Snow and Spring

We’re feeling a little battered up here by our fourth nor’easter in three weeks.  It adds insult to injury that it’s snowing on the second day of spring.  At least the daffodils and tulips haven’t started to bloom yet, so they aren’t freezing or covered with snow.

This time of year I long for bright colors and warmth.  Too many months of black and white and gray make spring seem even further away.  Maybe it’s time to make an Easter basket and pretend the snow isn’t there.

My mother loved dyeing eggs, in the most vivid shades possible.  She’d dip them until they were deep purple or robin’s egg blue.  No pastels for her!  She also loved to shop for my Easter basket.  She knew I loved stuffed animals, so every year I got one along with the chocolate rabbit and the other candy in my basket.  She still made Easter baskets for me when I was in high school.

Mother was also a fan of the elaborate cakes featured in Good Housekeeping and other “women’s magazines” for holidays.  One year she tried to duplicate one for Easter that used tiered cake pans (like a wedding cake), decorated with coconut nests dyed green and jelly beans for Easter eggs.  I think the cake must have been too “short” (too much butter/shortening) because the layers crumbled as she iced it.  It ended up looking like a mountain with coconut nests clinging to the sides.

My nephew and I told her it was pretty and ate big slices when she cut it.  And it was delicious!  It just didn’t look like the magazine picture.

I wish you and yours the colors of Easter eggs, the sweetness of chocolate, and lots of spring flowers!

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In My Easter Basket

Ours were not this pretty!
Ours were not this pretty!

When I was a child, Easter meant dressing up for church on Easter Sunday, maybe even with a hat and gloves in my youngest years.  Daddy gave each of us girls a corsage to pin to our dress.  In good years it was an orchid, and in bad years it was a carnation.  So the celebration involved spring and going to church, as we did every Sunday, but with extra accessories.

For me the best part of Easter was the Easter basket which the Easter Bunny left for me.  Mother and I would color eggs with one of those Paas kits, robin’s egg blue, bright pink, pale yellow.  But these didn’t go in the basket.  The basket was always a surprise, even when I got to be a teenager.

Mother loved any holiday and believed strongly in special food and decorations.  One year she made an Easter cake for my nephew John B. which she had seen in Good Housekeeping or some other magazine.   It was a from-scratch white cake in graduated pans like a traditional wedding cake, with coconut frosting, and little nests of coconut dyed green holding multi-colored jelly beans. It was really cute, except the cake was too “short” (i.e., full of butter or, more likely, Crisco) and the layers crumbled as she tried to frost it.  John B. loved it anyway; I think he said it was an “Easter mountain.”

Mother in her guise as the Easter Bunny got the ingredients for the basket and put them together–colored fake grass, jelly beans, and a chocolate rabbit.  The rabbit was always hollow and not huge, because chocolate rabbits were expensive.  She never had such treats when she was a child, growing up on a farm before the Great Depression.  I never questioned why the Easter Bunny used the same basket every year!

But the best treat to me was the stuffed animal.  I loved stuffed animals and collected them, sleeping with my favorites.   Even as I got older Mother got me one.  One year she let me pick it out from the offerings at this old drug store in town.  It was a rabbit, but a brown one with longer fur that looked like a real rabbit, and was soft and squishy.  I loved that one dearly.

Happy Easter to everyone.  Spring is here at last, after an awfully long winter.

Country Ham for Easter

Smokehouse in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Smokehouse in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I have been hunting for a recipe for this, through all my white trash cookbooks.  I have not found a thing, not in the Cracker Barrel cookbooks, or Miss Daisy Celebrates Tennessee, or even my mother’s Sunday School class cookbook from the ’80s.  So I will try to remember what I saw, and write it down for you.

Pap, Daddy’s father, loved country ham, and he liked it boiled.  So that’s what Mother did for Easter.  The ham had been cured by storing it in a salt pack (buried in salt in a bin) and then it was smoked in the smokehouse for several days.  All this was done in the fall after the frost came, and in the early winter.

The ham was left to hang in the smokehouse and dry until wanted.  You could also put it back in the salt, as I recall, but I couldn’t swear to that.

When it was time to consider cooking it, Mother took it out and plunged a knife close to the bone, bringing it out to smell.  This is how she could tell if the ham was good or had spoiled.  If it smelled good, then she went to the next stage.

The country ham was soaked in a lard can full of water for a couple of hours, to get some of the salt out of it.  When that was over, Mother built a fire in the back yard.  The ham went back into a clean lard can which was filled with water up to a few inches from the rim.  She put the lid on, and hefted the heavy load onto the fire.  The ham cooked in the lard can for up to four hours.  I’m not sure how she decided when to take it off the fire.

When she removed it, she immediately wrapped the can in quilts and left it.  The ham continued cooking for some hours.

End result?  Sweet, moist, smoky country ham, not salty, very tender.

The New York Times article today made me remember this process!  Thanks to them for helping me recall how you cook a real country ham!

P.S.  Pap loved this.  He said Mother cooked the best ham he ever had.