Friday, May 13, 2011

Kitchen Omens and Italian Superstitions

Today is Friday the 13th — the unluckiest day on the calendar. Be careful, don’t take any chances, or walk under a ladder, watch out, it’s a black cat---oh no, and for God’s sake stay away from men in hockey masks.

The number 13 has been unlucky for centuries. It dates back to a least 1700 BC. In Italy the number 13 is a lucky number. The number’s association with Friday didn’t take hold until the 20th Century. In 1907, an eccentric Boston stockbroker Thomas Lawson published a book called “Friday the Thirteenth.” The book sold nearly 28,000 copies within the first week. In 1916 the book was turned into a feature-length silent film. Then in 1980, Paramount Pictures released a movie called “Friday the 13th” This horror/slasher movie centers on Jason, born on Friday the 13th who murders summer campers. So, try not to go to camp on Friday the 13th. You have been warned!!

Omens reveal many things and are all around us. They can be quite beneficial especially in warning us of possible dangerous situations ahead of time. The technique is knowing how to interpret them. The kitchen is one place in which many omens and superstitions manifest. This is an example of one of them, if a fork accidentally falls onto the floor, a woman will soon knock on your door, a spoon indicates the arrival of a gentleman. (In some parts of the world, the fork means a man, and the spoon means a woman.) Another one is that money will soon come your way if any of these things occur: bubbles appear in a cup of coffee, you accidentally knock over a sugar bowl, rice forms a ring around the edge of a pot, or tea leaves float to the top of the cup. If salt is spilled that means a quarrel. This may be avoided by throwing a pinch over the left shoulder. If pepper is spilled on the table or floor, prepare to be in an argument. If you dream of eating ham then you will lose something that means a lot to you. If you dream of eating honey that foretells that you will have wealth and love.

Growing up in an Italian American household, many of these rituals and beliefs were practiced by my parents and grandparents. Some of these Italian American superstitions were practiced by countless generations. The fact that these superstitions are still with us is a testament to just how strong forces of good luck, prosperity and good fortune are even with us in today’s world. The following are some commonly known Italian American rituals and superstitions. There are many more to numerous to mention, but this may give you an example of some of them.  

The Evil Eye (Malocchio): The evil eye is caused by jealousy and envy. By coveting somebody’s possessions or more importantly admiring another family’s children. You can test this curse, by dropping olive oil in a plate of water. If the oil formed one large drop in the middle of the plate it was a sure sign of the Evil Eye. To break this curse, chanting of the right prayers that only women were allowed to know, over the oil, and it would break up into tiny droplets and spread out. Now the curse was broken. 


The Devil’s Horn (Corno): These twisted red coral; gold or silver amulets are often worn as necklaces by men to ward off curses on their “manliness” very similar to a Mojo. Most men who wear one will say it represents one of the horns of the devil. The hand gesture that implies the Evil Eye is extending only the pinkie and index finger like a pair of horns and pointing it down. When the gesture is made poiting upward, it is an insult to somebody, meaning their husband or wife is unfaithful.

No Birds In The House: Italians believe that having a bird in the house brings bad luck. Some versions of the superstition include even bird feathers, especially peacock feathers with their potentially “Evil Eye.” The reason for birds being bad luck stemmed from the Bible, when St. Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times before the cock crowed.

Blessing or Exorcising a New House:  Some Southern Italians immigrating to new lands as they moved into their first new home, would practice the necessary rituals to rid the new place of any spirits that may have been left by the previous owners. Before moving into their new home, they would take a broom and sweep away the evil spirits, followed by sprinkling of salt in the corners of the house to purify it. Holy water that was blessed by a priest was also used to exorcise any evil spirits. I remember my grandmother telling me when you visit someone in their new home you bring a loaf of bread (not to go hungry) salt (to season your life) and last but not least sugar (to add sweetness to your life.)

One person’s superstition is another person’s religion, way of life or cultural identity. It is all about perspective. No matter how strange the omens or superstitions may seem to groups who don’t practice or understand them, it can bring cultures and people together. Different cultures will pass down their traditions from generations to generations. Just the way my grandmother passed down traditions to my Mother and now my Mother continues and passes them to me, and now we can pass the things that mean the most to our family down again another generation to my children, and it just continues, and continues. That is just the way it is.  

Today, I would love to share this simple but tasty authentic Italian cookie, called Italian Sesame Cookies. This recipe is very simple and fun to make. You can even have your children help by coating the cookies with the sesame seeds before baking. Children love to help cook and bake. Let your family help and create many memories together. Enjoy this cookie with a cup of coffee or tea. To store them, put them in a covered tin, for long lasting flavor. (If they last that long)
Gustare!! English translation: to taste, to enjoy, to relish.

Italian Sesame Cookies
4 cups of flour
1 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1/ 4 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of Crisco Solid
2 eggs
1 / 2 cup of milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla
Sesame seeds

Cut in 1 cup of shortening (Crisco Solid). Beat slightly 2 eggs. Add to eggs: 1/ 2 cup of milk. Combine dry and liquid ingredients. Pinch off a small amount of dough and roll in your hands.
Shape into a size of a finger and taper at each end. (You can also create any shape to make these cookies in example: crescent, star, round etc) Now roll in the sesame seeds. Bake at 375° for about 12-15 minutes depending on your oven and the type of pans you use.
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