My most precious childhood memories are like many, revolving around the Christmas holiday. Everyone has traditions, but growing up it always felt like mine were very unique.
I come from a large Italian family on both my Mother and Father’s side, and we celebrate The Feast of the Seven Fishes. It is a regional Italian tradition celebrated on Christmas Eve, and represents the seven sacraments in the Catholic church. It is a feast for sure and includes at least seven fish dishes and abstaining from meat is a must.
My Grandmother, Bonnie Mele, who just turned 90, is still implementing this tradition today! She was featured twice in the Berkshire Eagle (local newspaper in Massachusetts) in the 60’s and 70’s for upholding this tradition. I think she is due for another feature!
This woman is incredible and is such a treasure; she still bakes Italian cookies by the hundreds for church, family, and friends, plays pitch, and is a bocce champion in her league at the Italian American Club! All the while continuing to instill her Christian family values, as well as preserving the cultural traditions we hold so near and dear to our hearts. Just look at her teaching the kids to make homemade pasta, gnocchi and zeppoli!
Our feast starts with zeppoli being made around 10:00 am. Zeppoli is an Italian fried dough. We serve it plain and knotted, or filled with either anchovy or baccala (salted cod). This tradition is so much fun and everyone loves fresh, hot zeppoli!
Early evening we start with an appetizer of Bagna Cauda, which translates to “hot bath”. It is a hot dip of olive oil, butter, garlic, hot pepper flakes and anchovies. We dip fennel or finnochio into the Bagna Cauda and it’s leaves make the perfect scoop for dipping! Watch my kids making it a few years ago HERE!
Other staples are a mixed fry of smelts, shrimp, and calamari. Scallops are baked simply with garlic, lemon, parsley, and breadcrumbs. Two cold fish salads of baccala (salted cod) with vinegar cherry peppers, and scungilli (conch) salad with celery, parsley and lemon juice. Baccala is also made into a stew with marinara sauce, black olives, and potatoes. Vegetables include stuffed artichokes, frissee’ or escarole salad, kale or broccoli rabe speziati with garlic, olive oil and hot pepper flakes. Occasionally, a cold orange segment and carrot salad is served.
After dinner we have dessert of course, but this occurs while singing Christmas carols from our vintage carol books! Here’s a peak from a few years ago, but I see the fish still on the table. I guess we weren’t ready for dessert quite yet! Dessert always consists of a “Baby Jesus Cake” which the kids help make and sing Happy Birthday to Baby Jesus. Tiramisu, Italian cookies, Terrone, Sfogliatelle, strufoli, and chestnuts are some of what you will find on the dessert table!
If you’ve never experienced the Feast of the Seven Fishes, I encourage you to start a new tradition with your family. I promise it will make special, memories to last a lifetime!
Sara ~Fresh Foodie Mama~