times, the end of winter and the beginning of spring is celebrated all over the
In the Scandinavia
Peninsula pigs were roasted as a sacrifice to the deities to ask for abundant crops, good fishing and strong
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
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
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
Giuseppe Day on March 19th; and many versions of
the home-made sfingi which housewives make all year
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were originally made with fried bread dough and dunked in granulated sugar.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
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
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
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
Saint Joseph Pastry - Sfingi
di San Giuseppe
Home-made Sfingi -Basic
Ricotta Fritters– Sfingi or Fritteddi con Ricotta
Fritters with Ricotta or Raisins – Crispeddi Dolci Made in
Fritters with Raisins – Crispeddi di San
My Mother’s Sfingi Recipe - Sfingi Casarecce
San Martin’s Fritters – Sfingi di San Martino
(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
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