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Pastiera: A Sweet Taste of Naples at Easter
Part 1 of 2: Pastiera's Past
Easter in Naples is never lacking eggs. There are those dyed red with onion skins, those gigantic chocolate eggs wrapped in foil and stuffed with a gift, and the ones used in pastiera, a centuries-old ricotta cheesecake that looks more like pie and is made with wheat and orange flower water.
There are almost as many stories about pastiera's origins as there are variations on the recipe for the traditional Easter dessert. Many believe it is derived from the pagan celebrations at the return of Spring, when Ceres' priestess brought an egg to symbolize “new life in procession,” according to Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that isn't always verified by editors.
That same article says because of the wheat and ricotta it might also come from einkorn bread or confarreatio, which was often part of Roman wedding rituals. Since much of Naples was settled by the Greeks, another hypothesis is that the pastiera recipe is a variation on Constantine the Great's honey and milk bread, which was usually offered during the Easter eve ceremony of baptism. But Wikipedia credits nuns in a convent with inventing the recipe for pastiera that we know today.
Mangiarebene.net reports a completely different history. On that site, you'll find that pastiera was created by accident when a grain ship arrived in the port of Naples during famine; the people were so hungry that they threw the grain directly into the pot instead of grinding it first to bake bread. And in an article about Easter traditions on SorrentoInfo.com, readers are told that pastiera was born thanks to the mythical mermaid Partenope. Author Concetta Caccaviello writes that the mermaid's neighbors offered her the ingredients for pastiera as gifts to thank her for her lovely song. She brought the flour, wheat, orange flower essence, ricotta and sugar to the gods, who whipped up the dessert. Italians savor the idea that every dish is a small miracle and that's what has kept pastiera on the table for generations.
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