway - more soon. xLiz

…Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

From: ‘Those Winter Sundays’ by Robert Hayden (1913-1980)

For Christians, today is the Feast Day of St Joseph the earthly father of Jesus and in many countries it's a day to celebrated the joys and trials of fatherhood. I love the poem by Robert Hayden quoted above about the love his father showed in his actions but unfortunately never in his words.

St Joseph's feast day is mainly celebrated in Italy but also significantly by the Italian immigrants of the southern USA. The Italian community of the south is mainly of Sicilian origin and St Joseph holds a special place in the heart of Sicilians. They believe it was the intercession of ‘San Giuseppe’ that averted tragedy during a drought there in the Middle Ages. The rain that fell on the saint’s day meant that the bean crop was saved and starvation averted.

Both in Sicily and in Italian-American communities the thing to do on St Joseph’s Day is to prepare ‘St Joseph’s Altar’ - ‘la tavola di San Giuse’. The table is covered with good things to eat which are symbolic of the famine and of St Joseph’s patronage of pastry cooks.

‘The gift of a blessed bean is the most well known of the customs associated with the St. Joseph's Day altar….(when) the dried bean is commonly called the lucky bean. Legend has it that the person who carries a ‘lucky bean’ will never be without coins.'

From: ‘St. Joseph's Day Altars’ by Anna Maria Chupa

In addition to the bean, the table is decked with wonderful breads which are fabulously shaped and moulded into crosses and symbols of St Joseph and his work as a carpenter. There will also be pastries and artichokes and lemons, candles and flowers. A green olive branch over the door invites passers by to enter and the table is blessed before the good things are distributed to the needy. A St Joseph's table might also be put together in a community centre as well as in a church and become the focus of a really good supper! A google images search will throw up many wonderful tavola - alas none were copyright free to use here, so we have John Minton instead.

Sicily is famous for its many pastries and a Tavola di San Giuse will also be laden with choux buns, ricotta fritters and biscuits filled with fig puree. The evening meal on St Joseph’s Day will often be of Pasta Milanese sprinkled with breadcrumbs symbolizing the sawdust in Joseph’s workshop. San Giuseppe celebrations have become more common across Italy as the Sicilian influence has spread, maybe because they provide a good excuse for having a little feast on a date that always falls during Lent.

So what to make? I love beans, so a solitary bean feast is on the cards – and on the table. I've taken some key ingredients from St Joseph's table and adapted this very loosely from a recipe in my very ancient copy of Elizabeth David's Book of Mediterranean Food.

San Giuseppe Bean Salad (for 1)

50ml extra virgin olive oil
Fat clove of garlic finely chopped
2 artichoke bottoms or grilled baby artichokes - from a jar or the deli counter
Half a chili
Cooked beans - about half a tin – You could use any sort but borlotti or broad beans would be the best
Good breadcrumbs

Heat the oil through and fry the chili and garlic until golden, drain and remove but reserve the bits. Now fry the breadcrumbs until golden and lift out with a slotted spoon and set aside on kitchen paper.

Gently warm the beans and artichokes in the remaining oil (not too much - it's a warm salad not a hot one), add the chili/garlic back in, plate up and sprinkle with the parsley and the crumbs - these give a lovely crunchiness against the creamy beans. Eat with tomato salad and good bread.

Felice San Giuseppe!

‘Parfois je pense à toi, Joseph
Mon pauvre ami, lorsque l'on rit
De toi qui n'avais demandé
Qu'à vivre heureux avec Marie’

From ‘Joseph’ by Georges Moustaki (b1934)


Anonymous said...

I have such lovely memories of St. Joseph's Day in Providence, which has a big Italian population. There was also a big street fair on Federal Hill, which is the Italian section - so Italian that the lines painted down the middle of the roads there are red, white and green. The food I always associate with St. Joseph's are zeppole (St. Joseph's cakes).

Here's a recipe for you: http://www.quahog.org/factsfolklore/index.php?id=166

Liz said...

Thanks Helen I almost made these - they looked so delicious - maybe next time round..

Choclette said...

I had no idea there was a patron saint of pastry cooks - is there one for chocolatiers too? Love the idea of being able to indulge with impunity during lent.

Liz said...

I've been musing on a patron saint for cholatiers - I'll try and find (or invent )one!

girls who like to gorge said...

What an exceedingly cool little blog you have here! Lots of exciting recipes and great images! mmm! xxx

thecatalanway said...

Lovely post! Sant Josep celebrated here especially as so many men are called Pep and Josep. As it is Pep's saints day he is having a special day and a party at the weekend!
The traditional pudding to eat in Catalunya for Sant Josep is Crema Catalana which we'll have at the party - made by him of course!
Kate x