Aldona Bird, Contributors, Latest News

Easter feast made sweeter by desserts — and family

Feasts are important. I’ve always liked my family’s Easter feasting tradition because while we no longer are tied particularly to seasonal food, I’m reminded that until very recently food was seasonal — and springtime ushered in an abundance after a lean winter.

Feasts historically brought communities together in celebration. The Catholic Church incorporated many feast days communities had celebrated long before conversion.

Food at a holiday still brings my family together — and going overboard and turning it into a feast is a tradition I look forward to throughout the year.

We always give up sweets for Lent, so the dessert menu is particularly important for this holiday. However, we are careful to balance out the load of sweets with decadent savory dishes as well.

This year the savory dishes we made included a beet Wellington — a vegetarian twist on the famous beef dish — which is a holiday staple in my family. The stuffing is a tasty mix of beets, onions, couscous with some cashews to add a little crunch, all wrapped in a puff pastry.

We also had savory puff pastries topped with mushrooms, a hint of cheese and sauce of reduced onions, soup stock, herbs and spices.

Salads balanced out all the buttery crusts — a simple arugula salad and a broccoli salad (with citrus black pepper and a little parmesan cheese). Deviled eggs, stuffed mushroom caps and baked brie rounded out the main meal.

This year I spent most of my Easter kitchen time making desserts. First, I tackled cheesecake. I used a recipe from an old McCall’s cookbook for Lindy’s Famous cheesecake (calls for five packs of cream cheese), which includes lemon and orange zest and is a family favorite.

Next, I made lemon squares — I just used a recipe I found online, and luckily it turned out well. I love lemon bars, but rarely make them so don’t have a go-to recipe.

These two desserts were almost all I got done on Saturday for prep. I did a few other little things to help other family cooks, but it didn’t feel like a particularly productive day.

Sunday morning I got up early, and whipped out a batch of cream puffs before church. When the oven timer went off, I found that I’d over cooked them.

When I got home from church, I started another batch. They were looking promising, until someone bumped the oven dial and turned it up. The tops got a bit overdone, causing me to pull them out too soon, so the insides were still a little bit underdone.

I considered trying to make a third batch, but didn’t want to repeat last year’s shortbread fiasco (I made many batches and somehow kept making mistakes in each one). Instead, I melted cheese in a few of the imperfect puffs, and served them for brunch to keep our energy up while we were cooking.

Next, I made a chocolate Swiss roll. The cake turned out a bit flat, but it was very light, and, when filled with a chocolate buttercream, completely decadent.

My sister made a baba au rum — this is a staple on our Easter. table This year though, we tried a different recipe, for a jam stuffed baba. My sister made the jam from frozen raspberries we happened to have on hand.

All the cooking is exhausting, but in a joyful way. In the aftermath, I often think about how we’ve lost the tradition of community-wide feast days, but wonder which of my neighbors celebrate with family feasts.

ALDONA BIRD is a journalist using experience gained working on organic farms in Europe to help her explore possibilities of local productivity.