November in Italy is known as il Mese dei Morti (The Month of the Dead) – not just to honor the dead, but to officially mark the true start of the autumn season. The gloomy month begins with a celebration for all saints and all souls (i.e. the dead).
Like in many other countries, November 1 is the day of the Feast of All Saints, followed by November 2 celebrating the Day of the Dead. And yes, the quirk of Halloween on October 31 has trickled into some modern Italian households. In fact, influenced by American culture, some families participate in the holiday with young children dressing up in costume and attend Halloween parties, and teenagers attend Halloween themed night at discotheques.
In the end, the common theme for this period is death and the belief that the old souls come back to Earth to visit their family and friends.
TAKE THE BRIDGE OF ALL SAINTS TO THE COOKIE FOR THE DEAD
No, this is not an alternate version of a candy filled board game. The introduction to November (October 31 to November 2) make up the Ponte di Ognissanti (Bridge of All Saints) – especially when it falls on a weekend. It’s not a physical bridge, of course. Ponte (which literally means bridge) is the poetic Italian term used for long weekend.
During this weekend, on Nov 2 the Day of the Dead specifically, some Italians visit cemeteries to honor the tombs of relatives, loved ones, and friends. In some regions, families may even picnic at graves. Some traditions include placing an extra setting at the table, while others will leave the leftovers on the table, for the dead to feast.
We all know that Italy is the delicious food focused country. So, there is usually a traditional recipe to go with just about every holiday. And yes, of course, there had to be some type of food or dessert that applied to this fascinating day.
While living in Rome back in 2011, I had conducted my research for this food starting with local bakeries around the city; which is how I learned of Rome’s “death” cookie called Fave dei Morti (Beans of the Dead).
Of course, the first question that came to mind was: “Why beans?” Sure, these cookies – made with almond paste and cinnamon – are circular in shape and squished, resembling the form of dried fava beans – a common, snack or ingredient for soups and other dishes found in the fall. But, there’s more to the bean connection – in fact, it is an ancient one.
History of the Bean and Death
Dating back to ancient Greece, beans were considered a connection between the living and the dead; specifically because of a rare occurrence of a black stain on the bean’s pure white flower. When this rare stain appears, it typically comes in a shape similar to the Greek letter tau; which is the first letter in thanatos – the Greek word for death. The stained flower – which grew from the ground – became the direct connection to the underworld. With time, as a way to honor this flower and its connection to the dead, beans were used in rituals, and eventually in recipes such as the fave dei morti.
List of some cookies for the dead by region.
The common ingredient in all these offerings is almond or almond paste, and they are available only in the month of November.
- Umbira: Stinghetti
- Lombardia: Pane dei Morti
- Sicilia: Ossa dei Morti
- Toscana: Ossa dei Morti (different version)
- Roma: Fave dei Morti
- Puglia: La Colva
- Lecce: Le Fanfullicche
Rome Tip: My favorite fave dei morti cookie was found at Biscottificio Artigiano Innocenti in Trastevere.
- Biscottificio Artigiano Innocenti – Via della Luce, 21, (Trastevere) Roma
NOTE: This is an updated version of an article originally posted in 2011 on a previous blog I ran called Modern Culture: Italy. The article was part of a series called Adventures in Rome. The blog no longer exists; however, I am pulling and updating some of the articles that I found to be interesting enough to have a life here on Magnusmade.com.