Italian cookie cravings?

Fancying fava beans?

Then you’re in luck as Catholic families and church parishes are putting the final touches on their annual St. Joseph’s Day altars, carrying out an old tradition dating to the parched soil of Italy during an extended drought.

Poor farmers viewed their barren fields with dismay, their wheat cracking beneath their every step. The Sicilians directed their prayers to St. Joseph, their patron saint, petitioning him to finally bring some relief and end the famine.

Finally, the skies opened, Mother Nature turned on her much-welcomed spigots and the people, in their exuberance, prepared a table with an assortment of foods they harvested to show their gratitude. Through the years, families have added their own unique touches, some with quite a bit of flair, on their annual tables.

Creativity is the norm, with many of the breads, pastries or cookies being baked in a variety of shapes, some even reflecting religious items such as chalices or staffs.

When Sicilians emigrated to the United States, tradition was their traveling companion, bringing along the St. Joseph Day altars.

Many families believe the altars invite good fortune into their homes, and often they will attribute the recovery of a loved one to St. Joseph.

But let’s face it, no one does St. Joseph altars like those in southeast Louisiana. Elaborate displays can be found from churches to a family’s garage. All are welcome, the feasts will include the traditional cookies and pastries, but since seafood is our staple, a variety of delicacies will also be added that will not be found in any other part of the country.

Toss in some fig cookies, Milanese spaghetti (pasta with eggs in the gravy, no sauce for the unknowing and eggplant for the unknowing), a smattering of cucuzza and invite the neighborhood over to share in the feast.

Of course, there are some culinary standards to which all should follow, including the absence of meat; the reason being is that it’s Lent. Each of the foods on the altar should have some traditional relevance, such as breads baked in the shapes of carpenter tools and bread crumbs to represent a carpenter’s sawdust.

The whole baked bread represents the multiplication of the loves, and of course, a little vino must be tossed in to share in the experience of the wedding feast at Cana.

And let’s not forget the fava bean, which is often found in goodie bags for when people leave. The bean carried many through the famine since it was the only crop that survived the drought. Thus it is called the “lucky bean” and tradition says that a pantry with a lava bean will never be barren.

Each altar should have three tiers to symbolize the Holy Trinity, and either a statue or picture of St. Joseph should be at the top. Additional items might include fresh fruit, flowers and candles.

Some may proffer that the calories from the Italian cookies don’t count since it’s coming from the St. Joseph’s Day altar but that ruling is under further review.

Enjoy!!