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Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Family Recipes Forever Lost

It's almost Easter and everywhere I look, I see recipes for Easter Pie (or Pizza Rustica as contemporary food snobs like to call it). I'm not quite sure how this dish became an Easter standard for Italian Americans (from what I've read, Italians eat is as an everyday snack), but so many of us grew up with the rich, cheesy pie as an Easter treat.

When I was in second grade, the miniseries Roots was all the rage on TV. (I think I just dated myself.) My second grade teacher Mrs. Doody (Don't make fun of the name, she was one of my all-time favorite teachers) had a team teaching situation with another teacher, Mrs. Altamuro. Our combined class of 42 students did a "Roots" project of our own in honor of the TV series. We filled out our family trees. We interviewed our parents and grandparents.

The biggest project of all was a class cookbook. Each student had to obtain a classic family recipe recipe and they were put into a cookbook which we sold. We called the book Well Rooted Recipes. (My grandmother suggested the title and it won the "Title the Cookbook" contest.) We used the proceeds to buy a baby tree. We planted it on the school grounds so our class could put down visible roots of its own.

I asked my mother for a recipe and she went into her jumbled-up files and pulled out the recipe my great-grandmother had given her for Easter Pie. It was a messy, handwritten card, so once the recipe was typed up and put into the cookbook, everyone in the family purchased the cookbook. I don't think anyone ever made anything other than the Easter Pie from that cookbook. It was just far easier to read the recipe in the book than it was to read on the old card. Every Easter someone made it. Whether I spent Easter with my maternal or paternal grandparents, someone made it (usually either my mother or paternal grandmother).

Years went by. My grandmothers got old and decided they didn't want to host Easter anymore. Mom hosted Easter most of the time, and she didn't care to bake an Easter pie on top of everything else she had to do. There were plenty of delis and bakeries out there who would make you a "pizza rustica" (the name had changed along the way). The class cookbook was a flimsy thing made of sheets of regular paper stapled together (or they might have been hole-puched and clipped with those butterly thingies). They were easy to forget about, lose, or mistake for something uniimportant and tossed away.

The first time I hosted Easter I asked my mother if she would supply the Easter pie. She said she would buy one, but she no longer had the original recipe to make one. The class cookbook was gone and so was the recipe.

Nonni's Easter Pie was the basic ricotta filling and contained at least three kinds of meat. I think it had ham, pepperoni, and sausage. There might have been salami too. The crust was sturdy and it was usually baked in a casserole dish rather than a pie plate. I can remember that much. I don't remember anything else. I was too young when the family stopped making it to know exactly what went into it.

Over the years I have been making Julia Child's version when the occasion calls for it. Julia only used prosciutto in hers, but I always add pepperoni to it too, because it reminds me more of my childhood. Her crust is a pasta frollo, which is a nice sweet contrast to the salty filling. I like it, but I wish we still had the family recipe. Julia's recipe has no connection to anything or anyone.

My class did buy the tree. We planted it on the school grounds and 30+ years later it's still there. It's grown quite a bit. When I see it I wonder if I'm the only one from the class who can still spot it and remember planting it and know that it's our tree. Something lasted out of that project after all.

1 comment:

Emiline said...

Ohh, that's cool that the tree is still there.
Well now I'm hungry for Easter Pie. Maybe I could whip some up when I get home from work tonight. No, I can't. I have to make a carrot cake.