St Joseph’s Table 

St.Joseph’s Table ~ A beautiful Italian Catholic Tradition~
A short description of the history, significance and layout of the St. Joseph Table or St. Joseph Altar.
An Age-Old Italian Tradition
Saint Joseph is one of the most beloved saints among Italian-Americans. As the patron of workers and the protector of the family, he is honored with a feast on March 19.
According to legend, there was a famine in Sicily many centuries ago. The villagers prayed to St. Joseph, foster-father of the Infant Savior, and asked his intercession before the throne of God. Their prayers were answered. With the ending of the dreadful famine, a special feast of thanksgiving was held in commemoration of the Saint. This celebration became tradition. Wealth families prepared huge buffets. They then invited the less fortunate people of the village, especially the homeless and sick.
The celebration begins with a religious tableau. Selected villagers portray an elderly man, a lovely young woman, and a little child. The three are seated at the head table and remain there during the early part of the festivity. Others accompanying this “Holy Family” are twelve men or boys, representing the Apostles and other children, attired as angels. The village priest blesses the food, then the “Holy Family” is served first by the host and hostess.
All are free to come and go as they wish. The guests may eat what they choose and as much as pleases them. The festival lasts most of the day and well into the night. When all have been fed, they go on their way with thankful hearts and take the blessing of the host and hostess with them.
The effect of the table design is dignified, solemn, yet festive, grand and inspiring. Much symbolism is contained in its shape and decoration. The “steps” represent the ascent from earth to heaven. On the topmost step is a statue of St. Joseph or a picture of the Holy Family. White linen tablecloths cover the table. Vigil lights of green, brown and deep yellow, representing St. Joseph’s attire, are profusely placed. Palms placed nearby and around the room, as well as lily plants and white carnations give the table softness and the scents together with incense used in the opening of the ceremony are suggestive of the fragrance of heaven and the sweetness of salvation.
The food dishes represent the harvest, the created beauties of the world. Breads are baked in shapes of a staff, a carpenter’s implement, a hand, the cross and animals close to the Infant Child at birth. These shapes represent St. Joseph and the life of Christ. Minestras, very thick soups, are made of lentils, favas and other types of beans, together with escarole, broccoli or cauliflower. Other vegetables, celery, fennel stalks, boiled and stuffed artichokes are also served.
No cheese is eaten on St. Joseph’s day. The spaghetti is not sprinkled with grated Incanestrato, but in its place a traditional mixture of tasted dry bread crumbs with fresh sardines and fennel sauce is used. A dish of “sweet macaroni” with honey sauce is also served.
Then, the special dessert without which no St. Joseph’s Day buffet could ever be called by that name. It is St. Joseph’s Sfinge: a large round cream puff filled with ricotta (Italian cottage cheese) and topped with red cherries and glazed orange slices. Many dessert cookies are embellished with almonds. The almond tree is characteristic among the flora of the Mediterranean and a profoundly sacred symbol to those of Jewish, Moslem and Christian faiths alike.
All are free to come and go as they wish. The guests may eat what they choose and as much as pleases them. The festival lasts most of the day and well into the night. When all have been fed, they go on their way with thankful hearts and take the blessing of the host and hostess with them.
It is also customary for the village officials to arrange a public buffet in St. Joseph’s honor. The banquet table invariably stands in the piazza–public square–opposite the doors of the cathedral. The table is usually built around two sides of the piazza in the form of a right angle. These village tables in the public squares may not be as elaborately decorated as those in the homes, but they sage beneath the weight of choice foods and wines contributed by the wealthy villagers. All come to this public table at some time during the day to pay homage to the great saint.
How parishes can celebrate St.Joseph’s Day:
St. Joseph’s Day is a big Feast for Italians because in the Middle Ages, God, through St. Joseph’s intercessions, saved the Sicilians from a very serious drought. So in his honor, the custom is for all to wear red, in the same way that green is worn on St. Patrick’s Day. 
Today, after Mass (at least in parishes with large Italian populations), a big altar (“la tavola di San Giuse” or “St. Joseph’s Table”) is laden with food contributed by everyone (note that all these St. Joseph celebrations might take place on the nearest, most convenient weekend). Different Italian regions celebrate this day differently, but all involve special meatless foods: minestrone, pasta with breadcrumbs (the breadcrumbs symbolize the sawdust that would have covered St. Joseph’s floor), seafood, Sfinge di San Giuseppe, and, always, fava beans, which are considered “lucky” because during the drought, the fava thrived while other crops failed (recipes below). 
The table — which is always blessed by a priest — will be in three tiers, symbolizing the Most Holy Trinity. The top tier will hold a statue of St. Joseph surrounded by flowers and greenery. The other tiers might hold, in addition to the food: flowers (especially lilies); candles; figurines and symbolic breads and pastries shaped like a monstrance, chalices, fishes, doves, baskets, St. Joseph’s staff, lilies, the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, carpentry tools, etc.; 12 fishes symbolizing the 12 Apostles; wine symbolizing the miracle at Cana; pineapple symbolizing hospitality; lemons for “luck”; bread and wine (symbolizing the Last Supper); and pictures of the dead. There will also be a basket in which the faithful place prayer petitions. 
The cry “Viva la tavola di San Giuse!” begins the feasting and is heard throughout the day. When the eating is done, the St. Joseph’s altar is smashed, and then three children dressed as the Holy Family will knock on three doors, asking for shelter. They will be refused at the first two, and welcomed at the third, in memory of the Holy Family’s seeking of hospitality just before Christ was born. This re-enactment is called “Tupa Tupa,” meaning “Knock Knock.”
The day ends with each participant taking home a bag that might be filled with bread, fruit, pastries, cookies, a medal of St. Joseph, a Holy Card and/or a blessed fava bean. Keep your “lucky bean,” and let it remind you to pray to St. Joseph. 
Recipes to try:
Minestrone (serves 4)
1/4 cup olive oil 

1 cup onion, finely chopped 

1/2 cup celery, with leaves, chopped 

2 cloves garlic, minced 

1 28-ounce can of tomatoes, with juice 

1 large can white beans (Cannelli beans or Navy beans) 

5 cups beef or vegetable stock 

1/2 cup flat parsley, finely chopped 

1 cup finely sliced, then roughly chopped Swiss Chard (or spinach or cabbage, or some combination) 

2 zucchini, unpeeled and cut into little cubes 

1/2 cup small pasta (like ditalini) 

For garnish: freshly-grated Parmesan cheese 
Sauté the onion and celery in the oil til wilted, toss in garlic and stir for a minute, then put in cut-up tomatoes and cook down for about 10 minutes to concentrate flavors. Stir in beef stock, reserved tomato juice, and beans and bring to a boil. Add half the parsley, lower heat, and cook for about 30 minutes. 
Add Swiss chard (or spinach or cabbage), zucchini, and pasta and cook at a gentle boil until pasta is tender. 
When ready to serve, stir in the rest of the parsley. Season to taste and grate in some black pepper. Ladle into bowls and serve with the parmesan and a crusty bread. 

Pasta di San Giuse (pasta with breadcrumbs that symbolize sawdust) 
Cooked pasta

2 TBSP olive oil

5 cloves garlic, chopped

pinch of red pepper flakes

2 cups chopped fresh fennel

2 cups crushed tomatoes 

2 TBSP tomato paste

1 TBSP chopped fresh basil

4 cans of drained, skinless, boneless sardines
Heat oil in large pot, and saute in it the garlic and pepper flakes. Add the fennel, tomatoes, paste, and basil. Cover and let simmer 30 minutes ’til fennel is tender. Add the sardines and simmer a few more minutes. 

1 TBSP olive oil

1 cup fine homemade breadcrumbs 
Heat oil, and add crumbs and heat until golden brown. Pour sauce over the pasta, then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. 
Sfinge di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s Cream Puffs)

1 cup water 

1/3 cup unsalted butter 

1 TBSP sugar 

Grated rind of 1 lemon 

Pinch of salt 

1 cup sifted flour 

4 large eggs, at room temperature 

1 TBSP Cognac or vanilla 

2 cups ricotta cheese 

1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar 

1/2 tsp. vanilla 

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon 

1/3 cup grated dark chocolate

2 TBSP finely chopped pistachios

Powdered sugar

Lemon rind 
Put water, butter, granulated sugar, lemon rind, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, and as soon as the butter has melted, remove from heat. Add the flour all at once, stirring constantly and with vigor. 
Return the pan to the heat, and stir constantly until the mixture forms a ball and comes away from the sides of the pan. Cook just a little longer, until you hear a slight crackling, frying sound. Remove the pan from the heat, and cool slightly. 
Add the eggs, one at a time. Be sure that each egg is thoroughly blended into the mixture before you add the next. Stir until smooth and thoroughly blended . Add the Cognac or vanilla. Cover the dough and let it stand for 15 to 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400º F. 
Drop the dough by heaping tablespoonsful on a buttered cookie sheet or onto parchment-lined sheet (better!), leaving 2 inches between the sfinge. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool.
Filling: Mix the ricotta, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate, and pistachios. Just before serving (so they don’t get soggy!), cut off the tops of the sfinge and fill; place top back on after filling. Arrange on platter, sprinkle with powdered sugar to make them pretty, and garnish platter with lemon rind.
Fava Beans 
1 lb. dried fava beans

1 bunch green onions

1 medium onion

4 cloves garlic

3 bay leaves

chopped parsley

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste
Cook dried fava beans in boiling water until tender, adding more water as needed. Sauté seasonings in olive oil ’til tender, then add to beans. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve in soup bowls.
Happy Feast of St.Joseph!