Sfingi Preface   

Since ancient times, the end of winter and the beginning of spring is celebrated all over the world.  

In the Scandinavia Peninsula pigs were roasted as a sacrifice to the deities to ask for abundant crops, good fishing and strong offspring.  

In the Judeo, Greek and Roman tradition, the sacrifice of the lamb was offered to the gods; the fields were prepared for the coming seasons, seeds were planted, and offerings made to the deities to get their blessings and to wish for abundant harvests.  

The Greek offered to Demeter and the Roman Ceres (goddesses of fertility) the early produces of the land, also fritters in the form of breasts and eggs, which are the symbol of birth, hoping for blessings and healthy new born babies.  

With Christianity the pagan feasts endured and were transformed into Christian holidays.   

As time went by, the fritters evolved from simple fried or baked dough sprinkled with honey into more elaborate and delightful pastries; ricotta, almonds, candied fruits, and other components along with the talent of the local professional master bakers, and with the inventiveness of the housewives changed the characteristic of these fritters improving their distinctive taste and popularity.  

Mainly there are two types of this dessert: the Sfingi of Saint Joseph, filled with ricotta cream and made by professional master bakers, are prepared in the month of March to celebrate San Giuseppe Day on March 19th;  and many versions of the home-made sfingi which housewives make all year around. 

Another kind of sfingi served in pizzerie and street festivals, commonly referred as zeppole, were originally made with fried bread dough and dunked in granulated sugar. 

A basic recipe of home-made sfingi, with some adjustments is popular in the entire Island. 

The ricotta fritters, sfingi or fritteddi con ricotta are made in the western part of Sicily, including the provinces of Palermo and Trapani; a similar recipe is used  in the province of Syracuse . 

The crispeddi are sfingi made in Catania: their recipe includes raisins or currants and they are served sprinkled with granulated sugar and honey. 

My mother made the sfingi, using her ancestors’ recipe… which happen to be a very popular recipe used by many Sicilian housewives. 

The secretive nuns in the convents scattered all over Sicily, made the sfingi with ricotta cream in a mysterious combination with other creams, using a combination of exotic essences and spices giving to the sfingi a different and distinctive taste. The convents and monasteries baking and selling sweets have become a lost tradition that has almost disappeared. 

 

Saint Joseph Pastry - Sfingi di San Giuseppe 

Home-made Sfingi -Basic Recipe 

Ricotta FrittersSfingi or Fritteddi con Ricotta 

Fritters with Ricotta or Raisins – Crispeddi Dolci Made in Catania  

Fritters with Raisins – Crispeddi di San Martino  

My Mother’s Sfingi Recipe - Sfingi Casarecce 

San Martin’s Fritters – Sfingi di San Martino  

 

 

 

Saint Joseph Feast 

Spring Equinox (from the Latin: equus meaning equal and nox  meaning night) occurs around March 20th when the earth’s axis is positioned perpendicularly to the rays of the sun and day and night have the same duration. 
Astronomic observations of the movements of the sun were made in pre-historic times and they gave origin to ancient pagan rituals, traditions and magic; the Sun was accepted as a deity and worshiped to gain his blessings and his generosity.
Spring Equinox marked the end of winter and the time to prepare for the new season, to care for the land and do all necessary planning for that time of year. 
On the previous night of the Spring Equinox, it was tradition to collect pieces of wood, or anything else that would burn and form a pile to burn for the whole night: and burn, along with it, all the misery of the past year, welcoming the new season.
This tradition was carried out since primeval times, all over the known world as far north as the Vikings in Europe, as far south as the African continent and as far east as Asia.
In more recent times Greeks and Romans celebrated this event with the sacrifice of lambs to the sun god for his blessings to the land and to the seeds planted in the ground; to the goddess of fertility, Demeter for the Greeks or Ceres for the Romans, fritters in the form of breasts of a virgin and eggs, the symbol of birth, were offered to gain her blessings so that new life would come into their families.
Those traditions were common among the Persians, Armenians, Jews, and Germans, who at this time of the year celebrated their own gods.    
When Christianity was accepted, many of the pagan feasts endured but were transformed into Christian holidays. 
This holiday coincides with Saint Joseph's day and even at the present time all over Sicily, in particular in Palermo, the night of March 18th  big piles made of wood, old furniture and junks are burned in honor of Saint Joseph.
On the tables, this feast is celebrated with special bread called Pane di San Giuseppe, and with pasta topped with wild fennel and sardines. A creamy legume soup, the maccu di San Giuseppe is cooked with a mixture of beans and also the sfingi di San Giuseppe are present on every table.