Ossa dei Morti

In completely separate research streams this week on Roman funeral customs and Halloween, I came across an Italian All Soul's Day tradition rooted in the Roman Lemuralia, or the festival honoring the dead. During the latter, the paterfamilias would fill his mouth with black fava beans, which he would take out one by one and throw over his shoulder as he walked through the house. The lemuri, or souls of the deceased, would stoop to pick them up (as fava beans contained the souls of the dead) and leave the house. When Christianity took hold, traditions such as this were frowned upon. The practice of purifying the house of souls with fava was transformed into ossa dei morti, cookies (sometimes called fave dolci) made with almond paste, that are shaped to look like finger bones (or, in some traditions, tibiae).

If only I had stayed in Italy another month in 2007, I might have found out about this tradition earlier (and gotten some awesome recipes from my friends' mothers and grandmothers). I am seriously considering whipping up a batch of ossa dei morti on Monday... or at least filing this away to start a family tradition next year when Chickpea is old enough to help out.


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