Celebrate Maltese Easter
By Tatyana Leonov
Maryann’s eyes are alight with an effervescent energy and her contagious grin can’t get any wider. “I just love Easter,” she trills as she puts the last touches on a pink butterfly-shaped figolla, carefully wraps it in clear cellophane and places it on the buffet alongside the other colourful figolli. Some are blue, some are yellow, others are green, but all the biscuits are decorated with sugar-based edible flowers and mini chocolate Easter eggs.
“Everyone loves figolli,” Maryann explains as she proudly shows the colourful collection of traditional Maltese Easter sweets she has made to the family. “My cousin, Mary, sent me the figolli cutters from Malta. I make them every Easter and gift them to relatives and friends.”
Like most Maltese Catholics in Australia, the Camilleri family attend an Easter service at their local Catholic church on Easter Sunday morning. A customary extravagant lunch follows and this is the time to share laughter – and plenty of food – among family.
Although Maryann was born in Australia, her love for Malta is evident as she rushes around the kitchen preparing one scrumptious looking dish after another. After 40 days of Lent, where most Catholics restrain from overindulging, Easter lunch is always a big cook-off affair for the family.
This year, the Easter lunch is at Maryann’s house, and she wants to make the day perfect. Many of Maryann’s relatives, including her husband, Bartholomew – whom she met in Malta in 1981 when she was 22 and married
10 years later – originally come from Malta. Although they all call Sydney home, the connection to their homeland is still very strong and they relish in celebrating feast days like this one, just as they did in Malta.
As more and more people gather, Maryann ushers them out of the kitchen and into the dining room to a tableful of appetisers she has prepared. Freshly stuffed olives (zebbug mimli), homemade cheeses (gbejniet) that are fresh (friski), dried (moxxi) or peppered (tal-bzar), savoury crackers (galletti), two types of broad bean-based dips (bigilla) and Maltese bread topped with tomatoes, basil, capers, olives and peppered cheese (hobz biz-zejt) are all thoughtfully assembled for guests to nibble on.
“I made the fresh cheese, and my beautiful mother Agnes made the dried and peppered cheese. The special cheese moulds (called qwieleb) are from Malta and the process to make the dried and peppered cheese can take up to three weeks depending on the weather, so it can be very time consuming,” she says, smiling at her mum who is helping Maryann’s father, Joe, take a seat on the couch.
Maryann’s sister, Pauline, turns up the music and starts to hum. Maryann beams as she recognises the song. “It’s il-Bajja tal-Mellieha,” she explains to her children, Thomas and Rachel, both nibbling on figolli prematurely. “It’s about the village of Mellieha where my family comes from and the beautiful bay down from the village,” Maryann explains and then begins to hum, moving her hips to the beat as she makes her way to the oven to check on the stuffat tal-fenek (rabbit stew).
As she opens the oven door everyone turns as a fragrant waft of the spiced stew fills the room. Joe smiles watching the reactions. Joe and Agnes farm a few rabbits exactly for this purpose – to share the quality meat with family on special occasions such as this one. Today, three of their rabbits have been prepared to share among 20 or so family members. Traditionally, the sauce from the stew is served with spaghetti as an entrée and then the rabbit stew is served as the main meal.
Everyone starts to take their place at the table as Bartholomew tops up glasses with red wine, Cisk Lager and Kinnie (“Cisk is our national Maltese beer and Kinnie is our national Maltese soft drink,” he explains). “Evviva! Evviva!” he exclaims and the family join in on the Maltese ‘cheers’ as they clink beer and wine glasses. The kids join in with their Kinnie-filled glasses and family members begin to take turns with short speeches thanking each other and God for the gift of family, the food and the opportunity to celebrate Easter together again.