Celebrating St. Joseph’s Day with a Gloucester family is like peering through a telescope that sites back over the years. Last Saturday the Tarantino family invited me to help prepare their traditional St. Joseph’s Day Feast.
In the old days Gloucester schoolchildren stayed home on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, and workers all over the city left their jobs at lunchtime to attend one of the hundreds of luncheons being prepared all over the city; some carried dishes which they would fill with leftover St. Joseph’s Day pasta. The day was as special in the hearts of Gloucester Sicilians as St. Peter’s Day and Christmas; St. Joseph, after all, cared for the sick, for workers, for fathers, orphans, and homes. It is said that if you want to sell your house bury a statue of St. Joseph upside down in a corner of your property for good luck. To this, Emma Tarantino, the petite matriarch in charge of the Tarantino feast, declared she would never be able to sell her house, “How could I do that to that man?!” — meaning the saint for whom at each stage of the pasta-making someone calls out, “Como siamo tutti mute?!” — What, are we all mute?!
And the family responds in unison, “Viva, Jesus, Maria, Giu-seeeep-Pe!”
These days March 19 falls on a weekday, and modern life makes it more difficult for everyone to stop for a saint, so the Tarantino family prepared their feast — the traditional homemade pasta with fava beans, lentils, cauliflower, and fennel — for 60 on a day when everyone could be there. It was an adapted tradition, but no less absolute.
Emma never stopped smiling as one group tended the pasta in her small kitchen and she stirred the enormous pot of goranza, the Sicilian term for a pasta sauce. Friends and family filed in both her back door and front, carrying more trays of food — fruit platters, cannolis, zeppole from Jim’s Bagel and Bake Shoppe. Each time a new group of guests arrived, the cry arose from some corner of the house, “Como siamo tutti mute?!”