It takes us at least a few days, sometimes more than a week, to prepare for the Redentore Feast. I mean, in the kitchen. We are going through old family recipe books and hand-written journals. We consult neighbors and the
vendors at the market. And of course, we talk to Signora Mascari when she’s serving the clients at their wonderful store next to the Rialto Market. Days before, we stroll around the market, taking in every little detail of the wonderful produce on offer right now. Above all, it’s fruit reflecting the various colors of the sun in mid-summer, with a first taste of late summer susini (plums).
Combined with herbs, raisins and pinoli, we will make mixed preserves (recipe will be online soon in our food section). We use peaches and apricots to flavor everything from cake toppings (crostate) to panna cotta, just take a look below at our caramel-pinoli-peach foam flavored with a hint of cardamom and cane sugar (schiuma alla salsa caramello con pinoli).
Venetians have been celebrating El Redentór (The Redeemer) every year (!) since 1577 on the third Sunday in July. In the meantime, every family has “developed” a staple menu for this special day, or rather, special weekend. And of course, fabulous desserts made from fruit that is now ripe. For example, the figs you can see below which grow on the tree in the garden.
Just harvested … we could use them to make a topping for panna cotta, flavored with raisins, or just eat them as they are .. super fresh and warm from the summer sun. But then, there are wonderful desserts waiting for us at the pasticcerie (pastry stores in Venice). Here’s what Chiusso has prepared this time. It’s their torta greca signature cake, which comes as a sweet parcel with golden ribbon, and below you can see a fruit cake topped with crema pasticcera and candied fruit.
This year is memorable, though, for we celebrate this “Anniversary of Gratitude for the Health of Venice” for the 400th time. In our times, it comes as festa religiosa and festa popolana, with a historical and religious background taking on the character of a sagra celebrated on boats in the Bacino di San Marco. It’s an outdoor feast, uniting family, friends and guests. There’s a wonderful fireworks to wrap up the day around 23:45 and a regatta taking place on Sunday.
El Redentor is one of the two heart-felt Venetian Thanksgiving Feasts, celebrated since 1577 as decreed by the Senate of the Republic. A sign of gratitude for health regained after a two-year bout of the bubonic plague. On a pontoon bridge (made from boats), the Doge and Patriarch crossed the roughly 370 meters, from Piazza San Marco to the site where the Redentore Church was being built on the Giudecca island, for the first time on 21 July 1577.
Now imagine what the Giudecca island looked like in July 1575. Hot. Dark. Stale. Tizian was the most prominent victim of the plague. All of Venice looked very lonely and sad and bereaved in this hot summer. Since the outbreak of the bubonic plague, many people had left the Lagoon for fear of contagion. More than half of the people remaining in the city and in the Lagoon died. Food and drinking water became scarce in this constant state of exhaustion and emergency. While in the spring of 1575, 190,000 people lived in town, they were roughly 60,000 in July 1577. The same number as today, by the way. This is a video taken in 1951, and you can see how dedicated Venetians have always been preparing for their celebration.
The middle part of this pontoon bridge is also used to build the bridge for the Salute Feast on 21 November across the Grand Canal. This is the other Venetian Thanksgiving Feast (Health regained in 1630).
The outbreak of bubonic plague was a svolta – a big change. The Republic of Venice started to meticulously collect symptoms the illness, remedies and measures to prevent it, and came up with a collective name for all measures. The Venetian word of quarantena entered all languages – in English, it is quarantine. La quarantena refers to the forty days any boat crew arriving from the Levant had to remain in isolation on dedicated islands before they were allowed into Venice.
On 12 July, Galleria Querini Stampaglia organized a tour telling the efforts Venice made to regain health and strength starting in 1575, showing the research books written and exchanged by Venetian phyicians. How they joined forces to save Venice. Now you can understand why the El Redentór is still celebrated in a trusting manner, not just in town but also in the Veneziano (the mainland around Venice, and on some islands).
Una festa popolana … feasts in Venice ALWAYS have positive, joyous notes, and in summer, why not celebrate with a picnic on the boat, or enjoy an outdoor dinner on the fondamente (quays) of the Redentore Church?
You can see it all, the boats and the food, in the video below which shows Mara Martin – owner and chef at Da Fiore’s preparing the Redentore dinner. It’s bigoli in salsa, duck and a refreshing insalata di anguria alla menta – water melon – mint salad.
As antipasto, Venetians on their boats or at the tables put outside along the quays, eat cold appetizers like sarde in saor and bruschette. After dusk, while waiting for the fireworks taking place around 23:30, the real cena in barca menu contains the traditional anatra co’l pién (filled duck), but it could also be fish or grilled chicken, cold pasta and cold rice. Another traditional dish is soghéte in saór – little soles prepared in saór sauce.
Originally, people made the food a few days before the weekend and took it with them on their boats, or out onto the campo. It had to be cooked food you can eat on a warm summer evening. That’s why saor specialties were favorites. It could also be torta greca, that you have seen in the picture above, or any cake made from almonds, possibly enriched with lemon juice and a hint of cinnamon to keep the cake in good shape. Or even, buranelli to snack during the longest night of the year.
We’ll keep you updated on the preparations on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram Pages! You can join Venetians and watch one of these webcams (here’s Danieli View, and click here for a live webcam) in the evening of 15 July !