On November 11th, Saint Martin of Tours (316-397) is celebrated all over Europe with many festivals, proverbs, rituals, customs, and gastronomic traditions. Saint Martin was a soldier of the Roman Empire who became a Saint for his great humility and generosity. The legend for which he is best known tells how, while he was riding at the gates of the city of Amiens with his soldiers in winter, he stopped to rip his heavy military cloak in two with his sword in order to give half of it to a beggar clad only in rags. It is also said that at the moment he shared his cloak, the sun came out and that is why the short period of time in the first half of November characterized by relatively good, warm weather is called ‘Estate di San Martino’ – Saint Martin’s summer.
Part of his popularity is due to the fact that the date chosen by the church for his celebrations, November 11th , coincides with the time of the year when the barrels containing the new wine made with the grapes harvested during the same year – known in Italy as ‘novello‘ – are opened to taste it, and, traditionally, with the conclusion of period during which provisions for the winter were collected and stored. This brought the festive atmosphere that is expressed by the old Italian saying: “A San Martino ogni mosto diventa vino” (on Saint Martin’s day, every must turns into wine). San Martino is the patron of Belluno, however he is celebrated all over the country with lively festivals during which many different traditional local recipes are prepared to accompany the new wine.
In Venice, children go around town making noise with pots and lids asking for money and candies, and singing a popular rhyme in Venetian dialect. The money collected is generally used to buy a ‘Saint Martin’s cake’, a scrumptious short pastry cake shaped like Saint Martin on horseback and decorated with colorful icing, sweets, and chocolate chips. In Tuscany, a land of excellent wines, the festivals often include chestnuts, another produce that is ripe at this time of the year; however, in Anghiari, in the province of Arezzo, the ‘Feasta di San Martino’ is celebrated eating ‘bringoli’, long handmade spaghetti with mushrooms or pork sauce, washed down with some ‘brustichino’, the local new wine. While, on this day, goose recipes are at the base of typical lunches in Friuli, Veneto, Lombardy, and Romagna. In Morsano al Tagliamento, in the province of Pordenone, for example, there is a traditional ancient ‘Goose Festival’, and for the ‘Saint Martin dinner’ the entire menu is made with goose recipes. In Palermo, the typical Saint Martin biscuits – fragrant bun shaped cakes with aniseed or wild fennel – are enjoyed soaked in dessert wine. Here, following another local tradition, newlyweds couples are gifted with adorned baskets with decorated tablecloths containing Saint Martin biscuits, dried fruits, chestnuts, and a ‘pitta’, a circular bread symbolizing the values of the family.
Ilona Catani Scarlett