Food Holidays Tradition

Ash Wednesday Pie

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. A time for introspection and penance. As children we gave up things like chocolate or candy. As adults, we may bring food to our church’s food pantry or donate time at a local soup kitchen. And of course we had our rituals around food.

My Ash Wednesday Pie this year.

The first special dish was Ash Wednesday Pie. On Ash Wednesday, my day would usually start by going to mass before work or sometimes at lunch, depending on the schedule that day. You would abstain from meat and have only one meal. That meal was macaroni pie. Also known as Ash Wednesday pie. When I was young, I would watch my Grandma make the simple dish of spaghetti, eggs, grated cheese, salt, and pepper. Hers was “always better” than anyone else’s, of course. We used to joke that we could tell how much her vision changed from year to year based on how much pepper was in the pie. The older she became, the more pepper went into the recipe.

Every Friday dinner was simple. A plain pie with either pasta fajoli or escarole and beans; without the pepperoni, of course. Again, some of my favorite meals.

Then came Good Friday. That was the day to make pizza gaine. It was always made on Friday so we couldn’t sneak any bites of all the meaty goodness. Again, I would watch my Grandma take simple ingredients and turn it into magic that would only appear in the kitchen once a year. No recipe in front of her. There was no need. No measuring. A “handful of this” and a “little bit of that.” It always just worked and it was marvelous. She would make two pies in lasagna trays. Pieces would be cut up and saved for family members to take home and to later freeze. Easter Sunday I couldn’t wait to have a piece for breakfast. And after dinner that day it would be part of the spread for dessert. The “heart attack on a plate” we would all joke.

As I have mentioned in the past, my Grandma is gone just over 20 years now. And I miss her as much today as I did the day after her funeral. But there are some moments when I feel her nearby. When I make special recipes, I know she is right beside me whispering in my ear.

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