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PITTSBURGH, PA – WQED Multimedia’s newest cooking marathon, “The Feast of the Seven Fishes,” premieres on Saturday, November 20 at 10 a.m. on WQED tv13. WQED’s Chris Fennimore will host this three-hour pledge event, and will offer a new cookbook compiled of seafood recipes that viewers can use to start their own tradition.

It's the kind of meal you hope to get an invitation to attend rather than a request to host. The Feast of the Seven Fishes sounds like a pre-Christmas cooking marathon that could leave you exhausted and recuperating until the New Year. So where does this Italian feasting tradition come from?

“Although some say it is a predominantly Sicilian observance, the celebration of La Vigilia (vi-GEE-lia) is celebrated in homes throughout Italy,” said Fennimore. “In the Catholic tradition, the last day of the liturgical season of Advent was a day of abstinence: no meat for 24 hours before Christmas Day. The season of Advent is a time of waiting and anticipation for the coming of the baby, the Savior, and it reaches its high point on Christmas Eve. Families gather to celebrate that season and to enjoy the surrounding of family. It is within that context that hope is renewed.”

The symbolism of Advent is played out in the Feast of Seven Fishes, a number associated with many religious contexts: the seven sacraments, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and the seven days of the last week of Advent. It's even noted that seven of the 12 apostles were fishermen.

“I think the atmosphere of family warmth and the continuity of tradition are much more important than the actual number of fishes served as part of the feast,” said Fennimore. “Between the antipasto, pasta and main dishes, it's easy to think of a menu that would exceed the magic number.”

Some of the dishes prepared on the marathon include: Baccala, the spicy cod and potato casserole; Shrimp Oreganato; the traditional Sicilian pasta dish "Pasta con Sarde;" and recipes incorporating calamari, smelts, tuna, crab, clams and anchovies. There are also some traditional side dishes like savoy cabbage and stuffed peppers that some people use to aggregate 13 lucky dishes in all.

Cooking along with Fennimore will be Ernie Ricci (from Ricci's Italian Sausage in McKees Rocks) along with his culinary partners, Nina Mule Lyons who will share some authentic Sicilian recipes, and Pittsburgh's "other" Chris Fennimore, Raymond Venezia, with his mother Anna.

“The Feast of the Seven Fishes” will repeat that afternoon at 1 p.m. on WQED tv13.

WQED Multimedia, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2004, provides educational, cultural and informational products and services that enhance and engage the community. It is the parent company of WQED tv13, WQEX – your America’s Store channel, WQED fm89.3, WQEJ fm89.7/Johnstown, a publishing division that includes PITTSBURGH magazine, local and national television and radio productions, and the WQED Education and Community Resource Center.

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