During my earliest years in Corona, a small town in Queens, New York, Easter was Italian. Palm Sunday was the Day of the Olive. Small blessed olive branches were offered as tokens of peacemaking. For Easter breakfast we had Colomba di Pasqua. Colomba is bread shaped to look like a dove, the symbol of peace, and covered with almond paste and almonds. An Italian Easter dinner also had traditions. First we had manicotti. That was followed by a roasted whole baby lamb with a mixed salad, sauteed spinach and roasted artichokes. For dessert there were cream tarts, cookies, spumoni, nuts and roasted chestnuts. The adults had coffee.
Then my parents moved to College Point, another small town in Queens, which had been settled by Irish and German families. They had their own Easter customs. Since Easter was not as commercial as Christmas, no one noticed when we followed our own customs.
When I was seven I had to follow what Ma told me were the Church’s rules during Lent. I ate kwarezimal, an almond cookie that was topped with honey and chopped pistacchio nuts. Ma said we could eat it during Lent because it didn’t have any fat or eggs. For Maundy Thursday Ma baked bread in the form of a ring. Its top was crusted with sesame seeds and pierced with roasted almonds. Our Easter dinner menu was the same as it had been in Corona. But, instead of making a Colomba di Pasqua, Ma baked a figolli, a Maltese sweet bread with a marzipan filling.
A figolli was harder to make than a colomba. The dough was rolled about one centimeter thick. Then Ma cut the dough into pairs of figolla with a figolla cutter. They looked like a large letter J, but the stick part ended in a fish’s tail. On one side of a figolla Ma spread jam and marzipan. Then she covered it with the identical shape, as if she was making a sandwich. After the figolli had been baked and cooled, they were covered with colored icing and piped royal icing. Then a decorated Easter egg was placed on top of each figolli. For the final touch a cardboard woman’s face was inserted into the mound of the J.
The odd thing about Ma’s traditional figolli was that it was a mermaid. I asked Ma why a mermaid and not a dove. She said, “I don’t know. It’s our tradition.”
Well, you can’t argue with tradition.