Tag Archives: San Giuseppe

Celebrating St. Joseph’s Day in New Orleans

We are heading to New Orleans for two of our favorite only-in-New-Orleans events, St. Joseph’s Day (March 19) and the Sunday closest to it, known as “Super Sunday” (which we can assure you has nothing to do with the Super Bowl). Super Sunday is the day when Mardi Gras Indians parade their finery through the streets, and St. Joseph’s Day is a holiday with origins in Sicily that celebrates the miracle of St. Joseph saving the island from famine (see our previous coverage here). And oddly enough, these two days are related, and Mardi Gras Indians also march on St. Joseph’s night.

The altar at St. Francis Xavier Church in Metairie, LA

Though other areas in the US obviously have Sicilian-American populations, the tradition of the St. Joseph’s Day altar is observed with fervor in New Orleans, owing to its particularly concentrated Sicilian population. St. Joseph’s Day is observed in New Orleans to a much larger degree than it is elsewhere, even Sicily. Every Catholic church and high school in greater New Orleans seems to have an elaborate St. Joseph’s Day altar, and they can range from modest altars in homes to unthinkably huge, sometimes taking up the entire Church community center. The altars, contributed to by parishioners and the community, traditionally have three tiers and are decked out with statues, flowers, photos, candles and food. All of the photos in this post are from altars we visited in 2016.

Pasta Milanese, Fried fish, veggies and more at St. Joseph’s in Gretna, LA

Typical St. Joseph’s Day altars are decked out with tons of food, including citrus, fanciful breads in shapes representing Joseph’s trade as a carpenter (or even fish or figures), whole fish, dozens of varieties of cookies, fava beans, and more (You may even see a lamb cake or two). And if you visit a church on St. Joseph’s Day in New Orleans you will probably be treated to a bowl of Pasta Milanese or other meatless favorites. Pasta Milanese is similar to pasta con sarde, but with tomatoes, and of course you have to top it with breadcrumbs, representing the Joseph’s carpentry sawdust – check out this recipe from Sicilian Girl.

Cookie display at St. Augustine Church in New Orleans, LA

Our favorite St. Joseph’s Day food is probably the fig-filled cuccidati cookie, which are also traditionally made at Christmas. We bought a cookbook on St. Joseph’s Day at one of the churches we visited a few years ago, which now provides us with our go-to cuccidati recipe. The St. Joseph’s Day altars are cookie heaven, and volunteers spend weeks making literally tens of thousands of cookies for some of the larger altars. We also like to seek out some of the unique foods that are probably unseen outside of a single parish, like the amazing, giant, fleur-de-lis crawfish-shaped “Craw-fig” cookie below, that we spotted on an altar in Metairie.

The altar at St. Francis Xavier Church in Metairie, LA

At the end of St. Joseph’s Day, the altar is symbolically broken in the “Tupa tupa” ceremony and the food and donations are distributed to charity. You will probably also get handed a fava bean for luck, and a bag of cookies to take home. And if you manage to steal a lemon from the altar it means you will get married (or have a baby) by the next St. Joseph’s Day. We love to go around New Orleans and the surrounding area on St. Joseph’s Day and visit all of the altars, since no two are alike. For 2018 we found a few guides (Italian American Center, ABC) to all of the St. Joseph’s Day churches in the area.

The altar at St. Joseph Church in Gretna, LA

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How to make St. Joseph’s Day Bread / Pane di San Giuseppe

One of our favorite – but lesser known in the US – food holidays is right around the corner: St. Joseph’s Day. St. Joseph’s Day is widely celebrated in Italy and the among the Italian diaspora in the US and elsewhere on March 19th. We have previously covered some St. Joseph’s Day sweet treats, including the perennial favorite zeppole. However, one of the showstoppers on St. Joseph’s Day is actually St. Joseph’s Bread (Pane di San Giuseppe). You can find recipes for Pane di San Giuseppe at Kitchen Link and Mangia Bene Pasta. It is a bit more of a complicated bread, but it also allows for it to be sculpted into equally complicated shapes, like staffs, carpentry tools, and wheat, which are a must on the St. Joseph’s Day table. This altar below, from Trapani in Sicily is probably as detailed as you can get!

Pane di San Giuseppe by Carlo Columba

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Pasta di San Giuseppe – St. Joseph’s Day Pasta

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St. Joseph’s Day Pasta – by Erin Zieske

March 19th is St. Joseph’s Day, a holiday celebrated in Southern Italy, or in communities of southern Italian Immigrants. Naturally, having the proper food is a huge part of St. Joseph’s Day, with many churches even constructing elaborate St. Joseph’s Day altars full of food. We’ve written previously on the most famous St. Joseph’s Day food – the fried sweet Zeppole – so this year we wanted to introduce another holiday dish – Pasta di San Guiseppe. There are many variations on the recipes – but at its core it is a dish of pasta and breadcrumbs. The pasta dishes made on this day are typically meatless to represent the famines experienced in Sicily. The breadcrumbs represent sawdust, which is symbolic of the profession of St. Joseph, carpentry. Another popular dish for St. Joseph’s Day is Pasta con Sarde (Pasta chi Sardi in Sicilian)  – pasta with Sardines [another version here].

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