The bumpy ivory sculpture shone in diffused sunlight from the lead-glass window. “What is it?” I asked my then-boyfriend. “A butter lamb. Man, I love these—it’s been blessed by the priest. It’s a family tradition.”
I smiled. At 19 years old, this was my first Easter, and I had no idea what to expect. Dressed in a borrowed silk Liz Claiborne dress (my mother’s), I was on my best behavior, excited that my boyfriend thought we were significant enough as a couple to invite me to his tribe’s huge Easter lunch at his auntie’s on Chicago’s West Side.
I grew up Jewish, on the North Side, and though I had many Christian friends, the biggest Easter activities we ever did was decorate Easter eggs and eat tons of Peeps and Reese’s peanut butter eggs. But before me was a Polish feast—three kinds of pierogi, keilbasa, kapusta (baked sauerkraut), krupniok (blood sausage), butter dumplings in melted butter, rye bread (both with and without seeds)—in addition to the ham, turkey, assorted salads and crudite (not to mention the giant dessert table, heavy with kolaczki, butter cookies and cakes from the local bakery).
My first thought was as I looked over the petite women walking around in the room in their Easter best was: How do they eat all this food and stay so small? Then I thought: When can we dig in?
Celebration of the season
Today, my little family shares in traditions from both our heritages (happily that boyfriend eventually did become my husband). With Easter and Passover always sharing a holiday weekend, we often end up having matzo brie (fried matzo) for breakfast and a baked ham with all the trimmings for dinner. We often look to traditional Polish dishes for sides at our Easter dinner, though we have yet to place a blessed butter lamb on the table (maybe this year).
Like the baby lamb, Easter is the harbinger of spring and rebirth. We celebrate the arrival of the first greens and berries after a long winter, and Easter rejoices in the upcoming bounty with delicious foods on the dinner table. Asparagus, spring lamb and strawberries are big features on menus and excite the taste buds for more delicious farm-fresh foods arriving in the following weeks.
Easter is also a celebration of family and heritage, and ZisBoomBah’s three Easter dinner menus reflect cultural and health-conscious traditions. Over the next few days we will post recipes that you can pick and choose—or draw inspiration from—for your own special family celebration.
The first menu is a traditional American Easter dinner with all the trimmings. Next we will feature a multicultural masala, featuring treasured dishes from around the world. The last (but definitely not least) is a vegetarian feast—a celebration of ingredients from the earth, reflecting changes in our beliefs about sustainability and healthy eating.
Do you or your kids have some have some treasured family Easter recipes or stories you’d like to share? We would love for you to post your ideas with the ZisBoomBah community. Please post your comments below or email us.