Local natives celebrate St. Joseph’s Day

LADY LAKE, Fla. – Nearly 60 people from Chautauqua County gathered in the Villages of Lady Lake, Fla., to celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph. Former residents and snowbirds of the Dunkirk-Fredonia area joined to enjoy the holiday’s traditional foods in commemoration of the saint who ended the terrible famine in Sicily in the Middle Ages.

A three-tiered altar dedicated to St. Joseph was blessed by Deacon Don Esposito from St. Mark’s Church. The blessing was intermingled with sporadic shouts of “Viva San Guseppi!” Afterward, the first course of the meatless meal was served. This was made of olives, orange sections and fennel, representing the bitter famine of the past, the sweetness of the new crops, and the serenity of the future. Lentil soup was served next, followed by Pasta Con Sarde (pasta with sardines) and pasta with eggs. Next, the group shared vegetable fritadas, which included artichokes, spinach, cauliflower, asparagus and cordone (burdocks). The highlight of the meal was the array of desserts, which included rice pudding, pizzels, biscotti and sfinge, the Sicilian favorite.

The traditional food shared on this day represents the feast that the Sicilian people shared with their neighbors after their prayers to St. Joseph were answered. The famine ended. In that spirit, the guests at the dinner collected donations for the soup kitchens in Wildwood, Fla. and St. Theresa in Bellview, Fla.

Former Chautauqua County residents Jaye (Alaimo) and Chuck Triaga hosted the event, assisted by Rita (Speziale) and Robert Farnham. Their hosting duties were made lighter by their many friends, who contributed dishes such as fritadas, breads and desserts.

Traditionally, the meal is prepared and served by women, but many men, such as Rich Notte, Chuck Triaga, John Fedyszyn, Frank Gengo and Bill Farnham modernized the event by donning aprons and helping to serve. Especially appreciated was Domenic Floccare, a former Fredonia resident. When a search of Florida was made for cordone in vain, Floccare picked it up in Buffalo on a visit, purchasing enough cordone for 60 people and packing it with his luggage to bring back.

The Triagas and Farnhams were inspired to host the event by their fond memories of St. Joseph’s Days of the past in their old neighborhoods. They wanted to share this tradition with people who had never had the chance to enjoy this day of thanks and celebration. Others in attendance hadn’t visited a St. Joseph’s table since the 1940s or 1950s. These guests recalled those days, spent at the homes of Lucy St. George in Fredonia, Frances Ricotta in Dunkirk and many others.

Gathering together to honor this patron saint of the family brought this group a feeling of family and a little bit of home. These former residents of Fredonia and Dunkirk celebrated not just St. Joseph and the end he brought to a crippling country-wide famine, but their fond memories of St. Joseph’s Days spent years ago with family and friends.