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      March 19 – Celebrating la festa del papà

      Mar. 19, 2013

      Par San Josepo leva al ciel la man
      ch ‘l te varda dal malan
      dal malan in casa e in tera
      nel signal de la primavera. 

      [When Saint Joseph comes, raise your hand to the sky
      he will protect you from illness
      in the house and in the fields
      because Spring is coming.] 

      San Giuseppe is celebrated in Italy on March 19. Joseph is the patron saint of carpenters and homeless people, but his day celebrates also the beginning of spring, traditionally marked on March 21. The arrival of the good weather is symbolized by the stick Joseph is usually represented with which bears a bloomed flower at the very top, sign that he was going to be Mary’s spouse. This is depicted, for example, in Raphael’s painting The Marriage of the Virgin.

      In the old days, Saint Joseph’s Day marked the beginning of the agricultural year. Tools and equipment were prepared to resume work in the fields, in the vegetable gardens, in the vineyards, in the orchards and olive groves. This was also the time, with the waning moon, to bottle the wine.

      As Saint Martin’s Day on November 11 marked the beginning of the gatherings in the barn [the filò, as it was more commonly known], Saint Joseph’s Day marked the end of these gatherings, which was celebrated with a small festicciola, or party. On this day it was also tradition that rich families would invite into their homes three poor, representing the Holy Family, to have a meal. This tradition is still alive in Sicily where it is customary to invite poor to share a meal. Indeed, Saint Joseph is also patron of the poor and the orphans. In the hills and mountains of the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia and in Emilia Romagna, propitiatory bonfires would be prepared and burned on this day. Il salto del falò, jumping over the fire, is still done in some parts of Southern Italy. In some instances families in the countryside would burn old furniture symbolic of the old year and all the bad and sad events that happened.

      There are many food traditions linked to Saint Joseph’s Day: in the north of Italy people make raviole, short crust pastries filled with custard or jam; in the center-south of Italy people prepare zeppole or bignè di San Giuseppe, a cream puff either deep fried or baked filled with custard and topped with a black cherry.

      I bignè di San Giuseppe


      For the bignè/cream puffs:
      250ml water
      150g flour
      100g butter
      4 eggs
      30g white sugar
      Salt as needed
      1 small envelope of vanillin
      Confectioner’s sugar as needed
      Frying oil [you do not need this ingredient if you are baking your cream puffs]

      For the custard:
      500ml milk
      5 egg yolks
      250ml liquid cream
      120gr white sugar
      40gr corn flour
      1 peel of one slice of lemon
      1 vanilla pod

      In a big pot add water, sugar, butter and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil at low heat;

      Raise the heat, remove pot and add all at once the flour. Mix well with a wooden spoon and put the pot back on heat while keeping on mixing. Lower the heat. The mixture is ready when it detaches itself from the borders of the pot. Remove the pot from heat and let the mixture cool down. Then add the eggs one at the time, mixing well. You can add one more egg if you find that the mixture is still quite hard. Pour plenty of oil in a pan and heat it to 180 degrees Celsius. Put the mixture into a pastry bag and dump a small quantity of mixture, as big as a ping-pong ball, into the oil. The puffs are ready when they look of a brown colour. Place them on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil.

      While the puffs are cooling down, prepare the custard:

      Mix the egg yolks with the sugar in a bowl. When you have a smooth mixture, add the corn flour using a strainer and mix well, making sure no lumps form. Heat up at low heat the milk, cream, lemon peel and a piece of vanilla. Remove from heat when it starts to boil and drizzle into the mixture, mixing well with a wooden spoon. Place back on low heat always mixing until the mixture has thickened. Remove from heat, remove the lemon peel and vanilla pod and let cool. Using a pastry bag, fill each puff with the custard using a star shaped beak. Place on a plate and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

      If instead you prefer to bake the puffs, place the mixture, using the pastry bag on a cooking sheet previously covered with parchment paper. Cook for about 15-20 minutes in a 180 degrees Celsius oven. Once out of the oven, let them cool down and fill them with the custard and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

      Buon appetito e viva i papà!

      Coltro, Dino. Santi e contadini. Lunario della tradizione orale veneta. Verona: Cierre edizioni, 149-51.
      Zanolli, Renato. Lunario calendario rurale veneto-friulano. Vittorio Veneto: Dario De Bastiani Editore, 46.

      One Response to “March 19 – Celebrating la festa del papà”

      1. Frank Falzett says:


        These look delicious. I wish they were permitted on my diet!