At The Table
Easter recipes and spring food traditions from around the region
Photography by Donovan Roberts Witmer
If your family is anything like mine, you probably have a tradition (or ten) for most major holidays. When I was a kid, Easter meant a few things in our house: A new outfit for church, dye-stained fingertips from coloring eggs, an Easter egg hunt at my grandparents’ farm, and always, always ham-and-egg pie, a traditional recipe courtesy of the Italians in my family.
Usually referred to as Italian ham pie, the dish enjoys lots of variations. One recipe I found includes chopped parsley and sweet Italian sausage. My family’s version doesn’t use either of those ingredients. (You won’t find anything remotely green in ours.) Other incarnations of the recipe are more like a ham-and-cheese stuffed pizza.
My family’s recipe uses a mixture of eggs, cheese, diced ham, and pepperoni (you could substitute spicy capicola) poured over a single, blind-baked pie crust and then served at room temperature or even cold. The result is a thick, quiche-like appetizer that we scarf down before the Easter basket-raiding and formal Easter dinner-eating. It would also fit in well at a casual holiday breakfast or brunch.
Leah Ferguson of Mechanicsburg looks to her Irish roots for her favorite Easter sweet—Irish potato candy—which she plans to introduce to her young daughters, Saoirse, 3, and Quinn, 1 ½, this year.
Balls of butter, cream cheese and (lots and lots!) of confectioner’s sugar are rolled in cinnamon or dipped in melted dark or milk chocolate and refrigerated. Don’t worry: The candies only look like potatoes, with their brown cinnamon or chocolate “skins” and white insides.
New food traditions are always fun to bring to your table. The origins of some of our common Easter foods are fascinating, as many of them are quite old and thought to be connected to Judeo-Christian religious beliefs or pagan rites of spring.
For example, roasted lamb, which many families enjoy in place of or alongside the traditional Easter ham, dates back to the first Jewish Passover seder. Likewise, in Christian teaching, Jesus is often referred to as “the lamb of God.” The symbolic meat continues to find its place on both Christian and Jewish tables.
There is perhaps no food that is more closely tied to Easter than the egg. Eggs are considered to be symbols of rebirth, which relates both to the Christian holiday of Easter and to the emergence of spring. Eggs continue to have a prominent place in the Easter holiday in many different cultures, including those in Russia, Germany, Italy, the Slavic countries, and certainly today across Europe and North America. Even the painting and decorating of eggs is a long-standing, multicultural activity.
Another Easter tradition to try is the hot cross bun, which you may have heard about in nursery rhymes but have never actually tasted. The sweet, yeasty rolls are typically filled with raisins or currants and marked by an icing cross in the middle. The buns are thought to have originated with either ancient Anglo-Saxons or Greeks and were later adopted by English Christians. The buns are historically enjoyed on Good Friday.
The Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch have their own unique Easter traditions when it comes to food. One of the most popular—and tasty!—is a baked good that we actually devour just before the start of Lent, several weeks before Easter Sunday.
Shrove Tuesday is more commonly referred to as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. In Pennsylvania, however, it’s known as Fastnacht Day, so named for the sweet, deep-fried doughnuts of the same moniker. While Lent and the period of fasting with which it’s associated begins on Ash Wednesday, the day before is one last day of decadence before forgoing the “bad” stuff for 40 days. Fastnachts certainly don’t disappoint in that department, and as with Cadbury cream eggs and marshmallow Peeps, it’s probably a good thing we only eat them once a year.
IRISH POTATO CANDY
Recipe from Cooks.com
¼ cup (½ stick) softened butter
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla
One 1-lb box confectioners’ sugar
One 7-oz bag flaked coconut
pine nuts, as needed
Cream butter and cream cheese together. Beat in the vanilla and confectioners’ sugar, then the coconut. Roll into balls the size of a walnut. Roll in cinnamon and refrigerate until firm. Makes 3 dozen. Variation: Dip the balls into melted dark or milk chocolate instead of rolling in cinnamon. Add pine nuts
to create the potato “eyes.”
ITALIAN HAM & EGG PIE
Recipe courtesy Stephanie Anderson Witmer
1 pie crust
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lb ricotta cheese
2 cups finely diced ham
1 cup diced pepperoni
2 Tbs. grated Romano cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a round pie dish or square baking dish with the pie crust, and grind black pepper over the surface. Use a fork to prick holes in the crust. Bake crust until just golden brown and remove from oven. In a large bowl, combine eggs, ricotta, ham, pepperoni, Romano cheese and black pepper to taste. Pour into baked crust. Bake for 1 hour, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool to room temperature, or refrigerate. Cut into small wedges or squares to serve.