Fave dei Morti cookies are typical of All Saints’ Day.
And when I was little, I didn’t like them.
Cemeteries, family, and biscuits.
What I did enjoy was the traditional cemetery tours and visits to relatives we never saw.
The tradition of the annual visit to the loved ones’ graves is almost lost. When I was a child, on the contrary, it was a serious thing.
Families would visit several cemeteries, even traveling many kilometers, to pray on the tombs of the family dead people.
I liked everything about that day.
It was usually about mum’s family and relatives.
She is a Romagnola from the Bassa, and some branches of the family lived among the towns of Lugo, Massa Lombarda, and Conselice.
But before continuing, perhaps, I should say something more about these places.
These are villages that have in common to be all in the province of Ravenna. But they belong to two different areas of Romagna. Lugo and Massa are agricultural areas, you find above all fruit trees, and some food processing companies are based. Both enjoy widespread affluence.
Conselice is a village between Romagna and Veneto. In ancient times it even had a river port where trade to Venice passed.
The countryside of Conselice is inside the area called “Bassa” (below sea level). Once, it was also marshy. Here the land is less generous and fertile. It is almost white and sandy. The people of Romagna also have a different character there. They are shy and of few words. Perhaps it is because of the fog that once enveloped things and people for many months of the year.
At the cemetery, with rain or shine.
I liked to walk in the quiet of small country cemeteries, among flowers and candles.
The sun made the green of the lawn and the glass of the family tombs shine. The rain made the gravestones glisten and, what can I say, the mystery of the fog which, be careful reader, was not that of today.
It was a thick, dense fog that even entered the mouth. People would suddenly appear out of nowhere, and an unreal silence reigned everywhere.
I liked the tour of the still-living relatives a little less.
After a few questions, a piece of candy, and a dead man’s bean – which I had to accept under my mother’s fiery gaze – the grown-ups seemed to forget about me and talk to each other. After all, they would see each other again the following year and only for a short time.
There were no relatives I didn’t want to go to, but only one was unique and special. But my favorite was a young man who lived with his elderly mother in downtown Conselice. I’ll call him “il Signorino”.
“Il signorino” (the young man).
As I crossed the square looking at the beautiful building, I was already excited. Once under the porch, my father rang the intercom of the private house. And then we all waited together in front of the door of the shop, where we would enter.
The entrance to the house opened onto an anonymous staircase cluttered with boxes, which they used as an extension of the warehouse.
The windows that framed the entrance to the shop were small and had a glass background that did not allow one to see inside. After several minutes of waiting, the door finally opened on a man who, for me, was old. But he must have been about fifty. He was thin and lanky, without hair, with a gentle, hollow face. But above all, he always welcomed us, year after year, with a light tobacco-colored work coat, even if it was a festive day.
As soon as we entered, he promptly closed the door and locked it behind us.
We went from light to semi-light. The room was a square. On the walls were large shelves with two long wooden benches running along with them. I would have spent hours in there, but the best was yet to come.
On the other side of the entrance, a long corridor began that led into the warehouse. We had to walk almost down to meet the stairs leading to the upper floor and the private house.
I imagine that the choice to pass through the shop was a quirk of the young man, who probably took pleasure in showing his guests the shop’s sample collection. And what objects! Among the household goods and small electrical appliances, television sets stood out. At that time, those who sold TVs, especially in small provincial towns, probably felt they had something special.
The corridor was full of objects stacked on the floor up to the ceiling. What I would have given to climb up and look inside. At the bottom, hand-held whiskies were sticking out of boxes, but also televisions resting on old cupboards, colanders, and much more.
The dust, probably moved by our passage, looked like golden sand in the air, and was magical to my childlike eyes.
I walked along, holding my breath and hoping to slow down the walk.
But my parents were careful not to leave me behind, guided like a condemned man to the inevitable.
At the top of the stairs, an old lady with a stern face and mustache was waiting for us, making everyone uncomfortable, even her son, who suddenly seemed to grow small and disappear into the folds of his gown.
Then those visits ended, I imagine following the death of his mother, the mustachioed lady. I like to think that the gentleman was finally able to marry a TV showgirl who happened to be there.
Fave dei Morti cookies.
The typical sweet of this period is the biscuit known as fave dei morti.
In the bakeries of Bologna and Romagna, you can find them only in the first week of November to coincide with the celebration of the Saints, November 1, and the dead, November 2.
There are many versions of this biscuit.
The name contains a bizarre reference to a legume that is not part of the recipe, broad beans. The reason is probably in the habit that dates back to the ancient Romans, which is why Pellegrino Artusi calls the biscuits Fave alla Romana or of the dead (dei Morti). Once, it was traditional to use them as a funeral offering for the gods. People believed that broad beans contained the souls of the dead and, in later times, that they resembled the gates of Hell.
It is the origin of the biscuits known as Fave dei Morti (Beans of the Dead), prepared for All Saints’ Day.
The biscuits that grandma used to make are very much like the third of the three versions proposed by Pellegrino Artusi (recipe without egg yolk).
Beans of the dead are usually of different colors, but I don’t like coloring agents. I prefer to use a natural red beetroot powder. I don’t mind this pale color. Another alternative is to add a dash of alkermes.
The biscuit is not difficult to make, just a little delicate because you have to whip the egg whites.
It is a naturally gluten-free recipe.
I remember them this way, without yeast, a bit hard, not precise, sometimes flavored with aniseed, sometimes not. I didn’t like them at the time, and now that they are almost impossible to find, I find myself craving them. Such is life.
Buona cucina, Monica
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Fave dei Morti cookies recipe
about 15 Fave dei Morti cookies
List of Ingredients
1 egg white
50 g finely chopped almonds
125 g caster sugar
3 teaspoons of rice flour
A pinch of salt
Finely chop the almonds in a food processor with the sugar.
Pour the mixture into a bowl, add the egg whites, flour and salt and whisk to combine.
If you want to add coloring agents, do so now.
If using more than one color, divide the mixture into equal amounts.
Transfer to a disposable pastry bag, line a large baking tray with baking paper, and form 2cm round or oval biscuits, placing them well apart.
Sprinkle the surface with caster sugar and leave to rest in the oven, turned off, for an hour or two.
Before baking, cut the surface of the biscuits with a small knife.
Bake in a static, preheated oven (150C degrees) for about 13-15 minutes.
Leave to cool out of the oven.