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An Easter Ham-thology

Part One - Easter Dresses

Growing up, Easter in the South was nothing less than majestic pageantry. Everything got taken up a notch; even the clothes we wore. Don’t get me wrong, Sundays were always for your Sunday best. But on Easter, all the little boys wore seersucker suits, and the little girls were about 96% frills and lace on average. Meanwhile, the women wore their best dresses and most gigantic hats, and most of the men looked better on Easter Sunday than they did at their wedding. It was the biggest church-going day of the year, and that meant either going the extra mile, or getting a dose of infamous Southern judgment thrown your way.

Even though we didn’t have much extra money for new clothes, my Mom always made sure we didn’t feel left out. Dad would wear his best suit with a new tie, and my brothers would get new shirts from the local Wal-Mart. But Mom and I got to do something EXTRA special. We would take a trip to the fabric store, just the two of us. Then we would flip through the giant McCall’s and Simplicity pattern books, looking for the perfect Easter dresses. I remember being so small that I couldn’t lift those giant tomes of ladylike fanciness. We would look through all the patterns until we both found the perfect ones. Then we’d select some beautifully patterned fabrics, and my Momma would take it all home and make our dresses from scratch.

It took my Momma weeks to make those Easter dresses, and it was always so hard to wait until they were done. Every few days I would have to come in and try on a piece here and there, and that was all I’d see of the final product. That is, until HEMMING DAY. Hemming day meant that the dresses were almost finished and I got to finally try mine on so she could get the hem just right. I always felt so glamorous the first time I put on my dress for the year. Like a beauty queen. I distinctly remember one year’s version, a yellow patterned dress with beautiful blue and pink ribbons on it. When I put it on, I knew instinctively that I’d be the best dressed person at church that day.

Part Two - Curlers and Eggs

But pretty dresses weren’t the only part of Easter that I loved. There was also the night before, when we would all take our showers and get in a fresh set of pajamas. Then Mom would brush my hair and put it up in those little pink sponge curlers from way back when. They hurt so much to sleep in, but it was totally worth it for those gorgeous bouncing curls. After that, there was egg coloring to do! We would all gather at the dining room table and dye our eggs with an old store-bought kit and a bunch of vinegar. We’d even use that white crayon to write sayings on the eggs then dye them. Then, smelling like little waxy pickles, we’d all go to sleep dreaming of the next day.

There was another Easter, when I was eight or so. We were having a particularly lean year, even by our own standard of meagerness. Us kids went to sleep knowing there wasn’t a good chance that we would be visited by the Easter Bunny that night. But our tummies were full and we had nice, pressed clothes for services the next day. That was enough for us. But right after I drifted off to sleep, I was woken up by a noise next to my bed. I couldn’t tell who was there but I saw a glimpse of a BEAUTIFUL Easter basket full of candy and a doll. I immediately heard a voice say, “Elisabeth, go back to sleep”. So I squeezed my eyes as closed as I could and finally drifted off again. 

When I woke up the next morning, there it was. A really real Easter basket, brimming to the top with candy and toys, JUST FOR ME! My brothers got one too of course. But this was all mine. Hard times might have come and gone, but my parents always did their best to keep our childhoods happy. Of course, that didn’t stop them from making us wait until after dinner to eat our candy. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

Part Three - Hamming It Up

Speaking of Easter dinner, Momma always marked the Easter festivities with a big ol’ country ham for dinner (I say “dinner”, but it was really a little closer to lunch). After the morning service and the post-church egg hunt, we’d walk in the door and get blasted with the smell of ham roasting in the oven. For the occasion, Momma would cover it in a brown sugar and yellow mustard sauce and put it in to roast before church on low heat. By the time we got home again, it was golden brown, caramelized, and irresistible. 

Just before we ate was when my little brother Evan and I turned into expert child chefs. We’d make a sauce for the ham using the same mustard and brown sugar. Maybe a bit of honey too. Then we’d add pepper until it was just right, and dig in like we hadn’t eaten in weeks. 

Also, in true Southern tradition, we always had a relish board, which I still love. It’s a serving plate filled with all things pickled, from Okra, to beets, to pickles. And my family ALWAYS had gherkins (which we called our little gherkin buddies) and black olives, too.  I know there were a ton of other side dishes and vegetables, but all I remember was eating as much pickled items and ham as my stomach could handle. 

Easter is a time that fills my head with memories. So much so that I couldn’t pick just one to share this time around. It was a time for family, community, miracles of candy, and really great food. The only way to top it all off was with an incredible dessert. In the South, we LOVE our sweets, and there’s no better way to usher in the promise of Spring than a nice, fresh, citrus-y bundt cake. It feels as sunny as the longer days do. And trust me, once you try that buttery glaze, you’ll want to have it year-round…which you totally can, by the way! 

Give it a try! You might even forget how good the ham was… 

Citrus Bundt Cake

Makes 1 10 inch cake

The Cake:

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup (2 sticks) of butter, room temperature

2 cups of sugar

4 eggs

2 teaspoon pure vanilla

Zest of 2 oranges

Zest of 2 lemons

1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

The Butter Sauce:

Juice of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 orange

¾ cup Sugar

2 Tablespoons of water

⅓  cup (~5 Tablespoons) Butter

1 Tablespoon of vanilla 

The Glaze:

2 cups of powdered sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 orange

For the cake:

  • In a bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Set it aside. 

  • In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar.

  • Add the vanilla to the eggs and add to the mixer one at a time. Mix to combine.

  • Zest the lemons and oranges directly into the batter. Mix on low to combine. While mixing on low, add half of the flour mixture. Once it begins to mix add all of the buttermilk. Finish the batter with the remaining flour mixture.

  • Pour into a prepared bundt cake pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Let rest in the pan for 15 minutes while you make the butter sauce. 

For the Butter Sauce: 

  • Combine the juices, sugar,water, butter, and vanilla in a saucepan. Heat until butter is melted. Bring to a boil then immediately take the pan off the heat. 

  • Cover the still warm bundt cake with the warm butter sauce. Let cool to room temperature.

For the Glaze:

  • With the powdered sugar in a bowl, add the juices while whisking until the glaze is the consistency that you like. Pour over the cooled bundt cake.

Salt Blurb

All my recipes, sweet or savory, are developed using Diamond Crystal brand Kosher Salt. I prefer to use this brand because the pieces of salt are big enough to pick up the grains easily, they dissolve into the recipe completely, and I rarely ever fear that I will oversalt a recipe. However, if you purchase the more widely available Morton brand Kosher Salt, more grains fit in the measuring spoons so it tastes saltier in the finished product. For every teaspoon in a recipe using Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, use a half teaspoon of Morton Kosher Salt.

Table salt is usually iodized with added anti-caking ingredients and is mostly sodium chloride. This does not allow it to dissolve completely into your recipe. If this is what you have at home, it will still work, so don’t worry! It only affects the saltiness of your finished product . A good rule of thumb is if you are using table salt reduce the recipe amount of salt by half. 

I always keep a box of Maldon brand Sea Salt Flakes on hand as well. The flakes of this salt look like tiny little pyramids because of the way the salt is made. I don’t use this for baking or cooking but this is a great finishing salt. Try using a couple flakes on your finished cookies or as a final touch on top of your steak. The pop of saltiness is a great professional touch. 

This is just the tip of the salt iceberg! An article I found illuminating when I started geeking out on salt was the Epicurious article Prevent Measurement Mishaps With This Simple Salt Conversion Chart. So if you want to go even deeper into the different types of salt, this is a great resource.

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