In the 10th century, a drought caused a severe famine in Southern Italy. The crop that sustained Sicily’s citizens during the famine was fava beans, like those pictured (Fresh, green on the left, Dried, brown on the right). Devotees of Saint Joseph prayed to him to bring rain, and in return, they promised to hold a feast in his honor. Rain and recovery from hunger did come, and since then, the ritualistic feast of Saint Joseph has been practiced.
There is no mistake that Saint Joseph’s Day coincides with the spring equinox. In the Northern Hemisphere, the month of March marks a period of scarcity before the Earth yields new crops. The festivities of the Feast are linked to the land, vegetation, and the animal kingdom. It is a feast of thanksgiving for having survived through the winter months and a request for abundance in the seasons ahead.
To recall the great famine, many start their St. Joseph’s Day meals with macco di fave, or, in Sicilian, maccu di favi, a dried fava bean puree/soup.