There is a lovely poem that was written by my friend, Dan Verner regarding the treatment of Christmas vs. Easter. You can see it on his WP blog and FB page. He is right in that Christmas is treated, especially in the United States, with so much fanfare that we often forget that Easter, as a holy-day, is just as miraculous.
When I was a child, Easter was treated on the same level as Christmas. Being brought up as an Italian-American, the Easter season, beginning with Ash Wednesday was even more revered. There was sacrifice, albeit it might have been just candy, that was expected of you. There was absolutely no meat eaten on Fridays and other Holy Days of Obligation, confession and communion was not even up for discussion and at 3:00 PM on Good Friday, you went to the Stations of the Cross. A prayer vigil that was held for each stop that Christ made on His way to Calvary. When you got home, there was a dinner with fish, fish, fish! Easter Saturday was spent cooking–all day–for the celebration of the Risen Christ, Easter.
Food, the likes of which you can’t believe! Ahhh, Easter! Pizza Rustica! Pastiera! Easter Breads! Cannoli! Sicilian Cassata (for those of Sicilian heritage), Anginetti and other incredible Italian pastries and cookies. And that was just the beginning! Dinner was unbelievable. Antipasta, lasagna, meat course (could be roasted lamb or chicken), the gravy meat (meatballs, braciola, sausage), salad, vegetables. While everyone was cleaning up the dinner dishes, there was fruit and nuts, then the coffee came out–“black or brown?”–espresso or regular(no decaf was mentioned, ever). Then, the desserts!!!!! OMG!!! Except for the first thing listed, the Pizza Rustica, which you munched on after church on Easter Sunday, especially because you got hungry hunting for eggs, the others were dessert!
I can remember the Three Sisters; my mother Linda, my aunt Anne, and my Godmother Kate, cooking in the kitchen. Each had their assigned duties. I can still see Katie standing in front of the pastry board with at least 20 pounds of flour, making the pastry and pie crusts for the Pizza Rustica and Pastiere. Ten inch pie plates were used. The pastry was soft and delicate and perfect. My mother made the cookies. You name it, she made it. She collected pounds of butter from when it was on sale and used nothing but Land O’Lakes…the other was too “watery.” Her cookies were coveted. And my Aunt Annie made the gravy. While my mom made the braciola, (beef and pork), the sausages, (that had to come from the Pork Store or somewhere on Arthur Avenue, the Bronx), were carefully rendered in the big dutch oven. Patiently, patiently, my Aunt Anne would braise the sausage until it was golden brown. Then, out it came and the braciola went in. It was a process, but nothing, nothing was better then my Aunt Annie’s gravy (my mother used to get pissed when I said that). Un poco cooking rivalry between them. The meatballs, that were beautiful, round and browned by my Aunt Katie at 0-Dark-30, that morning, were the last things added. If you want to see an Italian making a lasagna, check out cookingwithnonna.com. It has recipes for all that I mentioned…real recipes!
And then, we ate!! Ten, fifteen, twenty at the table with guests arriving, all of the time. And we laughed. And we told stories. And we loved! Buona Pasqua a tutti!