Pastiera is the most typical Easter cake of all; famous all around the world and everpresent on every table in Campania. A base of traditional short pastry, filled with a mix of ricotta, sugar, lard, duram wheat, eggs, perfume flower water and vanilla; the top is decorated with short pastry stripes positioned to look like lozenges. Pastiera is then cooked in the oven and sprinkled with icing sugar.
The legend tells that the mermaid Partenope lived in the gulf of Naples and emerged every Spring to sing to the local population. One year her songs were so good that the whole population ran to the sea to bring her gifts in gratitude. The mermaid received flour, symbol of strength and richness of the country; ricotta, gift of the shepherds; eggs, symbol of life reborn; soft grain boiled in milk, proof of the two realms of nature; orange flower water, representing the earth’s scent; spices, to honour far away populations and finally sugar, to express the mermaid’s intangible sweetness.
Partenope, was so happy for the many gifts, that she lay them down by the feet of the gods who assembled the ingredients together and with their divine artfullness created the first Pastiera. For sure the bond with Spring in this fascinating legend is true, it seems like pastiere where prepared in ancient heathen celebrations for the return of the season.
The modern version was created by the nuns of San Gregorio Armeno’s monastery to celebrate the Resurrection through the symbology which unified the scent of the convent’s orange gardens, the white ricotta, grain and eggs, symbol of new life, perfume flower water which smelt of Spring, citron and Asian spices.
Since then the nuns, masters of the difficult manufacturing process, produced many pastiere for the noble and rich families. Pastiera must be done quite in advance, not after Thursday or Good Friday, so that it can rest and all the ingredients are put together in the typical round tin pans, in which it’s cooked and even sold because otherwise it would break.