L-Għid it-tajjeb … Happy Easter … Buona Pasqua … If you are celebrating Easter, I wish you and your loved ones a blessed, peaceful day.
How do you celebrate Easter in your part of the world?
The run-up to Easter in Malta
In Malta, Easter time is full of pageantry and tradition. The run-up to Easter starts with Ash Wednesday – the first day of a 40-day period called Lent. During mass the priest symbolizes morality and repentance by marking the sign of the Cross in ashes on the forehead of the faithful.
Throughout these 40 days the Catholic church commemorates the way to the Cross in various ways. Different countries would have their own traditions, I guess, with a certain amount of similarities thrown in.
Here in Malta, there are a number of street processions in connection with the Easter festivities. On the last Friday before Holy Week, a great number of towns and villages hold processions in honour of Our Lady of Sorrows. This is followed by Palm Sunday (last Sunday before Easter) remembering the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. On Maundy Thursday, after the commemoration of the last supper and washing of the feet of the twelve apostles, the faithful visit seven different churches, saying prayers as they go. These processions spill over into Friday morning.
A relatively new(ish) event on the Maltese calendar is the walk for charity which takes place on Thursday night. The walk starts in the north of the island, leaving Mellieħa sometime after midnight and ends in the southern city of Senglea around dawn, on Good Friday.
Friday is a day of mourning and no mass is said. However, at 15.00 hours the faithful gather in churches for prayers, after which processions with statues and live characters, depicting scenes from the biblical story of the passion of Christ, flow through the streets.
Saturday is mainly a day of reflection, until late in the evening when churches come alive with plenty of light and celebrate the resurrection of Christ with solemn mass. On Sunday morning there’s more pageantry throughout the streets of certain towns and villages. Bells ring out and flags are hoisted as a sign of victory. In Birgu, the traditional uphill run with the statue of the Risen Christ, is truly spectacular.
Traditional Easter Food in Malta
And where does food come into all of this?
Some 50 years ago, a vast majority of the Maltese population would fast for the whole 40 days of Lent. Fasting meant people ate three small meals a day with no snacking in between, save for black coffee or tea. During these 40 days, meat was consumed only on Sundays.
One form of penance, which is still very popular to this very day, is the abstinence from all things sweet. The kwarezimal (quaresima meaning 40-day in Latin) is a traditional sweet made during Lent. The main ingredients are ground almonds, flour, ground rice, cocoa powder and grated citrus peel. Despite the intended sacrifice, kwarezimal still contains a significant amount of sugar.
Another traditional food, consumed mainly on Maundy Thursday, is the qagħqa tal-appostli – apostles ring. This is typically a large ring of bread studded with whole almonds. This ring is meant to signify the breaking and sharing of bread during the last supper. Steamed spinach is another food associated with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
Traditionally, stuffed globe artichokes and fish soups formed an integral part of Maltese Good Friday food. Other options were homemade ricotta pies with fresh peas or broad beans and spaghetti Napolitana.
But times move on, I remember a time when restaurants did not open on Good Friday. Nowadays, however, a good number of restaurants open serving their regular menus. The younger generation take advantage of the typically fine weather and spend the day outdoors with family and friends, enjoying picnic food in the countryside or at the beach (weather permitting).
On Easter Sunday families and friends get together for lunch at home or in restaurants. Roast lamb is very much a traditional food. However, possibly because of its particular taste, various other options such as fish, turkey, beef, pork and rabbit are also available.
And what is Easter without the traditional figolla? In an effort to be understood, we Maltese tend to translate figolla as “Easter cake”. However, the figolla is anything but the typical cake. The traditional figolla used to be in the shape of biblical images such as a fish or a lamb. However, nowadays figolli (plural) come in various shapes with one of the most popular shapes being that of a heart.
Figolli tal-Għid (Easter Figolli – pronounced fi-gol (g as in gate)-li)
Ingredients for two figolli:
|500grms||flour||grated rind of half lemon|
|150grms||butter||few drops of vanilla essence|
|200grms||pure ground almonds||egg white|
|200grms||sugar||few drops of water|
|few drops of almond essence|
Pastry – mix the flour and the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and the grated lemon rind. Beat the eggs and fold into the mixture. Add a few drops of vanilla essence and work the mixture to form a stiff(ish) dough. If the dough is too stiff you may make it more pliable by adding a little bit of milk.
Filling – mix the sugar and the ground almonds. Beat the egg white and fold into the almond mixture. Add a few drops of almond essence. If the mixture is too dry, you may add a few drops of water to soften the paste.
On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to a thickness of approximately six millimeters. With a large pastry cutter, or cardboard shape, cut out two identical shapes. Take half of the filling and flatten it out with your hands or using a rolling pin. The filling has to cover the bottom pastry shape, leaving a one-centimeter edge all round. Cover the filling with the second pastry shape and brush the edges with water or milk. Press them tightly together, sandwiching the filling between the two pastry shapes.
Line a cookie sheet with baking paper and bake the two figolli for twenty minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.
Allow to cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a cooling rack for them to cool completely.
When the figolli are completely cool, cover with glacé icing or melted chocolate and decorate with edible coloured beads, Smarties and a small Easter egg.
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