The Pastiera napoletana is a Neapolitan dessert that has become a staple of many Italian Easter celebrations. But this dessert has a curious history that includes mythological creatures and industrious nuns. This intricate Easter pie is made several days in advance and is a labor of love for any Neopolitan cook. So how did the Pastiera napoletana come to be? Read on for the history of this traditional treat.
The Legend of Pastiera Napoletana
The ancient legend tells the story of the mermaid Parthenope, who created this dessert and is considered the mythological founder of Naples. During her spring stay in the Gulf of Naples, she cheered the people with a song. As a sign of gratitude, the Neapolitans gave Parthenope seven gifts, including:
- Ricotta, a symbol of abundance
- Flour, a symbol of wealth
- Eggs, a symbol of fertility
- Wheat in milk, a symbol of the fusion of the animal and vegetable kingdoms
- Sugar, to celebrate the sweet song of Parthenope
- Spice, a tribute to all people
- And orange flowers, the perfume of the Campania earth
Parthenope then brought these gifts to the gods, who were impressed and mixed the ingredients to create the Pastiera napoletana. Parthenope was then compelled to return to where she had received the gifts to pay tribute to the Neapolitan people.
The Nuns of San Gregorio Armeno
The Pastiera napoletana has a more recent origin story involving the nuns of the Convent of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples. A nun wanted to bake the cake, a symbol of the Resurrection, and to emphasize the eggs, a symbol of rebirth, and the orange scent, because the orange trees grew in the convent gardens. These nuns became known as the makers of this dessert and were often tasked with preparing vast quantities for wealthy families during Easter.
The Pastiera Napoletana Today
Today, this baking tradition lives on in every kitchen in Naples. A few days before Easter, often on Holy Thursday, family members will gather in the kitchen to make their well-guarded recipe. Each Neapolitan cook has their own version, and they consider it to be the best. The dessert is made a few days before Easter because it needs that time to let the flavors develop, and can keep well for up to 10 days.
Authentic Italian Cuisine From Giolitti Deli
Giolitti Deli is a full-service Delicatessen in Annapolis, MD, specializing in authentic Italian cuisine. Founded in 1992, we use the freshest ingredients to make time-honed recipes from scratch, with no MSG or preservatives. We believe in real food and offer many healthy options, including vegetarian and vegan menu items. At Giolitti Deli, we make our own sauces, mozzarella, grilled and roasted vegetables, bread, pizza dough, and desserts, and our sandwiches, salads, pasta, pizza, and entrees are made to order. Owner Mary Giolitti has combined her passion for great food and fine wine to offer Annapolis a true taste of Italy!
Team members who also make the business possible include Manager Kathy Hunter, Manager and Catering Director Cheryl Molesky, Head Baker Porfirio Diaz, Chef Alfredo Escobar, and Deli Manager Noe Merino. To contact us, please visit our contact page or give us a call at 410.266.8600. Also, be sure to keep up with us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and our blog!