Many of us become more aware of our calories intake as we grow older. Of course there are moments when we allow ourselves to fall off the wagon and indulge in delicious fatty foods.
Usually we target holidays and/or other moments of celebration as the time allotted for us to “cheat” and totally pander to our yearning desire for foods that are not healthy but certainly satisfy our every need. For me, I escape to my fatty food pampering a few times a year and have my annual sausage and peppers draped with onions inside an Italian hero. And where do I go to fulfill this annual love affair? Believe it or not, not my kitchen. Instead I frequent one of the annual New York City Italian festivals that celebrate a town or city’s patron Saint.
One of the many luxuries in living in New York City is the ability to experience Italian festivals that take place throughout the five boroughs. Many of these stem from Italian immigrants bringing elements of their local cultures during the late nineteenth to early twentieth century to the United States.
For instance, there is the very popular feast of the patron saint of Naples, San Gennaro that takes place during the second week of September on Mulberry Street where many Southern Italians from Campania still celebrate. Another very old festival celebrated in New York City for over a century is the Giglio in Brooklyn scheduled for July 5, 2012.
Nonetheless, which street festival did I choose to have my annual sausage and peppers smothered with onions on a hero or as they say south of NYC sub, the feast of St. Antonio Abate in Astoria, Queens. From June 21st to June 24th, 2012,
the Fraternal Society of Castrofilippo, held its 42nd San Antonio Abate festival. In Italy, San Antonio Abate is the patron saint of a small town called Castrofilippo, located in the Agrigento Province. On the other hand, however, in other parts of the country St. Antonio Abate or Saint Anthony the Abbot is held in January. Since the weather during the month of January in NYC is not favorable to hosting an outside festival, most of the annual Italian street fairs are held from June to September.
Saint Anthony the Abbot was born 251 AD in Egypt and is considered the founder and father of organized Christian monasticism. In addition, and fitting for my article, St. Antonio Abate is known as the protector of animals because he supposedly treated skin diseases by applying pork fat to the infected areas and thus he was anointed with the title. In southern Italy especially, the pig is used in many of its traditional gastronomic dishes. In fact, Italian painters usually depict the Saint with a flock of farm animals around him and according to Italian historian Luigi Ponte, “this saint initiated the first carnevale.” The etymology of the word carnevale (or carnival in English) is assumed to derive from a late Latin expression, carne vale which literally means “to remove meat”, that last few days to have meat before Lent.
As I did my research for this article, I suddenly realized that my annual ritual that I have had ever since I was introduced to my first sausage and peppers experience as a nine year old, came full circle with learning about the connection this saint had with pork. In fact, it was the first time I attended the Saint Anthony the Abbot feast in Queens and felt more connected than ever before to my long awaited annual bite.
Sure, my grandmother and mother would cook sausages and peppers at home but (shhhh don’t tell them I said this) there is almost an outer body experience when you have a sausage and peppers sandwich from an Italian street fair. I walked the three to four block festival and followed the aromas of pork, peppers and onions smoldering through the air and wafting to my nostrils.
After strolling around and being accosted by vendors to play the usual games that accompany these fairs, it was time. I stopped at one of the concession stands and patiently waited in line for what I dream about every year. Ironically, while waiting in line, I overheard an adolescent boy ask the vendor of the sausage and peppers stand, if they “sold other than pork, any other meats.” I thought to myself, I am about to have my Zen-like moment and this young person is committing blasphemy.
Nevertheless, my state of euphoria had arrived, only this time I was celebrating with perhaps the Saint that made it all possible.