Unlike other holidays, Easter traditions changed from year to year in my family.
I recall one Easter in particular when my father worked nights. At that time, I’d fall asleep next to my mother in bed, as she watched Dallas and Dynasty. When his schedule changed, I refused to sleep in my own room. Instead of putting my basket on the kitchen table downstairs where it had always been, they moved it to my bedroom. The horror of not finding my candy worked, and I quickly learned to adjust my sleeping patterns. The memory of this traumatic event lives on.
A few other memorable childhood Easters involved egg hunts at my father’s parents. When we were done, the grandchildren would each get a baby chick or rabbit to take home. Little thought was given as to what we were supposed to do with them. One day, my bunny disappeared. I asked my dad what happened, and he said he’d been gone for weeks – despite no openings, he miraculously escaped from his cage. To this day, I think my dad grew tired of caring for the rabbit and dropped him off at a nearby farm – but he disclaims any knowledge of what happened.
Food, other than chocolate, was secondary until I was older. Ham was traditionally served. When we ate at my grandmother’s, it was inedible. She salted the ham to a second death, even though it was cured.
As I grew older, the family drifted apart, and we’d have Easter dinner at home, with just the 3 of us (Mom, Dad and me). Mom was an excellent cook. Her deviled eggs and potato salad were fantastic. And the pineapple glazed ham was one of my favorite meals. Sometimes, she would make banana cream pie for dessert. It weighed about 10 pounds – I know this because we put it on the scale once.
When I went off to college, I couldn’t always come home, and traditions changed. In Nashville, I’d go to Cracker Barrel, which was as close as I could get to my Mom’s dinner.
Then when I moved to NYC, I’d fight hours of traffic for a taste of Mom’s ham. One year, my parents came up here, and we got tickets to St. Patrick’s – more for entertainment than religious reasons. I decided to try something new, and stuffed a boneless leg of lamb with greens and feta – starting my own traditions (the origins of the recipe posted last week).
Instead of Mom’s version of pie, I made a black bottom banana cream pie from Bon Appetit. The first time I tried the recipe, the vanilla cream broke, and Mom helped me with the second batch. Dinner turned out excellent. The pie weighed a little less, but was beyond decadent – very different from my Mom’s but she loved it (chocolate and banana were a favorite combo of hers). We all agreed that it was one of the nicest Easters.
This year, the first Easter without my Mom, I went home to see my Dad to make sure he had a good meal and an Easter egg (we agreed to no baskets). For dinner, I re-created the one I’d made them. But finding ingredients in South Jersey was a challenge. It took 3 stores before I finally found the boneless lamb. (Luckily it was $5.99/lb – way cheaper than in NYC!)
After the lamb was prepped, I turned to the pie. Again, the pastry cream started to break, but this time I fixed it. I thought how Mom would have been proud of me.
But just as I finished using the cake decorator to pipe the whipped cream onto the pie, as she would’ve done, the handle broke. (Oddly, when I was making pies at Thanksgiving, the same thing happened with her pastry cutter – and I knew I was done kneading the dough.)
In the end, the lamb was wonderful (I didn’t have to cook it well done for my Mom this time).
And the pie was delicious.
My Dad was pleased that food got him through another tough day without her. But I can’t help but wonder if my mother is a little mad that my baking skills are finally nearing hers. If the springform pan breaks when I try to make her cheesecake recipe, I think I’ll have an answer…