Ever since I was a little girl, Easter has been my favorite holiday.
No, there are no presents to unwrap, but there are baskets filled with chocolate. There aren’t fancy Easter parties like Christmas or New Year’s Eve, but there are outdoor picnics. Nothing is flavored pumpkin spice, but there is usually a fruit-flavored cake like strawberry or fresh orange.
There are no fireworks or visits from flying reindeer or costumes to wear, but there are brightly-colored eggs, soft bunnies and yellow chicks, and new pastel dresses and white shoes.
Easter is the most important Christian holiday of the entire year, as we celebrate our salvation through Christ’s sacrifice for us. It also represents rebirth, as Jesus rose from the dead.
Because it is celebrated in the spring, Easter is overflowing with new beginnings – flowers blooming, trees budding, and all of nature awakening from a long winter’s nap.
When I think of Easter, I think of family, particularly my grandparents, Charlie and Thelma Sexton.
Unlike Christmas when my grandmother was stressed to bursting at the 50-plus people crammed in her house for a sit-down meal, a Bible reading, carols, and an exchange of gifts, Easter was also my grandmother’s favorite holiday.
After church in new dresses, Mother, as most of DeSoto County called my grandmother, helped prepare a casual lunch of chicken salad sandwiches, deviled eggs, and potato salad. My mother always made her fried chicken (still the best ever) and her strawberry cake, and my aunts would bring chocolate pies, taco salad, and other chilled dishes.
Most years, we ate at picnic tables outside, which my grandmother adored most because we weren’t messing up her clean house.
And after lunch, all the Sexton grandchildren hunted eggs. It was a serious competition, and a time or two, things got physical as we fought for the one egg that was traditionally stuffed in the muffler of my grandfather’s seafoam green Ford pickup. Most years, he would have to crank the truck and let the egg shoot out of that rusted pipe like a Roman candle.
At the end of the day, my cousins and I would sit around on the front porch counting our loot with dye-stained hands. I remember Momma lining the dyed eggs up in the refrigerator when we got home to use in an egg or tuna salad so no egg went to waste.
These days, after being hid in the flower bed and juggled in Dean’s sweaty hands, real Easter eggs go straight into the trash. Except for that one that gets mixed up in the plastic eggs and starts stinking after a day or two – a Ferguson Easter tradition every single year without fail.
As you prepare for your own perfect Easter lunch, try something new with those traditional picnic recipes. These are some of my favorite variations on Southern favorites to add a little flare to your traditional Easter table.
One of my favorite restaurants in Memphis serves smoked salmon deviled eggs, and the chef tops hers with a garnish of caviar, cultivated from sturgeon in the Arkansas River. (Yes, that is a growing industry.) Now, my Delta-raised husband, Keith, would not allow me to go that fancy or expensive with some deviled eggs even if the sturgeon were raised in the Yazoo River, but the smoked salmon deviled eggs are addictive.
Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs
8 hardboiled eggs
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons dill pickle juice
1 tablespoon creamed horseradish
2 teaspoons mustard
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
3 ounces smoked salmon, skin and bones removed
1 tablespoon fresh dill, stems removed and chopped finely
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped finely
Peel eggs, and cut in half. Gently scoop yolks out of whites, and mash yolks with a fork or food processor until fine. Add mayonnaise and sour cream. Beat with a food processor, or mixer, until light and creamy.
Beat in pickle juice, horseradish, mustard, garlic, smoked paprika, and ground pepper. Scrape sides of bowl well.
Add smoked salmon, dill, and chives. Beat until well combined.
Taste filling and add salt if needed. Divide filling between eggs. Garnish as desired.
Many years ago, I discovered a recipe for Texas-style potato salad. Since the first time I made it, I began my tweaks, and today, I have no idea what the actual recipe calls dictates. I make it according to taste, and with almost a pound of bacon crumbled into it, there is plenty of that.
Garnish as desired.
Texas-Style Potato Salad
1 pound bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
3 pounds red potatoes, cubed and cooked with skin on
6-8 green onions, chopped
6 hardboiled eggs, chopped
1-1 ½ cups mayonnaise (Use more depending on taste. I just eyeball it, but beware of using too much.)
½ cup Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix ingredients. Serve warm or chilled, depending on taste.
At my first job as a journalist, the classified clerk at The Southaven Press made Mandarin Orange Cake. There is no cake lighter or screams springtime like a three-layer Mandarin Orange Cake.
Mandarin Orange Cake
1 box yellow cake mix
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 can (11 ounces) mandarin oranges, drained (reserve 1/3 cup liquid)
1 can (20 ounce) crushed pineapple, undrained
1 box (small box) vanilla instant pudding
1 container (8 ounces) Cool Whip, thawed
In large bowl, combine cake mix, oil, eggs, mandarin oranges, and reserved 1/3 cup orange liquid together.
Beat with electric mixture on low speed for 30 seconds, then on medium speed for 2 minutes.
Pour mixture into three greased 8-inch round cake pans or a 13x9 baking dish. Bake 35-40 minutes at 350. Cool completely, about 1 hour.
In medium bowl, combine crushed pineapple and dry pudding mix. Stir together until well blended. Add whipped topping to mixture. Gently stir until mixture is completely combined.
Layer frosting between three cakes and coat top and sides. Refrigerate until completely chilled.
My grandmother made the best chicken salad in the world, and it was a Sexton family tradition for Mother to make chicken salad at EVERY family dinner. Her secret was all about the chicken and the brand of mayonnaise. Mother boiled an entire hen (not a fryer, but a hen), deboned it, and pinched the meat into tiny pieces. Then she used Blue Plate mayonnaise – there is a difference, people.
Mother’s Chicken Salad
1 whole hen, boiled and deboned
3-4 hardboiled eggs
5-6 stalks of celery, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup Blue Plate Mayonnaise (Or more according to taste, but do not over mayonnaise.)
Mix ingredients together. Chill prior to serving.