Fave dei Morti

Fave dei Morti

Le Fave dei Morti

Le Fave dei Morti

When my parents were growing up in Italy, there was no such thing as Halloween.  The goblins, ghouls and jack o’lanterns arrived in Italy relatively recently via mass media and the spread of American pop culture.  For my parents, there was instead La Festa di Ognissanti (All Saints Day) on November 1st and La Festa dei Morti (All Souls Day) on November 2nd.

Yesterday, when I asked my mom what she remembered about these feast days, she gasped with delight.   Her eyes sparkled and for a moment, she was a little girl in Sicily again.  She told me that on the morning of i Morti, children would wake up to trays of intricate and colorful candy bambolette (dolls) and cavallucci (horses) called Pupi di Zucchero as well as lifelike marzipan frutta di martorana.


Pupi di Zucchero

Legend has it that on the night of Ognissanti, the dead come down from heaven to deliver gifts and treats to the loved ones they left behind.  In the same spirit of La Befana, Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, children are promised that if they dutifully respect their elders and pray for their departed relatives all year long, i morti will reward them.   When my Zia Nina, my mom’s older cousin and godmother, became engaged, her future in-laws presented her with gifts on All Souls Day,and as the youngest of the family, my mom received a Pupo with a little gold chain around its neck….a way of saying “welcome to the family” from the other-world.


Frutta di martorana

While I would love to share my very own recipe for these extraordinary Sicilian confections, I simply don’t possess the requisite artistry.  Instead, here’s a recipe for fave dei morti – fava beans of the dead – a chewy, little almond cookie prepared for All Souls Day throughout much of Italy.

Wishing you all a happy week of feasting!

Fave dei Morti

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©

Makes approx. 72 bite-sized cookies

Cookie sheet

  • 2 cups whole almonds, blanched and toasted
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 2 egg yolks
  • Zest of a small lemon
  • 1 tablespoon of grappa

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and position racks in the upper two thirds.  Prepare two cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

To the bowl of a food processor, add the almonds and pulse until they’re the consistency of almond meal (or slightly coarser if you prefer a bit of crunch in your cookie as I do.  It’s best to err on the side of a coarser consistency – if you grind them for too long and the machine becomes too hot, the nuts will release their natural oils and become almond butter.)  Transfer the almonds to a bowl, repeat with the pine nuts and set them aside.

In a separate bowl or fluted measuring cup, lightly beat the egg, yolks, lemon zest and grappa together and set aside.

In a separate large bowl, combine the flour, almonds and cinnamon and sift the confectioner’s sugar into the mixture.   Add the chopped pine nuts and combine the dry ingredients, forming a well in the center.  Pour the egg mixture into the center of the well and work the mixture with your hands until a compact and malleable dough forms.

Working in batches, cut a piece of the dough, and with your hands, roll it into a thick rope.  Working quickly so that the dough doesn’t dry out, cut the rope of dough into ¾-inch pieces and roll each piece of dough into a ball.  Gently flatten the ball of dough so that it takes on a slightly oval shape (like a fava bean).  Place the ovals, one inch apart, onto the cookie sheets.  Repeat until you’ve shaped all of your cookie dough.

Bake cookies for 10 minutes, until slightly golden and cracked on top.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Buon appetito!


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5 Responses to Fave dei Morti

  1. Mirella Trozzo October 29, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Grarzie mille, Michelle, I was born in Abbruzzo and came to Canada in 1960. I loved your story:):):) Mirella Trozzo from Biscotti Di Notte & MORE

  2. domenicacooks October 30, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    Michelle, thanks for sharing your mother’s story. I’m a little dismayed to see how much Halloween has become a thing in Italy. I hope all these regional rituals steeped in tradition like the one you write about are not lost.

    • Majella Home Cooking October 30, 2013 at 8:14 am #

      Amen, Domenica. Truth be told, I’m not a fan of Halloween. My mother never quite “got” its appeal and passed her aversion on to me. (It probably didn’t help that I was totally that kid who had to wear her coat over her costume.) When I emailed some Italian friends about Ognissanti and I Morti, I got the sense that they aren’t quite as celebrated as they used to be. However, in Sicily, I know that the shops are still lined with frutta di martorana and pupi di zucchero. My mom said she’d ask her cousin whether he has kept up the gift-giving tradition with hi grandchildren when she speaks to him next week.

  3. Phyllis @ Oracibo October 30, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

    Michelle, thank you so much for this post. Loved hearing about the Sicilian traditions, what magical memories for you and your family! I wrote a post, going up tomorrow, about our Halloween traditions here on the west coast of Canada, you might like to have a look. http://www.oracibo.com I was, to say the least, extremely surprised one October when we were walking around Arezzo to see all the North American Halloween commercial stuff for sale!

  4. ciaochowlinda October 30, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    I love how you write about your family’s traditions (and the cookies look darn delicious too.) Too bad we here in the states don’t pay homage on All Saints Day to our dearly departed loved ones. I love how in Mexico they even have picnics in graveyards on that day.

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