In Venice, carnival has always filled up the period between the end of Christmas and the beginning of Lent. Towards the end of the Venetian Republic, not only did it fill up this period but spilled over, beginning in October, taking a break for Christmas, and then beginning again on December 26.
Today, the Christmas season ends on the January 6, and so, notwithstanding the official dates of the council-run festival—which this year starts on January 27—the carnival season starts on January 7.
The arrival of carnival in Venice is announced by the appearance of fritoe in the shops. This are sweet fritters, covered with sugar, a bit like a donut, which are traditionally eaten throughout the carnival season. Their origin in unclear, but we know that they were eaten in Renaissance Venice.
Fritoe, sometimes referred to as frittelle in standard Italian, come in various types: filled with crema pasticcera, zabaione, or sometimes jam or stewed apple. However, my favourite, which are known as fritoe venessiane are plain with sultanas and sometimes pine nuts added to the mixture.
I was recently asked for guidance on how to pronounce these Venetian words and if I could make recordings. I’m working on that but for now I’ll explain. The Italian version frittella is pronounced as its written, with the accent on the e (free-TEL-la). The Venetian version is pronounced with the accent on the i and with the last two vowels pronounced separately (FREE-toe-a). Fritoa is singular and fritoe (FREE-toe-ay) is plural.
If you are not coming to Venice in the next few weeks but would like to try fritoe for yourself, take a look at my recipe here on my sister site Chestnuts and Truffles.