San Biagio and the miracle of panettone – Italian Cuisine


Every year, on February 3 in Lombardy, it is customary to consume a piece of Christmas panettone for breakfast in the morning, often set aside as a tribute to this tradition. Let's find out why


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An ancient Milanese saying goes: San Biàs a l ’te presèrve la góla from i rèsche de pèss and from töt ol rèst (San Biagio you protect your throat from fish bones and other ailments), but the old Milanese who still speak the dialect – I asked for confirmation from certain sources – are keen to emphasize that San Biàs el benedis la góla and él nas – the nose should not be forgotten, 'victim' together with the throat of seasonal ailments (it is no coincidence that the anniversary falls immediately after the very cold Days of the Blackbird).
There tradition of Milan and its province in fact, on the morning of San Biagio, February 3, the Lombard families have breakfast with a piece of leftover panettone since Christmas, which are attributed "miraculous" properties capable of warding off ailments and protecting themselves from sore throats.

The patron of otolaryngologists
In truth, San Biagio da Sebaste (Armenia), a bishop who lived in the third century and venerated as a saint by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, is celebrated throughout Italy with village festivals and signs of devotion. One of the miracles attributed to him tells that he saved a child from a fish bone that had stuck in his throat: Biagio, who was a doctor, gave the boy who was suffocating a large crumb of bread which, going down his throat, removed the bone. saving his life (this technique is still in use). After suffering martyrdom, Biagio was made a saint by the Church and declared throat protector.
More generally, according to the Lombard tradition, the day of San Biagio definitively closes the period linked to Christmas.

Miracle in Milan
The link between the Milanese capital, panettone and San Biagio, however, arises from the history that started this tradition: it seems that one day, just before the Christmas period, a housewife brought a friar, who was called Desiderio, a panettone because he blessed it. Very busy, the friar asked her to leave it with him and to spend the following days picking it up. But the woman did not show up for days and days. Busy and perhaps distracted, certainly greedy, Brother Desiderio, after having blessed him, not seeing the woman return, forgot about the cake except to nibble it gradually for several days, until only the wrapping and a few crumbs remained. The woman came back to ask for her blessed panettone on 3 February, the day of San Biagio: the mortified friar prepared to give her the empty package and apologize, but when he gave the housewife the wrapper, he realized that it was not empty. but it contained a panettone twice the size of the original.

Thus began, with the 'miracle of San Biagio', the tradition of bringing the leftover panettone to bless and then eating it for breakfast every February 3, to protect the throat from seasonal ailments. For this reason, in the days preceding February 3, the so-called "panettone di San Biagio", what remains of the production for the holidays, are on sale.

A special cake

San Biagio is not only linked to the tradition of eating auspicious panettone, but also a particular traditional dessert typical of Mantua, the San Biagio cake, originally from Cavriana, a town famous for almonds, known and appreciated since the time of the Gonzagas. The cake, which is a De.Co product (municipal denomination), wants a filling of dark chocolate and almonds in a shortcrust pastry shell. It seems that in the 17th century this almond-based cake was produced with a diameter of about 3 meters. This huge cake was for the community: the cake was then cut and offered to the public in Piazza Castello.

There are those who buy it "ad hoc" and those who keep it from the Christmas holidays but, given the times, to protect us from winter ailments, sore throats and colds it is advisable to honor this greedy custom of February 3.

Francesca Tagliabue
February 2022

Posted 01/02/2022


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