By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi
While in a local Italian bakery this afternoon, waiting patiently as the server carefully placed several large loaves of Italian Easter bread into white boxes, we noticed the bakery hummed with activity.
“What is all of this?” one woman asked, as she waved her arm over the various shapes of Easter bread.
“Look at the colored eggs in the bread!” exclaimed another woman.
At this point, an Italian friend entered the bakery; immediately, we began speaking in Italian. The two women stared at us. He and I talked about Easter weekend, Easter food, and family.
In Italian, I asked him, “Are you going to buy that ring of Easter bread?” I gesticulated at the enormous circular bread with multiple pastel-colored hardboiled eggs.
“No, no. My wife baked Easter bread, but we did buy four loaves of Calabrese bread here on Holy Thursday,” he explained. “Did you bake Easter bread?”
I laughed. “No. That’s why we are buying two loaves. I used to make the Easter bread; instead, I roast lamb, make a Torta Pasqualina [Little Easter Torte with Swiss chard, spinach, and ricotta cheese]. I let our fine Italian bakery do the Easter bread honors!”
We wished one another a “Buona Pasqua!” Happy Easter! Had the bakery not been so busy, I might have explained to the two women the significance of the Easter bread. My daughter remarked how taken aback she had been over the women’s ignorance of Italian Easter bread. She understood that not every one is of Italian descent, but she forgets that when we are with family and Italian friends, and in Italian bakeries. The similar instance occurred several days before at Whole Foods. In that discussion I a server wondered about the significance of lamb cake among Italians. This cake is in the shape of a lamb.
In regard to Italian Easter bread, other cultures have particular kinds of Easter bread, traditionally eaten on Easter Sunday. The bread can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Bread was, and still is, a staple in these cultures. What sets Easter bread apart is that the bread is sweet. It is usually baked in the shape of a cross to symbolize the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The egg embedded in the bread is usually baked with pieces of dough in the shape of a cross. The egg used to be dyed red to symbolize the Blood of Christ, and woman’s fertility. In the Roman and Orthodox Catholic Churches, Easter is about the Resurrection of Jesus, of renewal, and a rebirth of faith. In contemporary society, we now see Italian Easter bread in the shape of an Easter basket with colored hardboiled eggs, or as braided loaves with or without eggs, or in circular loaves with eggs. The cake in the shape of a lamb symbolizes the ultimate Sacrificial Lamb, Our Lord. By the same token, the lamb cake is also synonymous with Spring, a time of re-awakening of the Earth after a long Winter.
We embrace our Italian Easter traditions and foods. Tonight I am roasting a leg of lamb with potatoes. The lamb is covered with rosemary and garlic placed in slits. It is then basted with white wine and butter throughout the roasting process. We will eat the lamb and potatoes with fresh asparagus. Many Italians roast lamb for Easter, as do Greeks. It is, after all, tradition!