Monday, April 22, 2019

Spring Holidays: Traditions and Memories by #OurAuthorGang Authors

Today the authors of OAG share stories. Enjoy!

In many religions, the spring equinox is an incredibly important time. It represents new light, new life, and new beginnings.

Trees and bushes that lost their leaves over the winter begin to grow new leaves again and also flower in spring. This happens because the temperature of the air and soil starts to warm up and the hours of daylight increase as the days get longer with the coming of spring.

Enjoy the short stories told by the OAG authors.

Dandelion Wine

My dad always had big gardens and big ideas about what to do with the things harvested from the garden. Along with what he grew in the garden he also liked to find unique ways to make use of other things in nature. So, keeping that in mind, one Easter when I was growing up, not sure how old I was my dad decided he wanted to try his hand at making wine. He didn’t plan on making your regular grape wine, although we did grow grapes. Instead he chose something that one might not normally consider a normal thing that was harvested from a garden. No, he wanted to make Dandelion wine.

So, the afternoon of that Easter Sunday rolls around. We had gone to mass in the morning and collected our Easter baskets. I’m not sure if my grandparents had already arrived or if we were still waiting for them, but Dad decided it was the best time to pick the dandelions. So, he sent us girls out to go up the dirt road that we lived on and pick all the dandelions we could find. Not an activity my sisters and I particularly relished doing, but you didn’t question Dad. We changed out of our Easter best and loaded with buckets set out to pick the dandelions. Not sure how long we were out there, but we did get quite a few dandelions.

A few days later the time had come for Dad to make his wine. I don’t remember the process; I just remember the bottles of wine fermenting in our basement. Then one evening as we were all settling down for a relaxing evening, we heard a loud “POP” coming from the basement. This was followed by several more pops. When we went to the basement to figure out what was happening, we discovered that the bottles of Dandelion wine had exploded.

So, after all of our hard work picking those lovely flowers, I don’t think anyone ever got to drink the resulting wine.

A Rhode Islander’s Recipe to Celebrate an Italian Easter Tradition

Rice pie (torta di riso), is an Italian dessert consisting of eggs, rice, ricotta cheese, and citrus. After baking, it becomes a bottom layer of chewy rice topped with a separate layer of creamy custard.
In 1524, Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazano was the first European to visit any part of Rhode Island.  He came to what is now Block Island and named it “Luisa” after Louise of Savoy, Queen mother of France.  Due to a mistake in surveying the land, the original name didn’t stick. Since one of the six largest ancestry groups in the state is that of the Italians, eating rice pie is a celebratory Easter tradition which has stuck.

My maternal grandmother who emigrated from Naples, Italy to Rhode Island made her “crustless” rice pies from memory, as does my mother who finally scribbled the recipe on a card for posterity.   I have merely reduced the ingredients from the original recipe to yield one pie rather than six, though this dessert is irresistible and begs indulgence throughout the year.

9 eggs
1 ½ cups white sugar
1 (32 oz.) ricotta cheese (may use skim, fat free, or reduced fat)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups light cream
1 cup cooked white rice (River for starchy consistency)
1 (15 ounce) can, crushed pineapple—drained; or the juice of two
squeezed lemons with lemon zest (depending on your flavor preference for pineapple or lemon)
¼ teaspoon cinnamon for dusting the top of the pie before placing in oven

1. Beat eggs in large mixing bowl.  Add sugar, mixing well. Stir in ricotta and vanilla until smooth.  Add cream and stir.  Fold in cooked rice and either crushed pineapples or lemon juice/zest.
2. Pour mixture into a Crisco greased, lightly floured 9 ½ by 13 ½ in. Pyrex dish.  Sprinkle cinnamon on top.
3. Bake at 325 degrees F for one hour—top should be golden brown; toothpick test.  Refrigerate until thoroughly cooled.  Tastes best served at room temperature right from its baking dish.

Though pastry chefs at Italian bakeries rise to the occasion to follow their own tried and true recipes for baking rice pies, you might want to establish your own family tradition in the kitchen. Generations of Italian-Americans who settled in Rhode Island have done just that by whisking ingredients for a recipe celebrating a family who sticks together.

Easter Bunny

Fourteen years of food rationing in Britain officially ended at midnight on 4 July 1954. With the restriction on the sale and purchase of meat and bacon finally lifted, the British people could once again enjoy meat and two veg for Sunday lunch.

Only, they couldn’t. Money was scarce, and the meat in the shops was too expensive for most families. The rich could eat well, the rest of the population survived on anything they could.

But what has this got to do with Easter?

I didn’t eat a bar of chocolate until I was eleven years old and I guess it was a few years later before I was given a nicely wrapped chocolate egg to enjoy. Kids like me didn’t know any better, and why should we? What you didn’t know, didn’t affect you.

The Easter bunny never existed for my sister and I. We didn’t have a television set and thus knew little about the Easter holidays. All the family went to church but on looking back, the preaching flew over our heads. However, I always remember eating fresh meat over the Easter period.

It was many years later before I eventually found out why we had kept so many lovely bunny rabbits in our garden.

Needs must, as they say.

Easter Monday and Tuesday Tradition

The locsolkodás (sprinkling) is a unique Hungarian tradition which dates back to centuries.
Although it's a symbol of fertilization and the start of new life, it's also a form of fun socialization and strengthening of family bond and friendship.

On Monday, young boys and teenagers get together with their friends and hide with bucketful of water behind trees and bushes. Girls walk the streets in groups and pretend to be surprised and squeal with delight when the boys douse them with water from head to toe. The girls reward them with painted eggs.

Easter Tuesday it's the girls' turn to ensure the future fertility of boys by saturating them with water, and yes, boys 

Men visit all the women in their families, friends, and neighbors. At each stop, they recite a short locsolóvers (sprinkling poem) and sprinkle perfume or scented water on the hair of the women.

The men must recite a poem, either traditional or ones they come up with such as:
I was walking in a green forest,
and saw a blue violet.
It had started to wilt,
may I sprinkle it?

The women offer them a few bite from the traditional Hungarian breakfast plate and pálinka (strong brandy).
Refusing pálinka is impolite, so you can imagine how drunk the men get by the time they finish visiting every woman they know.

Sweet Easter Treat

The traditional Hungarian Easter breakfast is rich to begin with but made even richer with the dual purpose palate cleanser/dessert, the sweet cheese.

Growing up we never had ice-water or soda on the table, it was not (and still not) part of the Hungarian diet to mix warm food with icy drinks. If the food called for a drink such as breakfast, we had hot tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, but never cold milk.

Other nations use neutral flavor ice-cream to cleanse the palate between dishes, we had a bite of sweet-cheese between ham and sausage to neutralize the taste and cleanse the palate. But for kids, this was a very tasty breakfast treat.

1 quart milk
10 eggs
1.5 cups sugar
salt to taste
Watch the video to see how it's made: