St. Joseph Day is upon. As in the past, it is a day of giving thanks to St. Joseph for his interventions on behalf of the creator of the altar and also a day of thinking of those less fortunate. During the years that the Roman Catholic Sicilian immigrants and their descendants have been mounting altars, the altars have transitioned from a private worship, individually owed to St. Joseph to comply with a penitent’s bargain, to a more communal and cultural form of worship. St. Joseph, the patron saint of the island of Sicily, could represent the people of the entire island.
Traditionally the work of the altars had been women’s work. And as more and more women began to go to work full-time outside of the home, the task of creating all of the cookies, breads and other dishes which appear on the traditional altar is very hard to accomplish individually. But communally in church recreational centers, other community centers, and large church meeting rooms, even more elaborate and beautiful altars emerge.
Altars began to appear in more secular locations like stores, bars, restaurants, and even hotel lobbies (see a full map here). Instead of the hands and prayers of many women being joined to create the altar, the cookies and breads became available industrially. Machines could make many thousands of cookies without prayer. But the altar, complete with the requisite cookies and other baked goods, could be purchased and assembled. The traditions of donating the food to the poor and even asking for donations could still be honored, but the altars have really changed. And today many people celebrate St. Joseph Day who are neither of Sicilian descent nor Roman Catholic. It has become a cultural celebration in addition to a religious one. These altars are loose interpretations of the traditional ones, often with the colors of the Italian flag instead of the traditional white three tiered altar.
And besides altars, the traditional New Orleans street celebrations with marchers, floats and favors can be seen around the city. St. Joseph Day, coming 2 days after St. Patrick’s Day, has created a day to celebrate Italian American heritage with the city’s traditional revelry and sense of fun. This includes drinking, throwing bead that are the colors of the Italian flag – white, green and red – and giving away bulbs of garlic and packages of pasta. It is a part of the tradition that everyone can participate in.
And don't forget to stop by the museum and check out our refreshed St. Joseph altar exhibit, which is on display all year long for visitors near and afar to learn about this unique tradition. If you are planning your trip between March 15, 2018 and March 31, 2018, bring a donation of canned or dried food (soup, pasta, beans, tuna, etc) for a 50% discount off regular museum admission. In the spirit of St. Joseph’s legacy, SoFAB is hosting a food drive through the end of March to ease the hunger still felt in our communities today.
CHOCOLATE WINE BISCOTTI
Although cuccidatta (Italian fig cookies) are often found on St. Joseph's Day altars, cookies such as these biscotti are also favorites, especially because of their anise flavor. This recipe comes from Sandra Scalise Juneau.
- 7 cups flour
- 5 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 2 Tablespoons cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons allspice
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup white Crisco
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1 cup Marsala wine or cream Sherry
- 1 cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
- Soak raisins in wine. Set aside.
- Slightly beat eggs, gradually adding sugar. Blend Crisco into egg-sugar mixture. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, add dry ingredients to flour in order given. Stir to thoroughly blend. Add chopped nuts.
- Fold egg-sugar- Crisco mixture into dry ingredients, gently stirring to fully incorporate.
- Add wine to egg-sugar bowl to loosen remains. Add this residue to cookie dough and gently fold in raisins.
- Pinch off a small piece of dough, then roll into a small ball. Place on an un-greased baking sheet. Pat balls to slightly flatten. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven, until bottoms are slightly browned, about 20 minutes.
- Remove from oven and turn cookies over on the hot baking sheet to continue cooking tops. When fully cooled, coat cookies with icing.
- 2 cups confectioners sugar
- 4 to 6 tablespoons milk or cream
- 4 drops anise oil
- Add a small amount of red food coloring for delicate pink colored cookies.
- Gradually blend milk into sugar, one tablespoon at a time, mixing to a smooth paste. Add anise flavoring.
- Icing should be slightly runny in texture. Pour icing over cookies in a large bowl, stirring gently to thoroughly coat each cookie, then placing on a pastry rack, allow cookies to thoroughly dry before packaging.