Saint Joseph Table   

 

Tavola di San Giuseppe – Tavula i San Giuseppi 

 

Spring Equinox (from the Latin: equus meaning equal and nox meaning night) occurs around March 20th when the earth’s axis is positioned perpendicularly to the rays of the sun and day and night have the same duration. Astronomic observations of the movements of the sun were made in pre-historic times and they gave origin to ancient pagan rituals, traditions and magic; the Sun was accepted as a deity and worshiped to gain his blessings and his generosity. Spring Equinox marked the end of winter and the time to prepare for the new season, to care for the land and do all necessary planning for that time of year. 

On the previous night of the Spring Equinox, it was tradition to collect pieces of wood, or anything else that would burn and form a pile to burn for the whole night: and burn, along with it, all the misery of the past year, welcoming the new season. This tradition was carried out since primeval times, all over the known world as far north as the Vikings in Europe, as far south as the African continent and as far east as Asia. 

In more recent times Greeks and Romans celebrated this event with the sacrifice of lambs to the sun god for his blessings to the land and to the seeds planted in the ground; to gain the blessings for new life to come into their families, the goddess of fertility, Demeter for the Greeks or Ceres for the Romans, were honored with offering of eggs which are the symbol of birth and of fritters in the form of breasts of a virgin. Those traditions were common among the Persians, Armenians, Jews, and Germans, who at this time of the year celebrated their own gods. 

When Christianity was accepted, many of the pagan feasts endured but were transformed into Christian holidays. This holiday coincides with Saint Joseph’s day and even at the present time all over Sicily  , in particular in Palermo  , the night of March 18th big piles made of wood, old furniture and junks are burned in honor of Saint Joseph

As the legend relates San Giuseppe is celebrated for an act of mercy he granted: in fact due to an exceptional drought, Saint Joseph was begged to cause rain so the crops would grow and void that people would die of famine. When the rain came, to thank the Saint, a feast day was dedicated to celebrate and the ceremonious “Tavola di San Giuseppe”, Saint Joseph’s Table, was instituted. 

The Tavola consisted of a collection of food harvested around March 19th and usually no meat dishes were offered, however the table was full of specialties according to the local culinary traditions. If the table was set-up outside in the court yard, the food was offered to all passer-by; if it was set inside the house it was limited to invited family and friends. Now it is tradition that when praying San Joseph to give a special grace, if the favor is granted, the gratitude is shown by promising to celebrate the Tavola of San Giuseppe for a certain number of years. 

This feast is celebrated with a table full of bread called Pane di San Giuseppe, along with pasta topped with fennel sauce. The wild fennels are fresh from the countryside and the pasta is served covered with toasted breadcrumbs on top, to symbolize the sawdust in Saint Joseph carpentry shop. 

In the coastal areas at this time of the year the sardines are abundant and are added to this pasta making the delicious and famous pasta con sarde. The Pasta con Sarde varies in taste according to the location since it is made with the area’s available ingredients: a common feature to this exceptional pasta, it is the good taste that is produced by the unconventional blend of different ingredients and flavors, the smell of saffron, the sharpness of the salted anchovies and the zest of the fresh sardines which are combine to create a favorite dish for gourmets and food lovers. 

The dishes offered on the table are different from town to town, some foods are sweet-sour to symbolize the pleasant and sorrow side of life, fish a sign of sacrifice and other food to characterize different aspects of our existence. 

The Tavola is filled with cauliflowers and cardoons fried in pastetta, caponatina, fried eggplants, stuffed artichokes, tomatoes, peppers stuffed with breadcrumbs and cheese, fava beans, croquettes made with potatoes and rice, fagioli, chickpeas, lentils, all kind of vegetables in seasons, frittate (egg omelets), fried fish, including baccala’, and without fail the maccu di San Giuseppe. This creamy legumes soup, the maccu di San Giuseppe is cooked for this occasion, as it was prepared in the pre-Christian era; it is made with a mixture of the previous year leftover dry legumes, overcooked until it becomes a mush. 

Fresh fruits and red wine are on hand in addition to mouth-watering desserts. To commemorate San Giuseppe, the leavened dough fritters in the form of breasts of a virgin made in pagan times, are enhanced with the addition of eggs to make them lighter and tastier; they are stuffed with ricotta cream, decorated with a cherry, a blurred reminiscence of the breast and called Sfingi di San Giuseppe. Added delicacies offered include: cannoli, bucciddati (fig cakes), puddings, a variety of cookies and biscuits, crispeddi (ricotta fritters), cassatedde (cannoli cream stuffed turnovers) and cassata Siciliana. 

The numbers of the courses are in proportion of the wealth of the person preparing the feast. In the ancient practice of the Romans and the Greeks, the special food was offered to the gods and given to the pagan priest to share with his entourage; instead the food on the Table of Saint Joseph, is enjoyed by passer-by and/or by family and friends. Most of the recipes for the food mentioned above are available in our site.