Fave Dei Morti, Biscuits for The Dead

If you’re not Siciliani or Greek, you’re probably wondering what fave or broadbeans have to do with biscuits and the dead. Fave beans are the emblematic dish of death,

“The ancient Greeks saw the black spot on the petals of the broad bean plant as the stain of death and used the beans in funeral ceremonies but refused to eat them. Pythagoras thought that their hollow stems reached down into the earth to connect the living with the dead, and that therefore fave contain the souls of those who have died. The Romans honoured their connection with death but cooked and served the beans as the most sacred dish at funeral banquets.” ¹

Fava( broadbeans) flowering late in my garden.
Fava( broadbean) flowering late in my garden. They look beautiful and a little spooky too.

The day of the dead, I Morti, is celebrated in Sicily on November 2 with Fave dei Morti, little sweet biscuits formed to look like broadbeans,  as well as other sweets such as ossi da morto, bones of the dead, and sweets shaped like human figures. For many Siciliani, a tablecloth is laid out on the family tomb, complete with chrysanthemums, the flowers of the dead, and the family gathers for a picnic. This may sound rather morbid until you consider that on the day of the dead, I Morti, ancestors and relatives sneak back into the living world, back through that fissure in time, to be with the living again.

Fave dei Morti
Fave dei Morti

Given this fine Italian tradition ( not to mention its connection with similar Celtic practices), I went in search of a few customary and very simple recipes, from Siena to Sicily, to leave a few sweet things on the table or the grave, come November 1 and 2.

Fave  Dei Morti

These tiny, crunchy biscuits are easy to whip up and are wonderful dunked in something strong. Despite their simplicity, they taste festive and are very moreish. I need to make another batch for the otherworldly ‘visitors’ on November 1.

  • 100 gr almond meal ( or almonds finely ground to a powder)
  • 100 gr sugar
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbls rum
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 70 gr unbleached plain flour ( AP flour)

Place the ground almonds in a bowl with the sugar, lemon zest, egg and rum. Mix until well blended. Add the spices and flour and stir until the dough is well blended.

Divide the dough into four pieces. Flour a work surface very lightly and roll each piece into a log the width of a finger. Cut into 4 cm ( 1/12 inch) pieces and place them on a baking paper lined tray. Flatten each piece slightly.

Heat oven to 175ºC and bake until barely browned, around 16 minutes. Makes around 40 pieces. Dust with icing sugar and store well in a tin.

Fave dei Morti on the mantlepiece for the dead.
Fave dei Morti on the mantlepiece for the dead.

¹ Celebrating Italy, The Tastes and Traditions of Italy as Revealed through its Feasts, Festivals, and Sumptuous Foods. Carol Field. 1990

23 thoughts on “Fave Dei Morti, Biscuits for The Dead”

  1. Those look so delicious. I was just listening this morning to someone explaining that the day of the dead celebrations in Mexico on November 1, are very similar to those you have described for Italy. I had no idea. Makes much more sense than candy and Halloween.

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  2. It’s sad that a genuine reason to celebrate the lives of dead relatives has been waylaid. Yummy bikkies though, will give them a go. We spent All Saints Day in Spain a few years back, there it’s a day for family

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    1. I am quite annoyed that Australia is adopting the Halloween tradition for all the wrong reasons- commercialisation of the day is disgusting and so American. I have yet another post to do on this day before I am finished with early November, and will not mention the ‘H’ word once. Yes, or go to Spain.

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  3. Oh you do tell such a good story. The ancient greeks don’t know whether were missing. Now that I’m just about to start harvesting my crop, I will be seeing very different images in my head! 🙂

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  4. Yes, dead souls. That Pythagorus has a lot to answer for though I do enjoy his cute thing about triangles. Very handy. My broadbeans are so late, I have a forest of them, they are taller than me, so it;s like walking among the dead.

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  5. I’m not familiar with these, Francesca, or the customs, I should ask my family in S. Marino about them. I do know that it’s customary to serve lumache (snails) on the day of the dead but I don’t know the origins of the custom. I do know, however, that when a baked good recipe starts with almond meal, I’m sure to love it. Dunk them in port? I am soo there! 🙂

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    1. I could probably forego the lumache, something I have only tried, reluctantly, once. These little bickies come from Sicilia, a long way, both in miles and in custom, from S. Marino.I plan to cook them for Christmas as they keep well, are small enough to dunk, and have that festive taste.

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