Category Archives: Feast of the Assumption

Feast of the Assumption

I’ve been reading A Poem for Every Night of the Year, edited by Allie Esiri, since the year began and doing just that: reading one poem, each night of the year, just before I shut the last illuminated lamp, before I say goodnight to all the people in the photographs on the bookcases and bureaus on my way to bed. My nightly ritual. It’s a big thick book, hardcover, lovely dust jacket, and as I sat there in my corner chair in the close and holy darkness late last night and read, it struck me that I am most definitely more than halfway through the book, and that the year is more than half done, and that even though summer here in this strange green land goes on and on, it will eventually be packing its bags, headed off to more southerly climes on the other side of the equator. We still have a lot more to get through, but the facts are plain: the Dog Days have passed (they ended on the 11th of August when Sirius, the Dog Star, ceased rising each morning with the sun), and in Italy, Ferragosto has begun. It is the height of the summer holidays, and most Italians will take off from work or close up shop and head someplace cool for a few days: to the sea, or to the mountains. It is annual pilgrimage that has its roots in Ancient Rome.

Most people in Catholic Europe will be off today, anyway: It is the Feast of the Assumption on this Fifteenth of August, so why not take a few extra summer days off, too? It’s the day my grandmother was born, in 1898, and so her parents called her Assunta. How lovely: to be named for a holiday, no? I think so, anyway. Most years, Grandma’s birthday meal would be the traditional Ferragosto supper of cuccuzza longa––an Italian edible gourd very much like zucchini––simmered with egg and parmesan and parsley with a hint of tomatoes. It can be made with zucchini, too. Perhaps you’d like to give it a try (especially at this annual time of zucchini abundance): Click here for the recipe. Have a nice summery wine on hand, like a crisp vinho verde from Portugal, and a crusty loaf, and you’ve got a summer meal that’s fit for a king (even if originated with the hearty peasantry).

I’m thinking of going to church at noon for Grandma’s birthday and for the Assumption. I’ve not been for a long while, and it’ll be time spent with Grandma and with everyone else who has come and gone in my life, and I’ll get to sing along with other folks in the congregation singing Schubert’s “Ave Maria“, and there are worse ways to pass an hour on an afternoon in late summer.

Images: Two photographs we took at the shore of Lake Maggiore in Arona, Italy, when we visited there in the summer of 2019 with my cousin Fabio, who lives in nearby Oleggio. Lake Maggiore would be an excellent Ferragosto destination!


We’ll be at the LIBRARY WAYZGOOSE FESTIVAL at Florida Atlantic University Libraries’ Jaffe Center for Book Arts on Sunday afternoon, August 27, from 12 to 6. Print activities, a paper moon photo booth, and live music all day. Free admission, free parking, and we’re supplying the doughnuts, which will also be free. I’ll tell you more about it soon, for the 24th of August (St. Bartholomew’s Day) is the traditional date for a Wayzgoose, but in the meantime, mark your calendars if you’re local and come have a good Wayzgoose time!


Mid-August Magic


And here we are at mid-August. The Dog Days are over: Sirius, the Dog Star, which had been rising with the sun since early July, now rises on its own. It’s another of the old stories that return year after year. Early astronomers observed the two stars rising together each summer and thought for sure this contributed to making our days hotter. We know better now, but the term Dog Days persists, and I’m glad it does, for if it didn’t, I wouldn’t have that great song by Florence + the Machine popping into my head each mid-August.

It is Obon weekend, and so Florence is sharing space in my head with taiko drummers and the music of Bon Odori dancing, the community centerpiece of the festival of Japan that welcomes the dead home again for a summer visit. Growing up here in South Florida, in the presence of the Morikami, Obon was long an important part of August and summer. Some years I’d go with my family, some years on my own, some years with my little nephews in tow. I remember the heat and humidity, the summer thunderstorms that often accompanied the festival, the smell of pennyroyal in the air, which we would apply to ourselves in an effort to ward off mosquitos. But mostly I remember the colors, especially as the afternoon darkened into night, electric lanterns strung through the pines, glowing red and green and blue, festival vendors, and then the central pavilion –– the yagura –– painted in red and white stripes. There on the yagura were the taiko drummers and flutists, and the dancers, making their way around and around the yagura in mysterious movement. These, to me, were some of the most magical things I’ve experienced, and how serendipitous that I got to experience it here, in this strange green land that gets stranger and stranger and yet is filled with so much beauty and emotion that it sometimes sucks all the breath out of me.

And then, of course, the illuminated lanterns, set sail on the water: Transportation for the souls who were visiting, bringing them back to their distant shore.

For my family, of course, we remember my grandmother, Assunta, who was named for the Feast of the Assumption. She was born the Fifteenth of August, 1898, and so her parents chose her name in honor of the day. The feast is a holiday throughout Italy and most of Europe, though in Italy it is also memorable as the start of Ferragosto, when many Italians close up shop and head to the sea or to the mountains for a week away from the ordinary.

For her birthday, Grandma always fixed a simple Ferragosto supper of cucuzza longa simmered with eggs. And though she is gone these 35 years now, still we prepare this same dinner for the Fifteenth of August. It is hearty peasant fare that is quick and easy to prepare, which makes it the perfect sustenance for a hot evening in late summer, especially when it is paired with a crusty loaf and some wine––perhaps a sparkling white or a rosé, or maybe, if you have someone like Grandpa in your life, a pitcher full of the finest summer peaches, sliced, with red wine poured over them and set in the refrigerator for just a few minutes before dinner is served. It’s so easy to make, and so delicious. I invite you to join us.

You’ll need to first get hold of cucuzza longa. This translates to “long squash” and you may find them labeled that way at your local market. They are not a squash at all, but actually an edible gourd, which, left to their own devices, will grow to two or three feet in length and might end up straight as pins or as fascinating coiled shapes, like serpents. In markets, though, where uniformity is prized, chances are you’ll find them looking just like the ones in the photo above. This year, I’ve been to three local markets –– one a farmers’ market, the others Italian markets –– and I’ve had no luck finding my beloved cucuzzi. In a pinch, you can substitute zucchini… but the cucuzza is different and so much better. This year, we’ll be going with zucchini.

Here’s Mom’s recipe to prepare your traditional Ferragosto dinner. She learnt it from Grandma, who learnt it from Mom’s Great Grandma, and so on and so on… which is what I love about a meal like this: It’s not just dinner; it is, as well, a communion with others across time and space. Much like Obon, and much like Dia de Los Muertos and I Morti, the holidays honoring the dead that will come this fall. I think there is powerful magic in all of these things, and yet they are rooted in the simple act of preparing food and sitting at the table.

F E R R A G O S T O   S U P P E R
3 cucuzza longa (or zucchini)
1 large onion
olive oil
1 can crushed tomatoes
8 to 12 eggs
1/2 cup (or more) grated cheese: Romano or Locatelli or Parmigiano-Reggiano
flat leaf parsley, leaves removed from stems
fresh basil
salt & pepper

Wash and peel the cucuzza using a knife or a vegetable peeler (no need to peel if you are using zucchini), then cut into thick slices, each slice about 3″ long (you’re cutting lengthwise with the cucuzza, as opposed to slicing rounds). Chop the onion roughly and in a large pot, sauté the onion in olive oil until translucent and just beginning to brown. Add the crushed tomatoes to the cooked onion. Let simmer about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk, then add the parsley and grated cheese. (A note here about measurements: recipes like these, handed down from generation to generation, don’t come with precise measurements. You put a handful of this, a pinch of that. As Grandma would say (though she would say it in her Lucerine dialect): The more you put, the more you find.) Once the tomato/onion mixture has simmered, add about one quarter of the sliced cucuzza, followed by about one quarter of the egg and cheese mixture. Continue layering cucuzza and the egg mixture until everything is in the pot. Add a handful of fresh basil leaves; season with salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, without disturbing, until the egg is set and the cucuzza is tender (about an hour, maybe less).

All the ingredients, in the pot, about to be simmered.

This one-pot summer meal will serve 6 to 8, especially if it’s served alongside warm, crusty bread, and perhaps a simple salad of escarole dressed with olive oil, wine vinegar, and salt. It’s delicious. And it was on our table pretty much each and every one of Grandma’s birthdays. Grandpa certainly loved it. He would have eaten his Ferragosto supper and then made a simple hand gesture, his finger pushed into his cheek with a forward twisting motion, proclaiming it Saporite!



Sail Across the Water: Obon & Ferragosto


Here we are now in the middle of August, and in the midst of some of my favorite days each year. This has been the weekend of Obon, the summer festival of Japan that honors the dead. In some prefectures of Japan, Obon is celebrated in July, and in others, in August, always around the 15th. For me, growing up in South Florida, it was August, for that’s when the Morikami Museum, west of Delray Beach, used to celebrate it. It was always hot, and we would smell of pennyroyal, to keep the mosquitoes at bay. There were often thunderstorms in the afternoon, because that’s the typical weather pattern here in summer. But there was something unforgettable about the dark grey sky behind the tall pine trees mixed with the heat and the humidity and the thundering sound of taiko drums, the electric lanterns hung between the trees, and the elevated yagura platform, painted in red and white stripes, around which the dancers would dance their mysterious Obon dances, like the Coal Miners’ Dance, in which the dancers journeyed around the yagura with a shoveling motion, taking a few steps forward and almost just as many back. Their progress around the yagura was always very slow and languid: the rhythm of late summer.

At nightfall, fireworks, and then the setting sail of hundreds and hundreds of floating lanterns on the water: these are the ancestors, returning home as the festivities conclude, home to their distant shore.

I seem to have an affinity for any holiday / holy day that connects us to those who have passed. Cemeteries and church yards do not bother me and I talk to my beloved dead on a daily basis, which all may have a lot to do with the way I was raised. The dead never seem very far away. Just a slight shift in manifestation; but these people are all still very much part of my daily life.

And so I love Dia de Muertos, which has grown so popular, and I love Obon, which is not quite as popular, but which serves a similar purpose. The Fifteenth of August also brings my maternal grandmother’s birthday, and since she was born on this day, the Feast of the Assumption, my great grandparents named her Assunta. American neighbors sometimes called her Susan or Suzy, but that just never sounded quite right to me in naming a small, feisty Italian woman who spoke broken English. Grandma always was Assunta, or, as Grandpa would call her, Assu. The traditional meal for the day in their old village in Lucera––a tradition my grandparents brought to the States when they moved here––is a late summer recipe made with cucuzza longa, a long edible gourd that is simmered with egg, parmesan, and parsley. It can be made with zucchini, too. Sound intriguing (especially at this annual time of zucchini abundance)? Click here for the recipe.

The Feast of the Assumption, which marks the ascent of the Virgin Mary body and soul into Heaven, marks other days, as well: this is the time of the great Italian summer holiday known as Ferragosto. The waters at Ferragosto are blessed by priests and so most Italians close up shop and head to the sea, some to soak their aches and pains in the blessed waters and others just to swim or float or get a suntan. One thing is certain: work is not a priority in the middle of August. There are more important things to do, and more important connexions to maintain.

Please save an upcoming date with me!
August 24 brings a great celebration with an odd name: it’s the Bartlemas Wayzgoose, and I’ll be hosting the online, virtual Library Wayzgoose Festival for the Jaffe Center for Book Arts at Florida Atlantic University Libraries. It’s a video event full of good stories and great music. The Bartlemas Wayzgoose is an old printers’ celebration that comes about every 24th of August with the waning summer. My featured guest is activist letterpress printer Ben Blount of Evanston, Illinois, with a special Wayzgoose Concert by the wonderful Jay Ungar & Molly Mason, the Grammy Award winning musicians famous for their song “Ashokan Farewell” from the Ken Buns documentary The Civil War. Perhaps we can add that to the soundtrack of summer, too. Lots of great Wayzgoose fun is in store for you. The video premiere will be at and at the Jaffe Center’s Vimeo Channel, too, and at the Facebook pages of Convivio Bookworks and the Jaffe Center for Book Arts (essentially, we’re making it really hard for you to miss). The premiere is on Bartlemas night, Tuesday August 24th, at 7 PM Eastern Daylight Time, with video available anytime after that, from wherever you are in the world. I think you’ll really love it. I’ll be posting more about it as Bartlemas approaches, so watch the blog and our social media pages at Instagram and Facebook (@conviviobookworks).

Summer Sale!
At our online shop, our Summer High Five Sale continues: All summer long, use discount code HIGH5 at checkout for $5 off your purchase of $35 on everything in the shop. Take it to $50 and earn free domestic shipping, too. Click here to shop! Our favorite new thing in the shop? Millie’s Tea Towels, embroidered by hand by my mom Millie, under our new Linens & Textiles category.

Image: Lanterns sailing across the water on Morikami Pond.