When most people hear the phrase ‘Easter Basket’ the think of colorful woven vessels stuffed with crunchy cellophane grass, candy filled pastel eggs, and chocolate bunnies. For my family, Easter Baskets are different. Though a few toys and (very small bit of) candy from our parents is a familiar Easter Morning memory snapshot, when we hear ‘Easter Basket’ a totally different image comes to mind. We see a stack of eggs in the center of Nonna’s kitchen table, a tub full of dough covered with a damp towel off next to the refrigerator waiting for us to cut a generous square away to knead and stretch and roll. We see the pasta maker clamped to the edge of the table with knives and tiny scissors scattered in front of it. And when we walk into the kitchen at an obscenely early hour on Good Friday morning, we see Nonna rolling out the first sheets of dough we will use for the Easter Baskets or Rooster Arrangements we will make for every member of the immediate and far extended family.
A Sicilian Easter Tradition that we still honor to this day (though I have to admit that sometimes we make the baskets on Holy Saturday if we can’t get Good Friday off), this year my sister and I will be making them in Albany, my cousins will be making them in Las Vegas and Ohio and North Carolina, and if my brother didn’t have to work he would be making them in DC. Unfortunately, because Nonna always had the dough mixed before we got to the house (she would normally wake up between three and four every morning) none of us have quite figured out to mix the dough just right. Perhaps it was more than 90 years of tradition being worked into that dough every time she pressed the heel of her hand into it, or her knowing just how much water to add and when to let it rest for just a few more minutes because her dough was perfect every time. For the past few years, when my sister and I have been responsible for mixing the dough completely on our own we have not been nearly as successful. A familiar refrain has been “i yaddi sono morti” (“the roosters are dead”) because the dough is too lose and their rooster heads always fall over in the oven.
Here are some pictures from a few years back when Nonna could see well enough to mix the dough and we said no to work and insisted on getting our selves to the only place we ever were on Good Friday morning. Decorated with roosters and artichokes and filled with real eggs, each basket is hand measured, cut, and constructed. We baked them on the Monday-night pizza pans and cooled them in batches and thoughout the day the family would stop by to pick them up and bring them home for the holiday.