This time of year I find that food turns into a time machine. As Easter quickly approaches I travel back to my childhood becoming 12 again.
A time when dying eggs was an all day project that lived on under your fingernails in crescent moons of red, blue and green. Clear waxed crayons would let you draw or write mystery messages that only appeared after dipping them into jars of warm dye.
Holidays were always my mother’s moments and no one did Easter as well as she did. Each kid had their part of the living or dining room where the Easter Bunny would hide the decorated eggs — the center prize being our very own basket.
A nest of shredded colored paper layered the woven bottom where jellybeans would jiggle down to be found just when you thought all had been eaten. A full array of yellow and pink Peeps, shoulder to shoulder with petite foil-wrapped chocolate marshmallow bunnies, surrounded a large hollow bunny stamped to look just like the rabbits on the pages of our fairy tales.
After all the eggs had been found, like clockwork, our Aunt Ethel’s package would appear. My Grandfather Briar’s sister was considered to be an “Old Maid” — never married, no children and not really liberated. Her father had left her inheritance in a trust fund that didn’t provide for her by the 1950s, which required her to work in her later years. Of course, as kids we thought that we were the luckiest ones around to have an aunt who worked at the candy counter in Wanamaker’s.
Aunt Ethel’s Easter eggs came carefully cushioned in layers of white tissue paper creased and folded smooth. To protect the script names, each egg was individually wrapped in clear cellophane gathered and twisted on top secured with a thin strand of real ribbon tied into a small bow. There would be no fighting about who got which egg since they were clearly marked as yours. Names in white surrounded by new growth green vines, each tipped with crafted candy flower buds in pastels of yellow, blue or pink. Inside the thick chocolate coat was a mystery flavor, hidden until mom would slice each egg carefully with a knife too sharp for a child to wield. Chocolate, vanilla crème, coconut, or sometimes even tiny chunks of candied fruit glued together with white sweetness, only to be revealed then.
Not a very good day-to-day cook, my mother would excel at Easter. Canned ham was spiked with whole cloves to hold up golden rings of pineapple — always packed in syrup back then, never in juice. Each empty center ready to be filled with a maraschino cherry tacked in place with the point of a toothpick. If you helped in the kitchen, chances were good that you would be rewarded with a taste of the coveted red cherry juice, sipped straight out of the jar. Canned sweet potatoes lost their tin-taste under a thick layer of gooey toasted marshmallows. Green beans would bathe in real butter, not oleo, for the holiday table. Of course no dessert was necessary. The Easter bunny’s bounty left plenty of sweets for us to eat all day and into the night. Once all the dishes were done we turned on the TV to watch the same show, all together, at the same time.
So, it’s no wonder that I love Easter time and all its many tastes. That the simple sight of grocery shelves loaded with sugar and chocolate transport me to a different time. A time when I was young and all was possible. When I could run like the wind and read without glasses. With my mother feeling accomplished, smiling and gay, and we were a family if only for that day.