As with all the holidays—especially the religious ones—Easter was a big deal in the Minolli household.
Like the others, including the secular, food took center stage—still does—except the location of the stage has changed.
Throughout Lent, like other practicing Catholics, the folks abstained from meat on Fridays and Holy Days. My mom, quite the creative and capable chef, would dig deep into the innate culinary talents she possessed, and come up with all sorts of nutritious and savory meals sans meat. We really didn’t miss a thing.
When he smoked, Dad would give up cigars. In those years, we couldn’t wait until Lent was over, anticipating an improvement in his mood. Each of us would give up something we loved, too—usually chocolate, and other sweets and desserts.
Later we had a priest who talked about viewing Lent in another way—not so much about giving up things as about putting new things into practice during the 40 day season. Kindness. Patience. Good humor. Generosity. He encouraged us to be mindful and incorporate these things into our lives throughout Lent in hopes it would extend to the rest of the year. We loved the idea and embraced it. Still do.
Among the Easter traditions the Minolli girls cherished the most were decorating the unbelievably cute lamb cakes, and the Blessing of the Food on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday.
For several days before Easter Sunday, my mom would bake at least a dozen lamb cakes. Along the way, she acquired a chicken mold, so she baked a few of those too. Mom gave out the cakes to friends and family for Easter, and we looked forward to decorating them especially for their recipients.
We’d soak shredded coconut in green food coloring and lay it around the little lambs for a ‘bed of grass.’ Black jelly beans, cut in half, became their eyes; colored ones would were jeweled necklaces, each embellished with a cross. We’d cut slivers of red jelly beans for the mouths, and always arranged them into a little smile.
These creations took on a life of their own. We’d often hesitate to cut into them after Lent was over, and not a single one of us would ever eat the face. Unlike most sweets in the Minolli household, those lamb faces would remain on the dining room table untouched for weeks.
Delivering the cakes was a bit precarious. On our way to piano lessons in Dearborn the Thursday before Easter, we’d load up the confections to bring to our relatives in Dearborn and Detroit. Each of us clutching a coconut-grass-laden cardboard round on which a fluffy, frosted cake sat, we’d say silent prayers that they wouldn’t tip over as Dad expertly negotiated the curves of Edward Hines Drive while channeling Mario Andretti. Unbelievably, we never lost a single one—a testament to the power of prayer.
On Saturday, we’d get to pack more food for transport to the church for the annual Blessing of the Food ceremony at church. We’d line a big basket with a beautiful cotton towel and fill it with all the delicious delicacies we’d get to enjoy on Easter Sunday. Salami, pepperoni, pepperoncini, olives, chunks of cheese and crusty bread; colorful hard boiled eggs, and butter molded in the shape of a lamb. At the church, we’d take off our precious gold chains that carried both the religious and superstitious symbols of our culture and slip them in the basket so that they would be blessed, too.
With the reverence of monks, we’d stand in line with the others awaiting our turn at the altar. When the younger priest began performing the service, he’d lay a hand on my little sister’s head and give her a special blessing, which made us feel very special. I now realize we felt that way because we were. Very special and blessed with a family that revered and practiced tradition; and that many of those practices and traditions involved the beautiful, delicious bounty of Italian food and culture. Heaven on earth, indeed.
Email Catherine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.