The Easter that almost wasn’t
This is a belated post about Easter. We’ve had a busy week in our family. My mom went into the hospital in New York on Wednesday for surgery and I’ve been down there every day. But I wanted to put my thoughts out here on Easter and our traditions because this year they were tested â€” and stood up to the test.
We learned last month that my mom would be having surgery in March, but we didn’t know which date. This immediately put our usual plans for Easter in flux. For the past three years, my mom and my husband’s two sisters and parents have gathered at our house. The first time was the year I was pregnant with the Pumpkin. It was a wonderful day. We were so joyful with anticipation of the baby. And I was so excited to share my family’s traditional Polish Easter recipes with my husband’s Italian family. (Even if I had to keep going outside to get fresh air to clear up my morning sickness.) The next year was even more special. Pumpkin, who was born three months early, had been forbidden from contact with other kids until she was 15 pounds â€” a milestone she had just reached around Easter. Easter 2006 was the first time she met her cousins. Last year was special, too, as Pumpkin participated in an egg hunt for the first time, and enjoyed chocolate Easter bunny for the first time.
So, when the complication of the surgery came up this year, I was initially reluctant to cancel Easter. We hoped my mom would be a few weeks past her surgery and ready to celebrate. Then, a series of events put those hopes on hold. Her surgery ended up moving to the end of March. My mother-in-law got sick with a condition she’s still recovering from. And my sister-in-law’s family had some troubles of their own. No one was up for a big Easter celebration outside their own homes. My first reaction to the breakup of our usually big party of nine adults and six kids was to wonder whether it would be worth the trouble of cooking for the smaller gathering of my husband, my mom, myself and Pumpkin. We contemplated going out to a brunch, but in the end, I decided to make the feast.
Last Saturday, the Pumpkin and I went down to the Yonkers Miasarnia on Lockwood Avenue and bought a WHOLE Polish ham and a kielbasa as well as a poppy-seed coffee cake and a babka. That night, we dyed Easter eggs and I baked the cake part of our annual bunny cake. (My mom made the boiled frosting the next morning and applied the coconut and licorice whiskers and jellybean eyes.)Â I got up early on Easter and got the ham in the oven and peeled and chopped potatoes. I prepped the asparagus for roasting in the oven while the ham rested. Shortly before the ham was ready, I started boiling the sauage for the traditional Barscz, or white Polish Easter soup. It’s a cream soup made with the broth of Polish sausage that I’ve eaten nearly every Easter of my life since childhood. Making it for Pumpkin got me thinking about how tradition-bound we become when we become parents. It’s not Easter for me without Barscz â€” and it makes me happy to imagine that one day Pumpkin will feel the same way.
1 loop of traditional kielbasa
3 tablespoons flour
2 eggs, room temperature
1 pint heavy cream
1/4 cup cider vinegar
horseradish to taste
roasted Polish ham slices
Slice kielbasa into 2-inch pieces and boil until skin starts to pop. Remove from water. Add flour to cold water in a separate cup until it’s smooth. Add to the boiling sausage broth and cook for a few minutes. In a Pyrex cup or similar vessel, place eggs and beat. Start adding broth a few teaspoons at a time, beating all the while in order to “temper” the eggs. The idea is to get them to a warm temperature without cooking or curdling them. Add eggs to broth. Add heavy cream. Bring near a boil, but don’t boil. Add vinegar to taste. Add salt and white pepper to taste. At this point, we were done. We would then slice up the eggs and sausage and ham in a bowl, pour on the Barscz and throw in a dollop of horseradish. Yum! You might, however, opt to add the horseradish to the pot of soup for a less strong flavor. Either way, this is what the final result looks like:
And, to put the passage of time in perspective for us parents, here is Pumpkin’s first Easter and her most recent: