November Fava shaped cookies (Fave dei morti)

The tradition of offering fava beans during the days consecrated to the dead is set far in the ancient times. This superstition has come to our days trasforming the original bean into a biscuit.

The ancient Romans used to offer sacrifices to avoid any persecution or haunting from the bad spirits during the Parentalia festival dedicated to the deceased relatives and organised banquets in the family tombs, offering opium, honey, lentils, eggs and not missing the fava beans, considered as the house of the dead. Another holiday called Lemuria days the Romans offered in a peculiar rite black fava beans to the ghosts of the wandering dead to placate their thirst of blood and violence.

This symbolism was kept even in the following centuries: for example until recent times there was the tradition of preparing a soup of fava beans the night of Nov. 2nd (catholic commemoration of the dead) and leave a dish on the table for the night visit of a deceased relative.
Of this old pagan rural traditions nowadays we keep memory with macaroon-like cookies, popular from the north to south of Italy, there are many variations to the recipe. Sometimes made with just almonds, or with the addition of pine nuts, with just stiffly-beaten egg whites (which make for softer biscotti) or flavoured with lemon zest, candied fruit or spices.

Recipee for November Fava shaped cookies (Fave dei morti)

Blanched almonds 200 gr, pastry flour 100 gr , sugar 100 gr , egg 1, butter 30 gr, lemon skin, a hint of salt

Roughly ground the almonds then put in a mixer. Pay attention when using the mixer, the blades must not get hot otherwise the heat will take out the oil from the almonds, changing their taste. Add sugar.
Work with flour, egg, grated lemon skin and liquid butter until it gets homogenic.
Then create small balls that can also be shaped as a fava bean (5-6 cm long).
Put in the oven at 180* (celsius) and cook for 12-15 minutes.

To pair with Vin Santo

a magic bean

The fava bean is a springtime legume, it is delicious and very popular in Rome, but in the ancient times it was often connected with superstitions and with the world of the dead.

The fava bean inspired horror to the Pythagoreans because the black stains on the fava flowers were believed to be a sign of the presence of dead people souls; the Egyptians avoided the contact while the Romans offered them to the dead as a gift.

The reasons of this bad consideration are in the botanical characteristics of the plant and in the difficulty of digestion. The plant is the only one with a stem that comes out from the ground without any knot so it was believed to be a sort of thread of communication with the underworld, used by the dead to take possession of the souls of living people. The fava been is in fact a little bit hard to digest giving a sense of psychic and physical heaviness.

It can also be mortal and provocate an anaphilactic shock in people affected by favism, a quite diffused allergy in Southern Italy. All this of course increased the fame of the fava bean as an impure and dangerous food.

Still nowadays we keep memory of this funeral aspect with some biscuits prepared for the feast of the dead falling on November, 2nd: though they’re made with almonds, they’re called “The dead’s fava”. The best period to eat this highly proteic food is May/June when you can find it fresh and eat it raw with Roman Pecorino cheese or in a typical Roman recipe called “Vignarola“.

a breakfast in rome

Easter’s early morning on the tables of the Romans who respect the tradition is a peculiar moment. For the Christian religion this moment celebrates the end of a 40 days long fasting and the coming back to normal life, in Rome this day starts with a rich banquet with salted and sweet courses where the principal food is lamb representing the body of Christ and eggs as a symbol of resurrection.

The sweet food is represented by “pizza sbattuta” (whipped pizza), a sort of sponge cake that is eaten with the traditional chocolate eggs, a good occasion for the kids to unwrap the eggs and find the gifts inside. Nowadays it is often replaced by a northern Italian cake named “colomba” (dove), a long leavened cake topped with almons and crunchy sugar.

The salted part served is richer, with some recipes strange to eat early in the morning. Any family has its traditions, but some of the most common courses is “coratella” with artichokes (a stew of liver, heart, lungs of lamb). To complete this light meal you can find some savoury pies, corallina (a typical salami with big pieces of lard) and hard eggs that can be decorated with colours to be eaten with the tasty Cheesy Easter pie.

Ready for lunch then?

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