Italian Father’s Day Frittelle (fritters)

Last Saturday it was Father’s day in Italy. The logic of this is that the nineteenth of March is the Saint’s day for Joseph who was Jesus’ father. One might question the fact that perhaps it would have been better to describe St Joseph as Jesus’ step-father, or even foster-father, since Jesus is the son of God. No matter! Without getting into tedious theological discussions it was Joseph who helped bring up the Messiah, supplying the daily bread and teaching him a useful trade, that of carpentry. In London’s Tate Gallery there is a beautiful pre-Raphaelite painting by Millais called ‘Christ in the House of his Parents’ which we saw last month:

Christ in the House of His Parents ('The Carpenter's Shop') 1849-50 Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896 Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund and various subscribers 1921’s day is not on an agreed worldwide date. In the UK, and several other countries, for example, it’s on the third Sunday in June which this year is on the 19th. Although in the UK Father’s day is a relatively recent event which was only regularly celebrated after World War I, in Italy and other Roman Catholic countries it dates back a long way liturgically, being first celebrated in the eleventh century by Benedictine monks. It wasn’t, however, until much more recently that Father’s day became a truly family festival. Indeed, until 1977 it was actually a public holiday. Moves are afoot to have it restored since it’s not every year that fathers can be lucky enough to have their feast day falling on a week-end as it did this year.

Father’s day in Italy coincides with the end of winter and in various parts of the country propitiatory spring rites are held. In other areas there is a tradition of inviting very poor people to one’s father’s day lunch – the family gets truly extended by the ‘pater familias’!

Every region in Italy makes its own special sweets for the occasion. In Lazio, for example, there is the Bigné di San Giuseppe and Naples has its Zeppola di San Giuseppe. Tuscany has its Frittelle di Riso di San Giuseppe. It was thanks to these that we realised it was Italy’s ‘festa del papà when we turned up at a bar we regularly frequent in Ponte a Moriano. Here we found le frittelle di San Giuseppe on sale. They are a kind of what Americans would call doughnuts and Brits would term as fritters or even pancakes.

We took some home with us and filled them with cream. They were quite delicious! I’m sure some of you would like to have a recipe to make them. Here is a typical one which we gathered from nearby Lucca:

• 3 eggs
• 1 cup flour
• 1 glass of water
• 1 pinch salt
• seed oil to taste
• sugar to taste

Mix the flour with the water and cook until the mixture does not detach itself from the pot. Mix together first the egg yolks and then beat in the egg whites. Make little balls of the mixture. Fry in a lot of oil. Once fried, sprinkle with sugar.

There are more elaborate recipes from Prato and Florence which add cinnamon and sultanas but we’re quite happy with the Lucca recipe which reflects the legendary frugality of its inhabitants.

When do you celebrate father’s day and do you have any special foods associated with it? I’d be most interested in knowing!



PS Until 1932, as the following picture in the bar shows, Ponte a Moriano used to be served by a steam tram from Porta Santa Maria Lucca. Now that would be worth bringing back as well as a public Father’s Day holiday!

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