A leg of lamb comes out of the oven aromatic with garlic. Tender-crisp, oh-so-green asparagus stalks sweat in a cloud of steam. They are truly the first of the season and a real treat after the frozen peas and brussels sprouts of winter.
There are generous servings of Sunshine Salad — pineapple bits and carrot shreds suspended in jewel-like lemon gelatin. Individual squares are set on crisp leaves of iceberg lettuce.
And for dessert? Something bright — lemon meringue pie or a layer cake with tart lemon filling and fluffy white frosting sprinkled with shredded coconut.
We sit down to eat at a dining table set with bone china and engraved silver. Tulips and forsythia from the yard are arranged in a seasonal centerpiece.
This is the Easter dinner of my baby-boomer childhood in the 1950s, and it’s these traditions I celebrate when Easter rolls around.
Back then, my mother signaled the upcoming holiday by taking us shopping for dress patterns and yards of gauzy fabric. She’d spread it out on the dining room table to pin and cut our Easter outfits. I still have a storage bin of those Easter dresses. Looking at them, it amazes me that I was ever that small — or that dressed up.
Days before Easter, we gathered at the kitchen dinette to decorate hard-boiled eggs. Yes, the real kind from hens, not the colored plastic ones so prevalent today. The memory brings to mind the sharp, acidic smell of the white vinegar we mixed with the Paas dye tablets.
The colored eggs were set aside until some grown-up (or was it the Easter Bunny?) hid them in the bushes or beneath the swing set of our New Jersey home. My mother had five brothers and sisters, so when the extended family gathered for the holiday, there were plenty of aunts, uncles and cousins to join the Easter egg hunt.
Easter Sunday began with a chilly morning sunrise service and hymns sung in the great outdoors. As the sermon ended, a burning circle of light rose over the horizon to warm us as if we were sitting in front of a blazing bonfire.
And, of course, there were Easter baskets, colorful woven ones filled with shreds of green paper grass where I’d find a dark-chocolate rabbit, jelly beans and small foil-wrapped chocolate eggs. (My mother was something of a candy snob. We didn’t have a lot of Peeps in our house.)
Today, I try to keep some of those Easter traditions. I don’t sew a new dress and I probably won’t even buy one. I can’t remember the last time I really dressed up here in South Florida. And I won’t dye Easter eggs because I don’t want to have to eat them after the holiday. But thanks to my husband, I do have a dark-chocolate bunny and foil-wrapped chocolate eggs.
My dinner menu won’t be exactly like my mom’s, but I will cook up the aromas and flavors I remember emanating from her kitchen, starting with a leg of lamb. Up north, it’s still too chilly to grill comfortably, but Easter in Florida is the perfect time, before the heat, humidity and mosquitoes take over.
I use a boneless roast that I coat with plenty of nutty olive oil and bits of fresh garlic. I also add a bit of soy sauce that blends well with the meaty flavor of the roast. I place the marinated meat on the grill, where it quickly turns rosy medium-rare and takes on a luxuriant smoky accent.
I serve it with the same steamed asparagus that graced my mom’s Easter menu. Now available year round, these tender stalks aren’t quite the seasonal treat they used to be, but they are just as good.
And, of course, I use Mom’s recipe for Sunshine Salad. Although I can buy mesclun and spring garden mixes, not to mention micro greens, I still favor iceberg lettuce as a cushion for those perfect squares of gelatin.
Finally, for dessert, I’ll skip the pies and rich filled cakes my mom used to make in favor of pound cake flavored with lemon juice and plenty of pungent fresh ginger. I serve slices of it with cut fruit that’s as colorful as the Easter hats we used to wear with our new dresses.
I set my table a little more casually than my mom did, but I use the very same table where she served meals and cut out her sewing projects.
And in the center, I’ll arrange the bright red blooms of the amaryllis that are filling my garden a little early this year. It’s not exactly the Easter dinner of my youth, but here in South Florida, it’s just right.