Food Heritage Holidays Tradition

Easter Memories: Faith, Food, and Family

As I sit and watch the Easter Vigil from the Vatican, I felt the need to share memories of Easter. As usual, they circle around three themes: faith, food, and family.

If Lent began with Ash Wednesday Pie, Easter ends the Lenten season with pizza gaine. At least that’s what we called it. Some people call it as pizza rustica. But they are very similar to each other. As a kid, I jokingly referred to it as a heart-attack-on-a-plate.

Pizza gaine
This year’s pizza gaine fresh out of the oven.

I remember as a child watching my grandmother in the kitchen as she mixed all the ingredients. Always on Good Friday. It used to frustrate me because I couldn’t sneak a bite of pepperoni, as we couldn’t have meat. It wasn’t until much later in life I realized that day was picked on purpose so we wouldn’t wind up snacking on the filling all day.

It was a huge undertaking. My “help” that day was mainly nothing more than sitting by my grandmother watching her as she magically took those individual ingredients and created a culinary masterpiece I waited all year to enjoy.

One of the last years of my grandmother’s life, she accompanied me to the Easter Vigil at Holy Family in Nutley, where I was a Eucharistic Minister. I’m sure it was a hard event for her, as the Vigil is a very long event. I could tell she was tired by the time we headed home. I became a Eucharistic Minister originally so I could bring Communion home to her after Sunday mass once she was no longer able to attend in person. It was another special moment for her and I to share.

Easter morning I could not wait to wake up. Not to look for eggs, but to finally have a piece of that wonderful pie. I always thought to call it a “pie,” didn’t give it the merit it deserved. If we didn’t refer to it as pizza gaine, we would refer to it as Easter meat pie. Just about every family I knew growing up made it with very few differences from home to home.

Pizza gaine
The finished product.

Now, as all those kids from Belleville are all cast about the country, I know once a year I will see them post pictures on Facebook of their creations. While the recipes may vary slightly, I am sure we are all doing the same thing. The next generation is watching (or as they will call it, “helping”) and the current cook in charge is sharing special memories of their childhood cooking alongside their grandmothers. What those children do not yet realize is that they are part of an important generational event. They are sharing in family recipes and learning about relatives they sadly never had the chance to meet. But they will come to know them almost as well as if they were still here. As we cook those recipes, our beloved family members are right beside us. Guiding us as we make the meals that were never written down, but passed from generation to generation.

Buona Pasqua!

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