The glorious colors of Spring are beginning to paint the landscape here in the South, along with our nemesis, that sticky, yellow-green pollen dust from the tall pines. My red car is covered in the stuff, but I don’t need to see the pollen to know it’s there, my fits of coughing and itchy, eyes let me know Spring has sprung!
Along with the misery, is the hope Easter brings. New life is abundant in the flowers blooming to their fullest glory, while various birds sing their praises of survival through the bitter cold of winter.
This time of year reminds me of so many Easter celebrations of years past. My mother made Easter as much of an event to be anticipated as Christmas morning. Waking up to a big basket filled with the many colors of flavorful candies and a huge, bunny made of delicious chocolate, is still a memory I cherish. Coloring eggs with the famous Paas food dye kits were as much fun as the holiday itself. This was only a building up to a luncheon with the main attraction, Mom’s Easter ham.
The large ham would be prepared on a large platter surrounded by greens and coated with orange extract, then, much to the delight of my brothers and I, set aflame with the single strike of a match. Watching the spectacle was akin to watching a fireworks show on the Fourth-of-July.
Mom has always gone out of her way to make holidays special. She doesn’t cook much anymore as her battle with Essential Tremor makes it difficult on her best days to handle the complexities of cooking. But as the season turns to warmer temperatures and longer days, I still can’t pass by a ham display at the local grocery store without thinking of that special Easter ham.
There are ways to make the star of the day more tasty and attractive without breaking your bank account. Here, I share my mother’s helpful advice for a fail-proof ham.
- First, make sure to check prices from your local grocery stores. In the weeks before Easter, most stores will run specials hoping to pull loyal customers from their regular markets to the one with the biggest price cuts.
- After you have removed all the packaging, place the ham in your sink for a good long rinse under cold water. The rinse will remove all the surface salt the ham has been coated in by the brand company. Don’t worry that this will reduce the salty flavor from the ham, the meat will still have its natural saltiness, just not the overkill of the sodium that ruins the flavor of the ham.
- Don’t rush through. prepare some of the side items to your meal in advance. Potato salad, for example can be made up to two days ahead. Green beans were always served with the ham instead of asparagus. Mom knew our palates would not take to anything so exotic as vegetables we didn’t normally eat during the rest of the year. This is not the time to surprise everyone with something you are not sure they would partake of any other day of the year. It is nonsense to waste time and money, let alone food, when folks will not eat it.
- Wether a buffet or table setting; relax, let others set out flatware and beverage glasses. Send out food to the table and dispense with elaborate decorations. People don’t talk about the way your table looked in the years to come. People remember how good the food tasted and how special the day was.
- Make deep, criss-cross cuts into the ham before cooking. Place a whole clove deep into each of the “squares,” created by the knife cuts. Allow the ham to cook as long as required to achieve the flavor to come through. Baste the ham with orange juice while the ham is cooking will help dispense of any saltiness and create a richer flavor to the ham once the extract is added.
- Arrange the ham on the platter and surround with salad greens mixed with peeled orange slices. Add a few cranberries for color if you like.
- Finally, pour the orange extract over the ham, generously. Use up all the liquid. Don’t hold back some for “use later.” Trust me, unless you have some special recipe that calls for orange extract, you will never buy another bottle until next Easter.
Now, strike a match, and set the ham ablaze! Watch everyone, especially the children, ooh and ahh over the magical moment as the bright orange and red flame jumps and waves into a blue light, then quietly slows down and disappear into the checkerboard pattern of ham and clove.
As I celebrate my one-year anniversary of this blog. I thank all the followers and wish them a Happy Easter and the filled promise of that first Easter celebrated so long ago.