The fabric that weaves a culture together from one generation to the next, besides love, is tradition. Richly displayed during a culture’s holidays and religious ceremonies, families find hope and joy in these activities. The stability of what has bound them together in the past continues when they gather again for their next celebration.
Every time I hear the word “Tradition,” strains from “Fiddler on the Roof” hum through my mind. And flashes of the actors’ lithe movements dance on the movie screen in my head.
As a third generation American/Italian, I indulge myself in the traditions of our culture, especially when it comes to baking and cooking. The art of creating Easter Bread holds a sacred place in our family. Rich in meaning, the rising of the Easter bread symbolizes the rising of Christ. My Mom would always wait until Holy Saturday afternoon to make Easter bread out of respect for Christ’s death and burial, awaiting the joyous celebration of His resurrection on Easter Sunday. Because of the involved process of kneading the dough twice and the time of waiting for the dough to rise, I began to create our Easter bread early on Holy Saturday.
I began working the dough in my single days, standing next to my mother. Her gentle voice would guide me regarding the amount of pressure to apply and the feel of a stretchy texture in the dough rubbing against the palms of my hand. Mom rarely followed a recipe. Her outstanding cooking and baking were an art developed by taste and texture. But for me, I needed a recipe to follow.
One Sunday, Mom and I discovered a recipe in the magazine section of an old style Los Angeles Times newspaper. At last, I had a step-by-step process that I could follow when doubt niggled at my mind as to how much flour I needed before the dough became stiff instead of pliable.
This is the recipe I’ve used since Tom and I were married. When the golden wreath-shaped loaf with a light glaze of confectioner’s icing adorned with colored eggs was laid on the table, our family gave thanks for Christ’s death and resurrection. Then Hubby Tom would carefully tilt the bread on its side and lightly carve a cross on the underneath side of the bread lest we forget the symbol of what we were eating. We continued this tradition almost every year until my Mom met Jesus, the source of her tradition.
When I attempted this year to rekindle the tradition of making Easter Bread, I could tell I had lost the touch. While I measured all the ingredients accurately, kneading the dough carefully (with a few extra strokes) and raising the dough even higher than normal, the bread looked over-baked in a shorter time in the oven. On Easter morning, we blessed the bread, but it was dry.
The tradition which carried the Easter season through the next week was missing. The bread, iced and adorned with colored eggs, rested on our refrigerator shelves stuffed into freezer bags. Not one dunk in the week’s morning coffee. We just stared at it, hoping someone might be brave enough to taste it again. However, Italian cannoli, stuffed by me, was a yummy substitute.
The Easter season continues and our focus remains on those days following Christ’s resurrection. His time with His disciples. The meeting of the two on the Road to Emmaus. How their hearts burned within them when a stranger greeted them on the way, joined them for dinner, and broke the bread. He disappeared, and suddenly their eyes were opened as they recognized Jesus as He broke the bread with them.
In looking back, I’ll discover what I had done differently. In that, Jesus will help me unravel the mystery. Before we hit Ascension Thursday, I will probably have tried to make another loaf of Italian Easter bread and scribbled notes on my recipe for next year as I relearn this sacred tradition.
From My Heart to Yours,