Mazeltov, it’s Easter
When my father, the only son of an Orthodox Jewish family, met my mother, the youngest daughter of a large Irish Catholic family, the earth must have shook because those two crazy children ran away and were married to the surprise and dismay of their families. .
Although the families were never fully reconciled to this event, a kind of peace was achieved. Relax, if you want. In due course, I was born and my two brothers and my sister eventually made the scene to complete our family.
In many ways, children from religiously mixed families live schizophrenic lives and this is probably most evident during periods of religious holidays, when the mandatory pilgrimages to grandparents’ homes are made for customary celebrations and practices.
My brothers and I always knew that all of our grandparents, aunts and uncles loved us. I had thirty-two first cousins on my mother’s side in the family and six first cousins on my dad’s side and those cousins, closest to me in age, were my best friends and remain so to this day. But, we also knew that we were different from our cousins because we had “weird” parties that these cousins just didn’t understand. My Christian cousins celebrated Christmas, my Jewish cousins celebrated Hanukkah, and WE celebrate both. In our home, a Christmas tree was also called a Hanukkah bush.
On the Friday before Easter we ate our Passover dinner at Bubba’s house with all the solemnity that the occasion demands in Jewish homes. We hear the story of Passover, how our ancestors were freed from slavery in Egypt. We ate the bitter herbs and reflected on his slavery to Pharaoh and his deliverance to the land of milk and honey in Israel. As I grew up, I privately thought of Jesus, attended the Seder, and thought that He would have been home for Passover at my Bubba’s house.
At Easter we went to mass and listened to the Easter story and reflected on the cruel death of Jesus at the hands of the Romans; how He died for the sins of man and His resurrection on Easter morning and His and man’s triumph over death by His sacrifice. Later we went to Nana’s house and ate ham.
We were raised to honor and respect our cultures and that is why we grew up to be tolerant of the beliefs of others. Our own religious beliefs are personal and none of us are doctrinaire Christians or Jews, but my sister and my brothers are good people and I think I am too.
Being raised in a religiously mixed family had many moments of confusion and hilarity and there were moments of some shame for our parents. I remember a dinner at Bubba’s house, which was kept strictly kosher, when I asked / demanded butter with my food and threw a huge shock when this request was firmly denied. I can still remember the look I got from my parents and if looks could kill, I would have died on the spot.
There was also the moment, after mass on a Sunday, when I wished the parish priest “Mazeltov” while standing in the doorway of the church talking to his parishioners as they left the church. This time my mother turned beet red and again, if looks could kill, I wouldn’t be here to tell the story.
The fall of my mom and dad’s love and devotion for each other, their children, and their families continues to this day and is seen in many ways. In my own family, for example, I continue to honor and celebrate the holidays and customs my parents grew up in (even though I don’t keep Kosher). As the holidays approach this year, I am planning my Passover Seder, and soon after, I will host a Passover dinner at my home. Everyone is invited regardless of their beliefs, I just ask that we all enjoy the holidays and the food and the conversation.
My Easter Seder will be as traditional as I can get and I will use recipes that I inherited from my Bubba. One of those recipes that will be on my table is one that I particularly like because I was told that its texture and appearance was to remind diners of the bricks and mortar that the Jewish slaves of Pharaoh were forced to work with to build the pyramids. :
1 lbs. Tart apples , peeled and cored
4 ozs. Walnut halves (about a cup to a cup and a forth)
¾ TBS. Cinnamon
3 to 5 TBS. Sweet wine
Finely chop the apples and walnuts. Add the cinnamon and mix in a bowl. Add enough wine to moisten the mixture and create a doughy texture. Taste and add more cinnamon if necessary.
This recipe makes about 4 cups.
Another Easter recipe that I first tried on my Bubba’s table was a honey cake made with matzo cake flour to make it suitable for the Passover Seder.
1/3 cup Matzo cake meal
1/3 cup Potato starch
½ cup Sugar
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1 tsp. Ground Ginger
Pinch of Finely Grated Nutmeg
8 Eggs (separated)
1 Egg White
¼ cup Vegetable Oil
1 cup Honey
Preheat oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease a 10-inch tube pan.
Combine the matzo cake flour, potato starch, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Make a hole in the center and one by one, add the egg yolks, beating well after each addition. Whisk in the oil and honey.
With an electric mixer, beat the 9 egg whites until they are firm but not dry. Gently add the beaten egg whites to the batter. Turn the mixture into the prepared skillet and bake for about 1 hour, until the top of the cake is a deep brown color and a skewer inserted in the center tastes clean.
Let the cake cool on a wire rack. Top with powdered sugar. This will make 8 to 10 servings.
Baking with matzo flour, even the most finely ground food, is a challenge. The large number of eggs used in the dough is what gives this cake its lightness.
At my Easter dinner, I will remember my mom as I bake my ham and use recipes that she inherited from her mom, my nana.
When purchasing ham to bake, allow ½ pound per serving and allow 20 minutes of cooking at 350 degrees per pound (using a meat thermometer, allow internal temperature to reach 160 degrees).
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the ham on a wire rack in a shallow roasting pan with the fat side up. Bake unglazed ham until thermometer reads 130 degrees or up to 1 hour before done.
Prepare to glaze ham by scoring the outer fat in a diamond shape, cutting ½ inch deep with a sharp knife.
Icing: 1 cup Bown sugar
1 cup of honey
2 teaspoons dry mustard
15 (or more) whole teeth
1 can of pineapple rings
Maraschino cherries (optional)
Drizzle sauce: 1 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1 cup orange juice.
Combine the ingredients to make the glaze, mix well and spread on the outside of the ham. Stud with whole teeth decoratively at each point of the diamond. Place the pineapple slices in the center of each diamond and secure them with toothpicks and finally, if you wish, place a maraschino cherry in the center of each of the pineapple slices and secure them with toothpicks (do not forget to remove the toothpicks before). serve the ham).
Return the ham to the oven to finish baking and, if desired, drizzle the ham every 15 minutes with the Drizzle Sauce.
Let the ham rest and carve on the table.
And for the desert:
2 cups All Purpose Flour
2 cups Sugar
½ tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Baking Powder
¾ tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Cinnamon
½ tsp. Nutmeg
3 egg yolks
2 ½ tsp. Hot Water
1 ½ cups Grated carrots
1 cup Vegetable oil
3 egg whites, stiffly beaten
1 cup Walnuts (finely chopped)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix dry ingredients; add oil, carrots, egg yolks, and water. Mixture. Add the beaten egg whites and fold in gently. Add walnuts.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes in an 8-inch round or square skillet. Cool cake on cake rack.
Top with cream cheese frosting (when cake is cold).
Cream Cheese Frosting
¾ stick Butter (softened)
1 (8 oz.) Cream cheese, (softened)
16 ozs. Powdered Sugar
2 tsp. Vanilla
½ cup Chopped Walnuts (chopped coarsely)
Mix in the cream cheese and butter. Add the sugar and vanilla. Mix well, add walnuts and in front of the cooled sponge cake.
My mom and dad got married because they met and fell deeply, completely, and eternally in love. They fell in love and overcame obstacles that even I can only imagine and they did it with grace and humor. I am so grateful to you for sharing that love with me and my siblings, and as we get closer to the next vacation, I will lovingly remember you and honor the heritage you gave me. And then I tell you, Malzeltov, it’s Easter / Easter.