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Sunday, March 24, 2013

The dilemma of Easter dinner

With Easter fast approaching, I'm beginning to plan my family's Easter meals. And that got me started looking into the traditions behind Easter foods.
We'll start the day with a sunrise service, at 6:45, in the courtyard gardens of our church. A soloist backed by a quartet will sing,, "One Early Easter Morning," an anthem that I sang as a choir member when I was ten or twelve. It's a song that's been rattling around in my head for almost sixty years, and I was so delighted when an old schoolmate from those days found the music that I sent it to the music director at our church. Then it will be home for breakfast and an egg hunt. For breakfast, we'll have scrambled eggs, sausages, fruit and hot cross buns.
Hot cross buns, I discovered, date back to Anglo Saxon days when people made wheat cakes to honor the goddess of springtime. With Christianity, those cakes became sweet ones, blessed by the church. Bread is the symbol of fertility and also of the body of Christ, and the cakes are sweet because we are breaking the Lenten ban on sweets (not that many of us keep it these days). The traditional icing crosses were symbols also used before Christianity but easily made the transition. Other cultures  serve similar sweet breads--the Polish have baba, and the Czechs babobka, while Syrians and Jordanians serve honey-based pastries.
For dinner, traditional meats in this country are lamb or ham. Lamb's significance is obvious--Jewish people slaughtered at lamb at Passover and used the blood to mark the doors of believers in hopes that the Angel of Death would pass by. The traditional lamb served at seder also translated easily into Christian ritual, since Jesus is often referred to as the lamb of God.
Serving ham has a much more mundane origin: early settlers in this country slaughtered meat in the fall. Fresh pork was eaten during the winter but what couldn't be eaten was cured for springtime use. Curing took a long time, and the first hams were usually ready about Easter. Once again cultures differ--some Slavic cultures serve coiled sausages and cold meats for Easter.
Two of my children and their families will be here for Easter, and one of them emphatically does not like lamb, never did. Since he was such a good eater as a child, I figure he's entitled to a few dislikes, so I'll serve ham. Ham of course requires some form of potatoes but instead of scalloped, I'll serve a lemon potato salad--I'm pretty sure I've posted the recipe before--accompanied by roast green beans and a fruit salad.
For appetizers we'll have pickled radishes--because my son-in-law loves radishes--and deviled eggs. Eggs are of course THE big Easter tradition, symbols of rebirth and renewal. Often in past times eggs were forbidden during Lent, so that's another reason to serve them. But the traditiona of coloring eggs probably goes back to Ancient Egypt or Greek and Roman Times. It's generally agreed that early German settlers brought the traditions of Easter eggs and bunnies to this country in the 1700s, though who knows where the bunny came from.

Deviled eggs
There are a thousand ways to serve deviled eggs--garnished with everything from caviar and smoked salmon to sprigs of dill, quartered cherry tomatoes, or tiny bits of gherkins. I don't do pastry bags or baggies with the corner cut of, so my eggs don't come out beautifully sculpted but they taste good. And my recipe is so basic I hesitate to repeat it.
Recently there's been a thread going around the internet about baking instead of boiling. Put eggs on their sides in a mini-muffin tin and bake at 350 for 30 minutes, then plunge into an ice water bath. I tried it on three eggs and don't recommend it. The shells cracked the minute they hit the ice water bath, which theoretically could allow bacteria in, and also made for some odd-shaped eggs. And the shelled eggs had brown spots on the exterior of the whites. I did devil them, and they tasted fine. I recommend putting them in cold water, bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and walk away for a couple of hours. Then refrigerate. I was astonished recently to watch one of my sons painfully peeling an egg standing at the kitchen counter. I asked if he didn't know to peel it under cold running water, and he didn't. Now he thinks he's discovered something new and wonderful.
I basically mash the yolks, add garlic salt, pepper, onion powder. Then I dribble salad mustard over the yolks, being careful not to overdo because I want more of a mayo taste. Sometimes I add a bit of dill or sweet pickle relish (your choice). Then just enough mayo to bind but don't let them get sloppy runny. Chill well before serving. But, shoot, everyone knows how to devil eggs.

Pickled radishes

Clean and quarter 10 regular radishes. Put in a glass jar with 10 garlic clovers  peeled, a tsp. whole black peppercorns, a tsp. each sugar and kosher salt, and 2 cups white vinegar. Shake until sugar and salt dissolve. Refrigerate at least 3 days, but you can keep them a month if you keep them in the refrigerator.

A blessed Easter to one and all.

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