Try a taste of Easter
By Erin Schurenberg
For many Catholics, the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord begins with a special breakfast and continues after Mass with a big family dinner. What is served and whether that menu differs yearly seems to vary greatly.
Early Christian converts carried over the Jewish tradition of eating roast lamb on Passover to their Easter celebration. Referring to Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” also accounts for this food being the Easter mainstay food for many. Martha Queenan of St. Dominic Parish in Delhi was raised with certain menu customs passed down by her maternal grand-mother.
“Although this memory is several decades old, I recall that breakfast began with homemade coffee cake heavy on butter and sugar,” Queenan recalled.
“Our dining table centerpiece had chocolate covered marshmallow crosses, home dyed Easter eggs and fresh flowers. While we didn’t have lamb any other time of the year, lamb was the Easter main course. My mother would talk to people who complained lamb was too strong tasting. She would reply that mutton wasn’t lamb. She bought ours from the local butcher and it was always delicious. The lamb was served with a fresh mint sauce. Up until the 1980’s my husband and I made the sauce homemade. Today, we still use mint sauce but we buy a grocery bottle version.”
For more than 20 years, Dave Langen of St. Ignatius Parish in Monfort Heights worked in the family butcher shop with his brothers, Greg and Jim. The latter two continue to run Langen Meats in White Oak today. Their grandfather began his butcher shop in the city. Their father and his brother moved the store to White Oak in the 1960s.
“Ham was the most popular meat the store sold for customers’ Easter menus, but rack or leg of lamb was often sold, too,” Langen said.
His wife, Jennifer, took over the cooking when they married. Although she’s not keen on cream of mushroom soup, she is usually willing to make Langen’s favorite Easter side dish, au gratin potatoes. Langen can recite the recipe off the top of his head: “Peeled white potatoes cut to ¼ or ½ inch thick, layered in a butter-greased casserole dish with undiluted cream of mushroom soup, sliced onions and shredded cheddar cheese. The layers are repeated until there’s no room left in the dish. Bake an hour to 90 minutes in a 400 degree oven.”
“You can use low fat mushroom soup or dilute it with water, but it’s not as good,” he added. Traditionally, hams were cured over the winter, thus would be ready to eat by spring’s arrival. Another reason for ham’s popularity on Easter menus is that a ham will feed a larger gathering. Father Ned Brown, pastor of the Fort Recovery Catholic Cluster, which includes, Mary Help of Christians, St. Joseph, St. Paul and St. Peter, has a reputation as a good cook. His mother’s tradition was to serve Easter ham. Now Father Brown does the Easter cooking. While he might serve ham to his folks, he seems just as likely to improvise. Fond of using either his grill or smokers, Father Brown’s Easter dinner may feature bacon wrapped filet mignon. He learned to cook in the seminary when he was 23 years old. The novices came from all over the world, so the kitchen was almost literally a melting pot where dishes like paella were served.
Today, Father Brown can make his own ravioli and whips up creative soups like bean, barley or wild rice without breaking a sweat. Lenten soup suppers on Fridays feature his clam chowder after Stations of the Cross. Father Brown has also put his cooking skills to good use organizing a prime rib dinner for 20 that raised $3,000, and $1,600 with the raffling of four different pies in a local contest. The latter pie coup was accomplished with baking help from his niece, Carly Dunlap. When she’s not helping her uncle create an unforgettable blue-berry and strawberry pie, she’s the youth minister for the Fort Recovery Catholic Cluster.
For 26 years, Kathy Nemeth was the food services director at the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati motherhouse. She managed a staff of 55 people, and they served an Easter supper to a diverse group of 300 sisters. Roast beef was very often the main Easter course, but with a full-time baker, the Sisters could be sure holidays would feature a king cake, hot cross buns, or other familial food traditions.
Easter doesn’t have to blow the budget. The director of Cooking for the Family of St. Francis Seraph Ministries, Jamie Stoneham, said, “I’m a huge advocate of checking out recipes online when you plan for special meals like Easter. There’s a plethora of options, and if you put ‘budget friendly’ into your search terms, you’ll find people have done your work for you. Just keep it simple, and plan meals where you can do most of the prep a couple days to a week ahead of time.”
Editor’s Note: The Catholic Telegraph Mass Time Calendar has times for Blessing of the Easter Baskets, or Blessing of the Easter Food throughout the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. For more, click here
Here are a few links with recipes: