Family favorites for Easter

By AMANDA SEXTON FERGUSON,

Easter is my favorite holiday.  I love the new pastel dresses and white shoes, picnic lunches on the lawn, and multi-colored eggs peeking from beneath a blossoming azalea.

My grandmother, Thelma Sexton, loved Easter as much as I do.  Mother, as most everyone in DeSoto County knew her, loved Easter because the winter’s chill was almost gone and the family could gather outside and not mess up her clean house.  (Although she wasn’t keen on folks tramping on her prized peonies either.)

It has been a tradition in my family to serve Mother’s homemade chicken salad every year, and although she has been gone many years, this tradition remains.  My sister, Stephanie, the one who likes to pretend she cannot cook, can make a pretty-dang-close version of the original that we enjoy every year.

Mother had two secrets that made her chicken salad the perfect sandwich stuffer – using a whole hen verses a frying chicken because of its richness and finely chopping all the ingredients.

Thelma Sexton’s Chicken Salad

1 whole hen

5-6 stalks of celery, finely chopped

3 boiled eggs, chopped

1-2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

Blue Plate Mayonnaise (the brand makes all the difference)

Salt and pepper to taste

Boil hen and de-bone.  Chop into fine pieces. Mix ingredients. Take care not to use too much mayonnaise.

My Momma, Dot Sexton, is famous for many of her kitchen creations – fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, lemon icebox pies, homemade biscuits – but one of her most requested dishes at the church or family potluck was her famous strawberry cake.

When Momma’s health declined from Alzheimer’s, the recipe for the strawberry cake seemed lost to time.  You see, the recipe was stored in her memory, and that is the first thing that horrible disease robbed from her. 

However, while scrolling through Pinterest one evening, my sister, Deana, found a near perfect match to Momma’s cake and made it for the family.  Daddy made himself sick on that lovely cake and the nostalgia of days gone by.

Strawberry Coconut Pecan Cake

Cake:

1 box white cake mix

1 (3 ounce) box strawberry gelatin

1 cup coconut

1 cup chopped pecan

1 (16 ounce) container of frozen strawberries, thawed, mashed and divided

4 large eggs

1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil

1/2 cup milk

Icing:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 (1 pound) box of powdered sugar, sifted

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup coconut

About 1/4 cup of the remaining mashed strawberries, more or less

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with non-stick spray; set aside.

Add the cake mix, gelatin, 1 cup of the coconut and 1 cup of the pecans to a large mixing bowl; stir to combine. Add 1 cup of the mashed strawberries and the eggs, oil, and milk; beat at medium speed with an electric hand mixer until well blended. Pour into prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely.

For the icing, use a mixer to cream together the butter and sugar. Fold in the remaining 1/4 cup of the pecans and coconut. Add only enough of the remaining mashed strawberries to make the icing spreadable. Spread over the cooled cake. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator.

Easter is the holiest of Christian holidays where we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and mankind’s salvation.  As we enjoy family and good food and visits from the Easter Bunny, remember the reason we are celebrating.  Christ is risen.