Easter traditions include flowers, bunnies and fabulous food

March 29, 2024

If you’re planning an Easter celebration this weekend, our local shops are well stocked with supplies. From candy outlets to supermarkets to drugstores, the shelves are filled with elegant chocolates, colorful jelly beans and charming marshmallow peeps. You’ll find shredded plastic or paper “grass” and woven baskets, stuffed bunnies and potted lilies – everything you’ll need to decorate for the holiday.

Once you have your decor and Easter basket treats, you can shop for a traditional Easter dinner. The main course will most frequently be a baked ham, a holdover from our agrarian roots when the farmer’s butchered pig was ready to eat after a long winter’s salt cure in the smokehouse. Some cultures favor leg of lamb for the main course as a nod to its religious symbolism.

Side dishes could include early spring vegetables such as new potatoes, peas and asparagus. This year, we might be a bit too early for local asparagus, but imported spears, both white and green, are widely available. The same timing applies for baby peas, but the frozen options are reasonable, especially when tossed with sautéed mushrooms. 

A creamy starch is usually on the menu for Easter, either macaroni and cheese or a layered potato-cheese casserole. Scalloped potatoes is one side dish that I typically prepare for Easter dinner. The recipe here calls for a water bath that helps cook the potatoes more evenly. If you prefer the mac and cheese option, it is nice to stir some mustard into the cheese sauce to complement the ham glaze in the recipe below.

While these are the family dinner traditions, the star of Easter lore is the egg, which will be featured in decorations, entertaining activities and on the menu. Eggs are both literally and symbolically associated with fertility and rebirth, hence their prominence at Easter time. Egg hunts, egg rolling and egg dyeing are all on the agenda. There are many explanations for why we boil and dye eggs, but I think it may have to do with the Christian tradition of Lent.

On Fat Tuesday (sometimes called Pancake Day), the day before Ash Wednesday which marks the start of Lent, many households would consume all the eggs and dairy food on hand, since eating those foods for the next 40 days was prohibited. However, the laying hens in the coop didn’t stop delivering eggs to the family. Hence, the tradition of hard-boiling the eggs to keep them for a future meal. And, for Easter, why not dye them pretty colors?

Rabbits are another tradition associated with Easter, not as a menu item, but  because of their short gestation and abundant breeding, another sign of fertility. This is also how we find a connection to carrots, as bunnies are notorious carrot-eaters. What better way to combine the two traditions, than in a bunny cake? I’ve included a template that depicts how to take two simple layer cakes and make a bunny shape.

To incorporate both the bunny and its favorite food, you could bake the layers of carrot cake (either from scratch or using a mix) and ice the bunny with cream cheese frosting to create a fluffy coat. You can leave the bunny in basic white or use candies and colored frosting to add more details. Happy Easter!

Glazed Baked Ham

10 to 12 lb boneless cured ham
1/2 C whole cloves 
1 C packed brown sugar
1/4 C Dijon mustard
2 T apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Score top of the ham into a diamond pattern and poke a clove in the center of each one. Place ham on a rack in a roasting pan. Bake for 90 minutes. Whisk together sugar, mustard and vinegar; spread glaze evenly over ham. Bake for another 35 minutes. Transfer ham to a platter and allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Scalloped Potatoes

softened butter for dish
2 lbs russet potatoes
3 C heavy cream
1 T flour
1/4 t nutmeg
1/2 t salt 
1/4 t white pepper
1 bay leaf

Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat the inside of a shallow baking dish with butter; set aside. Peel the potatoes; cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Put the potatoes in a large saucepan. Whisk together cream, flour, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a bowl; pour over the potatoes. Add bay leaf and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the cream comes just to a simmer, about 12 minutes. Continue to simmer, adjusting the heat if necessary to prevent the bottom from scorching, until the potatoes just begin to soften, about 5 more minutes. Transfer the potato mixture to the prepared baking dish; discard the bay leaf. Set the baking dish in a roasting pan and add enough water to come about halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Bake until the potatoes are tender and golden brown, about 1 hour. Remove the baking dish from the water bath and let stand 10 minutes before serving. 

Carrot Cake

1 1/3 C flour
1 C sugar
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground cloves
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t ground allspice
1/2 t salt
3 eggs 
1/2 C olive oil
1 1/2 C shredded carrots

Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat the inside of two 9-inch round baking pans with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, then whisk together to ensure even distribution. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth. Stir in the olive oil and whisk to combine. Fold the egg mixture into the dry ingredients using a spatula. Stir in carrots. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Frost with cream cheese icing.

Cream Cheese Icing

8 oz cream cheese
1/2 C butter
2 t vanilla
3 C confectioners sugar

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Beat in vanilla. Gradually add the confectioners sugar, beating to combine completely. Yield: 2 C icing.

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