Martorana Marzipan Fruit and the sicilian Feast of the Dead

Many people think that Halloween is a holiday exclusive to countries with celtic roots. The Irish know that it originates from the gaelic Samhain Festival.

But actually, almost every culture has some sort of rite to dispel the fears that come with the darkest time of the year.

Darkness is scary and is often associated with sleep and death. So what better way to exorcise it than holding a festive celebration and eating lots of good stuff?

In Sicily we solved this dilemma with the traditional “Festa dei Morti” (Feast of the Dead). I know, it makes you think of weird medieval paintings with flying skeletons and tons of corpses, but really, It is something completely different.

On November 2, we celebrate all Souls with a sort of “sweet and sour” festivity during which families remember their ancestors and children receive gifts and sweets from their dead relatives… or at least so they are told.

So, in the past our Santa Claus was our grandparents and uncles who passed away.

(Now, thanks to globalization we have Santa Claus as well… so more gifts for the little ones…)

Maybe this sounds a bit sad. On the other hand I find it very poetic and it is a gentle way to familiarize children with the painful experiences, like the loss of cherished loved ones, that are part of life.

Anyway, on the night of the first of November the children go to sleep knowing that their ancestors are going to visit the home.

The morning after is a moment of fun and excitement. It is time to search the house and look for what they have left.

Nowadays, most of the time toys are modern plastic ones and techie stuff.

In the past, when in Sicily a lot of people were anything but affluent all you could desire was an overflow “canestro”.

A “Canestro” is a wicker hamper full of dried fruit, nuts, pomegranates and two very traditional treats: the paper sugar doll and the martorana marzipan fruit.

The doll or “Pupaccena di Zucchero” is a little statue made in sugar that usually depicts typical sicilian characters such as the ones from the Opera dei Pupi.

But let’s go directly to the Martorana Marzipan Fruit, which are the real reason for this post, because this year, according to tradition, I decided to prepare them even if I am in Dublin, quite far away from my hometown.
They are small almond paste fruits invented by the nuns of the Martorana Convent in Palermo. Nowadays you can buy them in every pastry shop in Sicily all year long, but traditionally they are the typical treat of the Feast of Dead.

In my family their preparation is a long established tradition. All the women gather to make it and fill small gift packets much to the joy of relatives and friends.

The homemade version is one thousand times tastier than the commercial ones.
Almond paste is quite expensive and pastry chefs tend to exaggerate the amount of sugar in order to save money.

At this point maybe you are craving the recipe that, to tell the truth, is quite plain and simple.
It just requires a bit of patience.

So, over to you!


Ingredients €11.00 (10 Servings)

  • Ground Almond Flour 500 gs
  • Amaretto di Saronno liqueur (If you don’t find the Amaretto liqueur you can substitute with the same quantity of water and a bit of almond extract). 35 mls
  • Water 20 mls
  • Icing Sugar (with no other ingredients, check the label) 500 gs

Mix well the flour and the sugar in a big bowl. Add the Amaretto liqueur and the water.

Start to squeeze in order to obtain one ball of dough. At this point knead a bit, but not too much. Otherwise the almond will release too much oil and the dough will start to disintegrate.

When you have nice and smooth dough you can start to make the fruit.

In Palermo we use some chalk moulds that you cannot find in Dublin, but you can also work just free hand. Some basic shapes like apples and pears are easy to obtain.

So, let your imagination run wild and then have fun painting them. In order to produce the vibrant colours you can simply use the edible colours that you can find in cake decoration shops.

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