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All Souls Day and the traditional Sicilian “cannistru ri morti!”

Have you ever heard the Italian expression “canestro dei morti“? And what about the Sicilian “u’ cannistru ri morti“? Maybe from your grandmother or grandfather?

The word “canestro” means basket and nothing is more typical in Sicily, and in particular in the city of Palermo, than this traditional basket prepared for the kids on the night between the 1st and the 2n of November. Unfortunately nowadays less and less families keep this tradition alive but is still important to remember it for our future generations.

In a previous post I had already talked about the 2 days celebration with which we start the month of November: the 1st is the All Saints Day and the 2nd is the Commemoration of our Dear Ones who died. On the 1st people go to church, on the 2nd they usually go to the cemetery. We have the Frutta di Martorana and the Sugar dolls (i pupi di zucchero). 

But there is more…
Small version of the Taralli cookies, traditionally
placed in the basket for the kids on November 2nd.

In our tradition, on the 2nd of November children used to receive a present. It was basically a basket (u’ cannistru) full of cookies, sweets and sometimes toys. 

Why? Well... they were told that these presents were coming from the loving dead relatives that, even though departed, still cared about them and loved them, so they were making feeling their presents through this basket, whose name “basket of the departed” (cesto dei morti) is self-explanatory.


In the basket there was the delicious and colorful Frutta di Martorana.

But what else was there? Usually some traditional local cookies prepared only for this occasion: taralli, reginelle, tetù and catalani (which you can see in the two pics below).

Originally these cookies were prepared in all the bakeries (panifici), as it was a very big deal for all the families; and the tetù e catalani which are mixed in colours, used to be prepared with a mix of all the left over cookies. Probably in some villages or small towns of Sicily they still make it in this simple way.

Finally, in the basket, you can also find the so called “ossa di morto”, (which literally means dead bones), another kind of biscuits who is quite hard, as the name suggests. 

Macabre?Well, as you can see we are even more creative that the whole Halloween theme, we even got to eat the symbol of the bones of our dear dead ones!!!

So… if you happen to be in Sicily in this period, remember this significant tradition, try the cookies, have some Martorana, ….. you definitely don’t wanna miss out!

See also another typical recipe of this festivity here: the Rame di Napoli.

1 Comment

  1. We were in sicily in a small town (Calatafimi) on October 31 – absolutely gorgeous marzipan fruits – each bakery made its own, and one was more beautiful than the next! We did not see anything like this in palermo – a few marzipan fruits, much more primitive, in the market… so many lovely cookies – ah Sicily!

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