Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My oh my, it's those Easter pies

In my family, we were nothing if not traditional.  No matter what problems there were, if there was holiday on the horizon, the baking pans were pulled and our pantry was stocked with extra flour, sugar, and baking powder.  My mother would scour the weekly store circular to see if butter, eggs or oil was on sale.  I was usually the designated "runner", because no matter how much planning and orchestration there was, we seemed to always run out of something!

Italian baking, especially at Easter, is full of symbolism.  (It is also filled with calories and sugar and fat, but for purposes of this post, we will focus on the symbolism!)

My favorite pie, and the first one I learned to make, is called the Easter wheat pie.  It is also known as a "grain pie", and in my home, was called "la pastiera di grana". 

The cooked wheat (or grain) is symbolic of the resurgence of the earth coming to life in the spring, and along with the resurgence, hope for the rest of the year.  It is more or less a cheescake with the addition of the wheat, and strongly flavored with orange and lemon.  Along with vanilla, a flavoring called fior d'arancio or orange flower water, is used.  Sometimes a sweet liqueur is added.  My preference would be creme de cacao.  For as many families baking this pie, that is how many variations there are of it.  My grandmother, mother and aunt would whip these up from a long-ago recipe that was verbally told to them while they were learning.  When I first was being inducted into the family baking, I asked my mother about a written recipe.  Her response to me was, "What you put, you find."  OK, Ma, I guess the recipe was left on the boat.  Oh well.  But I soon got used to it, and if I see a recipe anywhere that sounds close, I will try it, but I always go back to my roots and add or delete accordingly.  So much for the belief that baking is an exact science!

Next we have the meat pie, also known as pizza chiena (full pie) or pizza rustica (rustic pie). 

The symbolism here is that during the 40 days of Lent, you were supposed to abstain from rich, fatty foods.  So when Lent is over, you can make up for those lean 40 days with one slice of the pie.  The best way I can describe it is - like a quiche on steroids.  Real men eat this pie, let me tell you.  It is diced ham, salami, provolone, mozzarella, dried sausage blended in a ricotta base with lots of eggs.  Not what the doctor ordered.  But once a year, a sliver should't hurt. 

After church on Easter Sunday, I would look forward to a breakfast consisting of an eggy, fragrant braided bread called casatelli. 

I was always in charge of the colored Easter eggs.  The eggs are boiled and dyed, then nestled in the braided dough and baked.  The eggs are not edible when the finished product is out of the oven.  But with a cup of coffee or glass of oj, it always hit the spot for me while I was going through my Easter basket.

Now, we couldn't just slice into our Easter baked goods.  We wrapped them and carried them to our church to be blessed.   We didn't take all of them, because in the good old days my mother and aunt would make pies by the dozen as gifts for family, friends, the doctor, even the postman.  But one of each brought to church would do.

I am afraid that this type of baking is becoming lost as the younger generation doesn't really "eat this way".  Good for them.  But I know when I just smell these pies in the oven, I am 8 years old and back to my roots.  And I have hope for the rest of the year.

Click here to see recipes.

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Spring!  xo,

I am linking to Seasonal Sundays at the Tablescaper


  1. Barbara! You didn't include any recipes and I haven't had the benefit of being with your mom cooking and watching. Do you think you could try to put together recipes? This type of cooking is so different and appealing than what I am used to. I loved the symbolism of each of these. Have a splendid Easter and if you around your mom, torment her and make her measure her ingredients! Joni

  2. Oh, I could learn a bit about the Easter pies which you use traditional way of baking.

    We all reminisce our mother's good recipes, don't we? I wish I could taste some of your marvelous pies which I've never experienced.
    Happy Easter my friend♡♡♡

  3. Joni, I will do my best but unfortunately my mom smiles down on me from Heaven, but I will put recipes together. I am trying to do my first link-up with Seasonal Sundays at the Tablescaper. Wish me luck! xo,

  4. Each pie looks so divine and really symbolizes a traditional Italian Easter, Barbara. Buona Pasqua!

  5. Wonderful! I literally laughed out loud when I got to the part about recipes being left on the boat. That sounds exactly like something my dad would have said. So funny... so true, too.

    Maybe this is why I'm such a mediocre cook, all my mom's recipes are stored in her head. If you tell me, "what you put, you find", you eat at your own risk.

    I loved the part about taking the food to church to be blessed.

    And my mouth is watering for that quiche on steroids. Sliver? Oh, no way.

  6. Hi Barbara! Oh, what a yummy post and I loved hearing your stories! Those Easter pies look wonderful. You're so right, the younger generation wants everything 'now'! Nothing tastes so good as from scratch but your mom, grandma, were not telling. I guess you're not telling either? :)
    Have a blessed Easter,
    Shelia ;)

  7. That was really interesting. I would love a slice (or more) of that meat pie...oh my goodness that looks so good!

  8. These look wonderful -- and I understand. I don't think baking is such an exact science, either.

  9. Each pie looks delish!...I love the Easter bread too. Thank you for the great recipes!
    Happy Easter.

  10. Oh my goodness, this looks delicious! Hope you're enjoying your Easter. Thanks for being a part of Seasonal Sundays.

    - The Tablescaper

  11. The pies look excellent. I am Irish, so we don't have those as part of our tradition, but I have made them, and they are delicious!
    Here from Seasonal Sunday.


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