St. Joseph Day altars, those Sicilian spiritual emblems of faith and thanksgiving, are customarily built by families and church communities. Family and community are two words often used to describe the good feelings around the Crescent City Farmers Market (www.crescentcityfarmersmarket.com), so it seems fitting that the market is joining the long-running New Orleans tradition with its own altar.
It's not your orthodox St. Joseph's Day altar, but rather a locavore rendition on display in a space attached to Bittersweet Confections (725 Magazine St., 523-2626; www.bittersweetconfections.com), a former market vendor with a new storefront across the street from the market.
The unveiling of the altar is a ticketed event that doubles as a party and fundraiser for the market, and it will be held Sunday, March 18, the day before St. Joseph's Day. It serves as a primer for those unfamiliar with the tradition to learn about what was once a far more common custom in New Orleans. At the event, visitors can pick up a list of altars that will be open to the public on St. Joseph's Day.
"It's a wonderful thing to do. It really brings people together to celebrate, and at the market we have a lot to celebrate and be thankful for," says market vendor Kathleen Cooper, who runs her Forte Grove Bakery in Plaquemine, La.
Cooper is one of several bakers contributing to the altar, which also will feature fruits and vegetables from market vendors. She has experience helping build them for her church and for many years with her family, so the market tapped her to help plan its own.
"It's all about what your family could provide and what sacrifices they were making," she says. "As many different Italians as you talk to around here, you'll hear that many different stories about what goes into them."
Traditional elements include breads shaped into Christian symbols, artichokes, fennel, fig cookies, cakes, fava beans and pasta Milanese, with that dish's breadcrumb topping representing wood shavings from the work of St. Joseph the carpenter.
Domenica (123 Baronne St., 648-6020; www.domenicarestaurant.com) will supply pasta Milanese at the market's event, and Italian wines will be available. Oran B. Hesterman, a Michigan-based leader in the sustainable agriculture movement, will sign copies of his new book Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All.
The party is from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are available online in advance for $30 or at the door for $35 and include pasta and two drinks. Kids under 12 get in free.