La pastiera: mermaid origins

If you’ve spent time in Italy around the Easter holiday, you’ve probably come across, if not devoured, la pastiera. With a loose lattice top and golden color, la pastiera could be described as a hybrid cheesecake-pie. The filling is a sweetened mixture of ricotta, eggs, wheat berries, candied fruit, and orange flower water, all wrapped up in a sweetened pasta frolla [shortcrust pastry] crust.

The origins of la pastiera are mythical, to say the least: legend has it that the first pastiera was created by the mermaid Partenope, who used to swim around the Gulf of Naples. One day her singing was so beautiful that the residents of the surrounding seaside villages felt compelled to gift Partenope the best they had to offer. Thus they gave her ricotta, the shepherds’ treasure; eggs, symbol of fertility; wheat, the product of man’s mastery of nature; orange flower water and spices, representing people from near and far; and sugar, in homage to the sweetness of Partenope’s voice.

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The mermaid brought these gifts back to her crystal palace, where she offered them to the gods of the sea. Also charmed by her singing, the deities transformed the ingredients into the first pastiera, a dessert as sweet and delightful as Partenope.

You can visit the “official” site of la pastiera at http://www.pastiera.it.

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