Tag Archives: Father’s day in Italy

SAINT JOSEPH’S FEAST DAY (La Festa di San Giuseppe) 19 March

Saint Joseph’s Feast Day (Festa di San Giuseppe) is celebrated in Italy on March 19.

photo-12-e1426641501350 Because Saint Joseph is considered as a symbol of compassion and kindness and because he is the father of Jesus, Father’s Day is ‘Festa del Papa’ is also celebrated in Italy on this day.

The Feast day is celebrated big time in the majority of Sicily. As well as being a symbol of generosity especially to the poor, he is also is associated with harvests. People pray to him so as to have abundant crops; his statue is often used in religious ceremonies (the blessing of the crops) to prevent famine.

The statue on the right is that of Saint Joseph. Saint Anthony is also considered a significant saint in the Catholic Church and he is also often depicted holding the child Jesus.

In many parts of Sicily there are banquets to celebrate the bounty of the harvest (known as La Tavola di San Giuseppe – Saint Joseph’s Table). The main food is a collection of wheat based breads of various shapes and sizes, many sprinkled with seeds (grain and seeds are symbols of life). The food and breads on display were once shared and offered to the poor, now they are shared within the community.


In some of the villages in Sicily especially in the provinces of Enna, Caltanissetta, Trapani, Agrigento and the Aeolian islands the tradition of setting up an altar-like, multi-tiered table and the religious celebratory ceremony that accompanies this banquet is still practiced by some in varying forms in these communities.

But what may surprise you is that the photos of the Saint Joseph’s table in this post was taken at an exhibition called Donne di Sicilia (Women of Sicily) by Rosetta Pavone. She is a Mebourne -based Artist who was born in Valguarnera, a town in Sicily near Enna. The female members  of all ages of the Valguarnera Social Club in Melbourne prepare the breads and have carried on this significant, cultural tradition which is still undertaken in Melbourne by male and female members.


The photo below is of Sicilian women in Melbourne making a particular type of Sicilian biscuits (called Scannati) and it is not associated with this event. I am including it in this post because it shows how scissors are used to make that particular pattern on the edges of dough which is often included on the wreath shaped votive breads.


Rosetta’s exhibition was held in the Kingston Art Gallery Moorabin in 30 October – 20 November 2014. She has also captured on film the women making the bread and the accompanying ceremony where selected members of the club  and a Catholic priest participate. At this ceremony (and as can be seen in her film) the Holy Family is represented by an elderly man, a young woman, and a young male child. There are also twelve men or boys who represent the Apostles (Saints). A priest blesses the food, then the Holy Family is served before the apostles. The attendants viewing the ceremony must wait until family and saints have eaten before participating in the banquet.

In Rosetta’s film the Votive bread was auctioned to the community members to raise funds – I cannot remember if it was for the poor via the Church or the Valguarnera Social club. I am inclined to think that it was for a worthy charitable cause as the Catholic Priest blessed the food and conducted the ceremony.

There are two earlier posts about Saint Joseph with recipes for making two versions of the traditional sweets called Sfinci di San Giuseppe that are eaten in Sicily to celebrate this feast day.

It seems fitting that the Church also made St Joseph the patron saint of pastry cooks.

Festa di San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph) and sweets called Sfinci di San Giuseppe

Sfinci and Crispeddi di Risu, for the Festa of San Giuseppe (fritters for St Joseph’s Feast Day)




SFINCI and CRISPEDDI DI RISU, for the Festa of San Giuseppe (Fritters for St Joseph’s Feast Day)

Saint Joseph’s Day (Festa di San Giuseppe) is celebrated in Italy on March 19.

Italy double dips and combines this ancient and religious tradition with Father’s Day – La Festa del Papà – the feast (celebration) for father, the event imported from America in the early 20th century. In the USA it is held on the third Sunday of June.

Saints’ name days are more significant in the south of Italy. My father, who was born in Ragusa but lived in Trieste, used to receive phone calls from his family who lived in Sicily wishing him well, “auguri” on March 19.

San Giuseppe was reputed to be a humble carpenter who looked after his family (Mary and Jesus) so it is easy to see why the Catholic church has made him the patron saint of carpenters, workers, protector of the church and of fathers, but he is also patron saint of the poor and, more mysteriously, of pastry cooks.

st joseph

I have partly explained (to myself) how pastry cooks fits under Saint Joseph’s umbrella by thinking about what happens in Sicily. The feast of Saint Joseph although in Lent (a time of fasting in the Catholic liturgy) also marks the end of the long unproductive season of winter. His feast day is close to the equinox and since pagan times spring has been celebrated big time in various ways.

Wheat (grains, seeds and legumes) were unequivocally the metaphorical seeds of life and through germination and regeneration they invoke the powers of fertility. In many parts of Sicily there are banquets to celebrate the bounty of the harvest (known as La Tavola di San Giuseppe – Saint Joseph’s Table). The main food is a collection of breads of odd shapes and sizes, many sprinkled with seeds. The food and breads on display were once shared and offered to the poor, now they are shared within the community.

Fried sweets are traditionally made in Sicily on Saint Joseph’s day. Sfinci (made with flour) and Crispeddi di Risu (made with rice) seem to be the most common and as in all Sicilian recipes there are many local variations. Sfinci are the most common and are found in the north, south and west of Sicily; some are filled with custard cream or ricotta.

In my copy of Maria Consoli Sardo’s book Cucina Nostra (1978) there is a recipe for sfinci made with semolina. She also provides a recipe for sfinci made with rice without yeast. I like her recipes because they seem genuinely authentic – uncomplicated and, as I imagine, an example of cucina povera (poor kitchen) as cooked by many Sicilians especially those living away from the larger cities on the land (see her recipe below).


Crispeddi di risu are more common in the east of Sicily, from Messina in the north; Catania on the central coast and Syracuse in the south east. I have found many recipes for crispeddi and all involve cooking rice in milk or milk and water and adding eggs or flour. Some contain yeast and others are very complicated and involve forming balls of the cooked rice and dipping them into batter before deep-frying them.


Maria Consoli Sardo calls her recipe Sfinci Di Risu (Fritelle Di Riso, in Italian).

I have used Arborio rice.

200g rice, ½ litre of milk, 200g of flour, lard for frying (how else can you make them crisp?), sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling.
Boil rice in water (does not say how much water, I used 500 ml= ½ litre. There is no mention of salt but this is common sense, as a Sicilian you would know to add a pinch.)
Halfway through cooking, add milk and finish cooking (it will have the consistency of risotto…having said this, my risotto is all’onda, ie, in waves … it should have some moisture).
Place the cooked rice in a bowl and leave it for 24 hours, add flour, mix well and let it rest. Spread the mixture out (such as on a marble slab) and after 2 hours cut it into batons and fry them in plenty of lard. After they have been fried, sprinkle them with sugar and cinnamon.
My variation to the above: I used extra virgin olive oil to fry them and dressed them with Chestnut Honey and cinnamon. (I usually have Orange Flower Honey (Sicilian) in my pantry but I have run out! The Chestnut Honey however was great!)
Honey 1

This second recipe for crispeddi di risu  is adapted from Giuseppe Coria’s Profumi di Sicilia, Il libro della cucina Siciliana. It is also a simple recipe and this one has yeast. Judging from his quantities Signor Coria must have always cooked for large numbers!

Adjust accordingly.

1 kg of rice
1 litre of milk
1 litre of boiling water
½ tsp of salt
2 tbs of sugar
500 g of plain flour
150 g of fresh yeast (or equivalent) dissolved in ½ cup warm water
grated zest of 2 oranges and 2 lemons,
honey, cinnamon powder to coat.
st joseph
Mix the milk with water, add salt and sugar and add the rice. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer on low heat stirring occasionally until the rice has absorbed all the liquid and looks like a risotto.
Cool, mix in the flour and yeast. Add the grated peel. Mix it well, cover, and let rise for 2-4 hours.
Shape the rice with a spoon and slide them into the hot oil.
When golden, place them on paper to drain for about 30 seconds and then dress them with honey and cinnamon powder.

Recipe for Sfinci, see in an earlier post: FEAST OF SAN GIUSEPPE (SAINT JOSEPH) and Sfinci di San Giuseppe