In the Middle Ages, the people of Sicily, faced with a severe drought and famine, asked their patron Saint Joseph to intercede with God to bring rain. When the saving rains came, the people promised to show their appreciation with a series of feasts, festivals, feeding of the poor, and the Wearing of Red. Why red? Some think it's the closest color to the vestments worn during lent; others claim it's a lighthearted challenge to the Irish and their Green. Again, we're not REAL sure, but it feels right, and the tradition is comforting, so we keep it.
LOOKING BACK ON FOOD:
Entering the Arizona Condo where Sam and Lucy lived their final years, one notices their absence, the unusual quiet in the rooms; yet, the two of them are everywhere there. They are at once there and not there, like the optical illusion of the goblet morphing into two silhouettes....
In my imagination, the air is still filled with the warm scent of tomato sauce simmering, pungent and sweet. My mouth still waters at the mellowness, owing to their secret concoction of garlic and onion, tomato sauce and paste, a heady blend of seasonings, tender neck bones, a pinch of baking soda to take out the bite and extra acid, and the pinch of sugar to enhance the sweetnes of the tomato.
Under that aroma would be the all-pervasive, summery scent of greens with a simple dressing of olive oil, sweet red wine vinegar, fresh lemon juice, and oregano.
Lucy, my grandmother was the Queen of sauce and salad, and the recipe known as bracciole, the rolled round steak stuffed with breading and hard boiled egg, wrapped in bacon and tied with string.
When Sam, my Grandfather, was in the kitchen (he spent a lot of time there), he was the Master of Baking. Pizza crust made from scratch always had the warm smell of beer as the dough was being punched and kneaded. He even ground his own sausage, and stuffed the casings, which looked like enormous condoms when they were strewn across the cooking table. Sam was also known for his cream puffs, and all kinds of breaded vegetables, like squash, and mushrooms. (Later I'll relate his experiences as a 30-year employee of Nabisco.)
Sam and Lucy didn't have to wait until St. Joseph's Day to celebrate its spirit all year. The fact is, they never went to anyone's house empty-handed. They lived to feed the ones they loved, and those who loved them, and we were an army.
One of the Sicilian staples was (and is) fava beans, which are still used in the Minestrone and other dishes for this holiday. (See? even Hannibal Lecter is in the spirit of the holiday, wearing his red..... ) Fava beans were considered lucky because during the drought, they thrived while other crops failed. Using bread crumbs on top of certain pasta dishes brings to mind sawdust, to commemorate Joseph the Carpenter.
In fact St. Joseph is the Patron Saint of carpenters, house buyers and sellers, fathers, pastry chefs (appropriately), wheelwrights, and working people.
Maybe due to his being a carpenter, home-sellers have asked for his intercession to bring on buyers.
One of the goofiest traditions connected to St. Joseph is the burying of a statue upside down in the yard of a home that is for sale. You can even buy a kit for this purpose!
What are St. Joseph's Pants? Click on this link for a recipe for special cookies filled with ground sweetened chick-peas (fava beans), a St. Joseph's Day staple in Sicily and elsewhere.
Next up: Another St. Joseph's Day tradition that nature lovers appreciate...and how it reminds me of an old Academy-Award-winning Short Film.....