“Ham pies are calling you!!” I received this text from my Aunt Karen earlier this week when she got wind of a (false) rumor that I wouldn’t be making it home for Easter this year. Ham pies, or pizza rustica as they are often called, are what my family associates most with Eastertime (and what we look forward to all year long). Against our will, we are only allowed to make them on Good Friday to ensure that no one samples them during the process, a sneaky trick that I caught onto early as a kid. In fact, they are such a coveted item in my family that I’ve seen them stolen and eaten straight out of the freezer before. No joke.
Second only to Christmas Eve in the way of Italian-American traditions, Easter is a big holiday in my family, and as such it is centered around food—as most Italian-American celebrations are. From Easter breads and ricotta pies to roasted lamb and asparagus, there are nearly as many dishes on the table as there are family members around it.
As Catholics, Lent represents a period of self-denial and sacrifice, an opportunity to enter into the desert with Jesus. The Easter Sunday feast that follows is a much-needed celebration and return to joy—and we’re thankful that those 40 days are over because there are too many sweets on the table to give them up for another day.
What are your earliest childhood memories of Easter? Do you remember the Easter bread with the colored eggs? Or, butter in the shape of a lamb? Maybe you remember it but you never knew what it was called or why it was on the dinner table. While we were hunting for Easter eggs in the front yard, it was easy to miss the symbols of Easter and the remnants of our Italian-American heritage sprinkled throughout this holiday celebration. While our generation has been further removed from our Italian roots, and thus more American, we still want to feel connected to our past. Do you teach your children how to make your famous Easter bread? I hope so.
My fear as I get older is that these traditions will be lost with my parent’s generation, as some were with my grandparent’s generation. Much to the annoyance of my mother, I’m constantly asking things like, “Was this recipe made in Nan’s big pot? Is this the original recipe? Or, has it been changed over the years as the cans of Crisco have gotten smaller?” Try to keep that in mind as you pull out those old recipes this Easter. Including the younger generation ensures that our Italian-American traditions live on even after we’re gone.
There is a saying in Italy, ‘Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con qui voi,’ which means, ‘Christmas with your family, but Easter with whoever you want!’ Italians might be able to get away with this, but in my Italian-American family, you better plan on spending it with us— or someone will hunt you down with a ham pie. And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What Italian-American Easter traditions do you celebrate with your family? Tell us about them in the comments! Buona Pasqua!
Written by Krystyne Hayes.