Easter dinner: tradition or innovation?


Sami Gillette

Holidays, as much as they resonate with religious and/or historic importance, are also the times when I celebrate the joys, challenges and vibrancy of food. From appetizers, entrees and dessert to wine and various accoutrements, I am in love. A, let’s waltz in the rain, hold hands as we grow old, fairy tale, type of love that has as much to do with my head as my stomach.
For me, food is an exploration of history, cultures and an exercise in commonality. Everyone has to eat, right? So, as Easter approaches, I revel in the experience of preparation and planning.
Most of the food my grandmothers, mother and I will prepare this coming Sunday has already been pre-determined. Drawing from their memories of Easter as children, my grandmothers have shared the recipes and the know-how to my mother, sister and I. In my family this knowledge is basic, but fundamental, and is one of the best, most treasured legacies.
The main event of Easter dinner (that’s right, dinner not brunch) includes a baked ham, studded with cloves and a sweet glaze. Pink and tender, it always has the right blend of salt, sweet and smoke. In addition to the ham there are deviled eggs (which my grandma is renowned for), mashed potatoes, gravy, baked beans, various salads and, to finish, sumptuous pies (of the apple and pumpkin variety). Everything is simply, but lovingly prepared, and reminds me of my family’s roots. We come from rural, country folk and the food is a celebration of the local farmers and produce that serve as the foundation for each dish.
As much as I relish in these dishes and look forward to sampling them each Easter, I’ve also realized how much Easter dinner can vary for each family. The variety grows exponentially when one steps outside of the Christian holiday to consider food prepared by those of other faiths in celebration of other holidays.
But for now I’ll focus on Easter dishes that I’ve found and would love to try – especially those that center around brunch rather than dinner (of which I’m most accustomed). Though different from the recipes I grew up with, they sound just as delicious and have that extra spice that only newness can provide.
First, I’d love to explore a recipe that involves fresh, rather than cured ham. Sam Sifton, from the Dining & Wine department of The New York Times, suggests buying a fresh ham from a local butcher. In regards to preparation he writes, “An easier route to fresh-ham perfection involves simply scoring the skin of the ham in a diamond pattern, then rubbing a mixture of salt and pepper all over the skin, pressing it down into the fat between the cuts.”
He goes on with cooking directions and instructs the cook to baste with, “…a mixture of balsamic vinegar, maple syrup and cinnamon, as well as with the fat in the bottom of the pan. The rind will grow crisper and darker along the way.”
I don’t know about you but this description, paired with an equally tantalizing picture, made me drool. Ok, almost drool (I was taught some semblance of manners).
I also would like to try this recipe, baked eggs with spinach and mushrooms, which looks delectable. Smitten Kitchen is one of my favorite blogs to snoop out new, well-tested recipes and this particular recipe has the added perk of being healthy, gluten/grain-free, vegetarian and has a very pretty presentation.
The last recipe I will share, and continue to fantasize about, is a lemon and blueberry cupcake recipe I saw air on FoodNetwork. I made sure to track it down online because it seems like a perfectly sweet and not too heavy ending to the Easter meal. With fresh grated lemon, fresh blueberries and a lemony buttercream, I could barely resist darting into the kitchen after seeing her pull them out of the oven.
While I may not have the time or ambition to try all three of these recipes, I do promise to try one. Stay tuned – a report on said recipe will soon follow! Though I will need time to sip a glass of wine and clean the much dreaded dishes…