Thursday, April 17, 2014

Easter Food

As the long weekend approaches and meal planning begins, I'm thinking about Easter food. The Easter Sunday meal has always seemed a poor cousin to Christmas and Thanksgiving although it is the highest of holy holidays in the Catholic calendar.

We often had turkey or ham for this meal. By ham, I mean fresh, unsmoked pork shoulder slathered in mustard, brown sugar with cloves poking through the meat. We would have a big roast with the leftovers tasting minty from the cloves served in sandwiches for days afterwards. It was one of my earliest recollections of wanting to eat the fat where most of the flavour rested. If I could easily find a recipe, I would have linked to it. Even in its reduced state, this was one of the biggest meals of the season. What I have more food memories about is Lent.

Lent is that time before Easter where we had to give something up and eat fish on Fridays. Usually, as kids we would give up dessert or candy making the Easter Bunny arrival all that sweeter. The arrival of Lent often meant that the snow was so deep in the bush that my father would be laid off work. He worked in the bush cutting trees or taking the trees to a landing (skidding) where they could be loaded onto trucks to be taken to mills.

This meant a couple of things. Money become tighter due to reduced income and my dad had more influence on food. We would begin to open our reserves and preserves. The deer meat would come out of the freezer. The last bits of the half cow or pig that was slaughtered and sent to the butcher to be wrapped would start making the way onto our plates. There was canned beef and venison that would make a quick meal fried with fried onions and served with mashed potatoes. The potatoes themselves would have to be hauled up from the cellar and you could see the age as the skins became wrinkled and hard to peel. The onions that came up were not always the ones that we had grew in the garden but sometimes purchased in 10lb bags. If Lent was late that year, eyes and yellow green tops could be seen from these basement dwellers.

What I remember most is all the fishing that was done. Dad would go ice fishing in hopes to get some fish for that night's dinner and of course, for Fridays when we could not eat meat. When we were unlucky, there was fish sticks on occasion, the only fish I would eat. Even thought there was lake trout and ling (fresh water cod), I would eat very little of it. The story is that I used to eat fish a lot but choked on a bone when I was small and never eat fish again. In truth, I will only occasionally eat fish but never have taken up the habit again. We would collect the fish grease and use it over and over again until the fish started tasting too fishy and it would be time to ditch the grease.

With the fish, we would often serve fresh fries made from those old Kennebec potatoes which I still believe make the best french fries. They would be cut thicker and I would be in charge of cooking them. The first batch in oil always came out pale and white and only slightly crispy. It is only in recent years that I found out that this always happens with fresh oil. The process was very messy. I don`t do it now because it is hard to find old potatoes in the store and Kennebec potatoes are not found there.

Other than fish and fries, the other food that reminds me of Lent is macaroni and tomatoes. When I started working when I was fourteen years old, I would often miss the Friday fish fry which didn`t bother me that much because of the whole not caring for fish thing but it set me off on a course of cooking. If I was hungry after working on Friday, I would come home and make some boiled macaroni, drain and add a can of tinned tomatoes after buttering and salting the pasta generously. After dishing it into the bowl, I would speckle it with black pepper and eat. Being a teenager, I would often demolish a whole tin of tomatoes with a half pound of pasta by myself before heading up to bed.

So, while I now I savour hot cross buns and plan to eat peameal bacon breakfast with a smoked ham lunch, I sometimes miss the other `lesser`traditions of Easter. It is hard even to achieve that food of fresh caught fish with french fries made from last year`s crop of old potatoes. Even in rural areas, these foods are disappearing for the sake of convenience foods. I`m not some old guy being in my early forties but these foodways are leaving and I miss them.

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