The St. Joseph's Table: Feast and Wine

Many Chicagoans tomorrow will be celebrating  St. Joseph's Day, most of them Italians.  There will be parades and festivals, food and wine, family and gathering.  I have grown up with this day being part of my life, since I was a young boy at Santa Lucia Parish.  There is always services (mass), and some of my favorite Italian bakeries and southern Italian wines will be included.

St. Joseph's Day is a holiday celebrated in many parts of the world, but is extremely special to Italians.  Most towns and cities in Italy have days dedicated to saints.  The saints who have special meaning to the towns are their patrons, with the largest celebrations thrown in their honor.  In southern Italy, Sicily in particular, St. Joseph is held the most dear.  Each March 19th, a parade and feast are offered to St. Joseph, the father of Jesus of Nazareth.  This day is also very special for fathers and carpenters. 

During the middle ages, southern Italy was the victim of widespread famine and drought.  The people prayed to St. Joseph to bring them rain, and in return, they would offer a large feast.  The rains soon came, and everyone celebrated.  Breads and pastas, along with fish, wine, and desserts are on most traditional tables.  Meat has never been a big part of the celebration, as it not part of the regular diet of southern Italians, with the poor normally unable to afford it.  Plus, the day is always during Lent

Since bread and dessert is always part of the Table, a good bakery is always needed.  Here are a couple of my picks:

  • Il Giardino del Dolce, 2859 N. Harlem Ave.  This family bakery has been making some of Chicago's best for over 20 years.  They make great mini pastries like canoli, baba, sfogliatelle, and zeppole, which is the St. Joseph special pastry.  Also, try their apple slices and cheesecake.

  • Ferrara Bakery, 2210 W. Taylor.  Around since 1908, Ferrara has become an institution with Italian Americans, making breads, cakes, cookies, and candies.  Eating their biscotti always takes me back.

Wine can be eye opening, with many great value picks coming in from southern Italy.  My favorites include:

  • Terredora di Paola Falanghina ($14):  the falanghina varietal is often compared to viognier, with floral aromatics, rich minerality, and a soft full body.  This one also brings lots of fruit and honey flavor.

  • Cusumano Jalé ($20): a very rich wine, with toasty oak character, and golden fruit.  Made of 100% Chardonnay in Sicily.

  • Donnafugata Anthìlia ($13): citrus fruits are a hit, as this full white will not disappoint.  A blend of Ansonica and Catarotto, indigenous Sicilian varietals.

  • I Favati Aglianico "Cretarossa" ($22): this red varietal is the south's best.  It can create full bodied wines meant for aging.  This one in particular is from Irpinia, close to Napoli, and has a full body, with lush red fruit, meant to be consumed with food.

I hope this can help those of you seeking the right components for you St. Joseph's Table.  I also hope it encourages those of you who are new to the holiday to use it as an excuse to enjoy the day with family and friends, while learning something new about another culture.