Something about the holidays inspires nostalgia for bygone days. Lately, I’ve received emails from readers and had conversations with friends filled with reminisces of past Easters with loved ones, including grandmothers and mothers who are no longer here. Almost everyone has childhood memories of gathering with family around the Easter dinner table. These sweet memories sustain us during dark or even mundane times of the year. Special holiday meals, especially Easter lunch on this holiest of days, are memory-making times that we never get back. They strengthen family bonds and instill graceful, lovely traditions and manners. In some ways, they determine who we turn out to be.
One friend wistfully recalled waking up on Eastern morning to the tantalizing aroma of her mother’s ham baking in the oven and hearing her in the kitchen chopping vegetables for dressing. She would give anything to have that experience just one more time. Fifty years later, a reader can clearly describe the colors of her mother’s striped dishtowel draped over homemade rolls as they rose in the early Easter sun on the kitchen counter. Still another longed for a slice of her grandmother’s lemon meringue pie served on fine china and eaten with silver forks. Her “treasures,” as she called them, were only brought out of the china cabinet on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
The passage of time does not diminish poignant memories of dear faces and the sound of voices and laughter as family members gather for a meal. Like many, I was raised to believe holiday meals, especially on Easter, were sacred. They deserved more time and effort than other run-of-the-mill dinners. Likewise, the holiday table should be dressed with the best china, silverware and decorations. After all, these special days arrive just a few times each year.
For this reason, to this day I prefer not to eat regular food on holidays. I want to savor special dishes I remember being on the dinner tables of my childhood. Additionally, I look forward all year to decorating the table and helping prepare my family's modern-day favorites that are time-intensive to make, but well worth the effort.
Many of our traditions are rooted in our past, but Easter food choices go back centuries further than our own family tables.
The popularity of eating lamb on Easter has its roots in early Passover observances before the birth of Christ. The people of Egypt were burdened with plagues, including the death of firstborn sons. Jews painted their doorposts with a sacrificed lamb’s blood so that God would “pass over” their homes. Modern-day Christians refer to Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” another reason lamb often shows up at the Easter table.
On a less symbolic note, today there is no religious reason for eating ham at Easter. It actually became an Easter staple for economic reasons. In the olden days, ham was one of the first fresh meats available after a long winter with no livestock to slaughter. However it got to our Easter table, I’m just glad it’s there.
My family prefers smoked ham at Easter, but if you bake yours, Erika at the National Pork Board sent me delicious-sounding recipes for dressing up a baked ham. One includes a honey, fennel and mustard glaze, while another is for ham with rosemary, oranges and olives.
The pork board even thought of a way to use all the leftover ham from Sunday’s lunch. Forget ham sandwiches, I’m planning to make ham and smoked Gouda biscuits for Monday’s breakfast. Again, I’ll send the recipe to you if you’re interested.
Besides ham and turkey, my family will feast on dressing, homemade rolls, an array of vegetable side dishes, including potato salad and my stuffed hash brown casserole. For dessert, we’ll likely have pound cake with fresh strawberries and ice cream; pistachio salad and my contribution, Junior’s Deli’s No. 5 Cheesecake.
If cheesecake was part of your family's tradition or like a reader recalled, you first tasted a slice at Jackson’s Morrison’s Cafeteria’s Easter buffet as a child, it may be something you’d like to create, but don’t have the time to invest.
If so, try my Easter dessert that tastes like a combination of cheesecake, an Orange crush and pineapple pie. As you savor each creamy bite, remember Easters past with loved ones around the table.
Making memories with loved ones is not what Easter is all about. But as everyone will agree, it definitely applies to the dinner table. Easter Orange, Pineapple and Cheesecake Trifle 1 box of orange cake mix 15-ounce can mandarin oranges, drained, juice reserved 1/4 cup oil 3 eggs 1 15 ounce can crushed pineapple 8 ounce cream cheese 1-1/2 cups heavy cream 1 teaspoon vanilla 1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, divided Whole orange for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 pan. With a hand mixer, combine the cake mix with the eggs, oil and reserved juice from the mandarin oranges; beat for three minutes. Fold in the mandarin oranges. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 30 - 35 minutes until done. Move to a cooling rack.
While cake is cooling, beat together cream cheese, heavy cream and vanilla. Whip until mixture is light and fluffy.
Sprinkle half of the graham cracker crumbs on the bottom of a trifle dish. Cut the cake in half, then tear off medium pieces from one half and spread on top of crumbs Spread a layer of crushed pineapple on top, then add a layer of cream cheese mixture. Repeat all three layers, then use a spatula to smooth top layer of cream cheese. Use a grater to sprinkle orange zest over the top for a decorate finish or peel orange and place individual slices around the edge.
Ham and Smoked Gouda Biscuits with Maple Butter 1 cup diced ham steak (not sliced ham) 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder 2 teaspoons sugar 1 teaspoon salt 3/4 teaspoon baking soda 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus more for the baking sheet 1-1/2 cups smoked Gouda cheese, coarsely shredded (about 4-1/2 ounces) 1/4 cup chives, chopped (substitute thyme) 1-1/4 cups plain yogurt (lowfat is O.K.) For The Maple Butter 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 2 tablespoons maple syrup (substitute honey) Pinch of salt Preheat the oven to 450°F. Butter a large baking sheet, or coat it with nonstick spray. Whisk together in a large bowl the flour, baking powder, sugar salt and baking soda. Use a pastry cutter or fingertips to add the butter, working the mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Stir in the ham, cheese and chives. Add the yogurt, stirring until just combined. Drop the dough onto the prepared baking sheet in 12 equal mounds, about 1 inch apart. Bake until golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. While the biscuits bake. Make the maple butter. In a medium bowl, combine the butter and maple syrup. Add salt to taste and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve the biscuits warm. with the maple butter on the side.
Ham with Rosemary, Oranges and Olives 1 fully-cooked boneless ham, about 6 pounds 2 oranges, quartered and cut into 1/4-inch slices (peel and all) 1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved lengthwise 1-1/4 cups orange juice 1-1/4 cups fruity white wine 1 cup fresh rosemary, plus sprigs for garnish 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar, or white wine vinegar 2 teaspoons pepper 4 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 3 tablespoons cold water 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 or 8 pieces (1 stick) Salt, to taste Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange the ham in a 9- by 13-inch baking pan and arrange the oranges and olives around the ham. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine the orange juice and wine. Pour 3/4 cup of the mixture into the baking pan and roast for 1 hour, basting with the pan juices and stirring the orange-olive mixture every 15 to 20 minutes. Set the remaining orange-wine mixture aside. Meanwhile, in the bowl or a food processor, pulse the rosemary to chop. Add the oil, vinegar, and pepper and pulse to make coarse, wet paste, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Spread the rosemary mixture over the top and sides of ham. Cover loosely with foil and continue baking until internal temperature reaches 140 degrees F, 30 to 45 minutes. Transfer the ham to a cutting board and let rest 15 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, use a slotted spoon to transfer the orange-olive mixture into a bowl. Place the baking pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Add the remaining orange-wine mixture and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits in the pan. Add the cornstarch mixture, stirring until the sauce thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the butter, stirring until it melts. Add salt to taste. Slice enough ham to serve and arrange on plates or a platter. Spoon some of the orange mixture on top. Serve with the remaining mixture and the pan sauce on the side. Serves 20 to 24 (4-ounce serving size)
Spiral Ham with Honey Mustard Glaze 7-8 pound spiral-sliced smoked ham, bone-in 6 tablespoons fennel seed 1 cup honey 1 cup Dijon-style mustard 1 tablespoon pepper 3 pounds asparagus, trimmed 2 tablespoons olive oil Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Meanwhile, use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to coarsely crush the fennel seeds. Set aside 1 tablespoon, then transfer the remaining fennel seeds to a medium bowl and add the honey, mustard, and pepper. Set 1 1/2 cups of the mixture aside. Place the ham flat side down in a large shallow roasting pan and brush with about 1/2 of the remaining honey-mustard mixture. Roast the ham, basting with the same honey-mustard mixture and pan juices every 25 to 30 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees F., 15 to 18 minutes per pound (loosely cover with foil if ham gets too browned). Remove the ham from the oven, transfer to a cutting board, and let rest 15 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, add a rack to the upper third of the oven and increase the temperature to 400 degrees F. Arrange the asparagus on two large rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and reserved fennel seeds, and bake until tender, about 15 minutes. Slice enough ham to serve and arrange on plates or a platter. Serve the asparagus and the reserved honey-mustard mixture on the side. Serves 20 (4-ounce serving size)