I have so many memories of my Granny rolling around in my head but some of the most distinct ones are during Easter festivities. I remember a shiny glazed ham, biscuits, gravy, birds nests constructed of green jello topped with whipped cream, shaved coconut, and three jelly beans. (If you thought there was something a little off about my dad before, here's a clincher: he always got three black jelly beans in his nest. He wanted them...) Of course my (and my dad's) absolute favorite food, my Granny's potato salad, would be sitting quietly in a nondescript white plastic bowl within arms reach of my plate. For this holiday it was always a bit dressed up, topped with slices of a sacrificed Easter egg and green onion. Most of all, I remember the egg hunt that was orchestrated after dinner.
The reason the egg hunt was so memorable to me is because all of the adults were looking forward to it as well. If you know my dad at all, you know his favorite things are Martin guitars, old guitars, guns, and guitars. In that order. So when I was young it was so exciting to see him truly happy to participate in something that didn't require six strings or the use of a pocket knife. My relatives would all excitedly join the hunt, even my Aunt Shirleen who I always recall being quiet and reserved during family dinners.
We would divide ourselves into teams and fill baskets with our colored eggs. Granny always had an egg dyeing kit that she saved until I arrived for the weekend. She would grandly present the brightly colored cardboard box of dye to me like it was a rare treasure. She always had a great ability to make mundane things seem special. After the ceremony, we would go about setting up all the accouterment that dwelled inside the little box, placing everything on top of newspaper lining her large round oak table, the color of which always reminded me of thick blackstrap molasses. One by one we would drop our eggs in the vinegar and food coloring solution, carefully selecting the perfect number of dips to make the brightest and most beautiful eggs. 'See if you can get them to stand up straight on these little stands without touching the eggs or dropping them on the table,' she challenged. Careful not to smudge the dye, I would lift the eggs from their colored bath with a spoon and slowly transfer the colored eggs to their drying racks. She always made a show of being impressed with my performance. Perhaps she's the reason I have such steady hands today. (Truly, I have never understood why that game Operation is billed as a challenge.)
The team assigned to hide eggs first would skip out the front door. I was instructed to stay away from the windows. I would wait with members of my team, anxiously tracing the blue flowers woven into the couch with my fingers. Finally we were allowed to venture into the yard to find the hidden eggs. We would find them tucked behind fence posts, shoved up drain pipes, perched precariously in the lattice fencing that ran beneath the porch, in trees. I remember once finding a bright blue egg nestled in a stack of twigs and grass and wondered if that was ours or if I was stealing someone's baby. (My dad was so proud of himself for hiding that egg in there.) The excitement was equal watching people find the eggs I had hidden for them.
When I asked my dad and Shirleen if they remembered anything from their Easters growing up, their responses were overwhelmingly familiar. Shirleen told me that she always looked forward to getting a new Easter dress that Granny would make for her. On Easter she would don her new dress and she would walk up the road to her Granny Ollie's house, where her dyed Easter eggs would be waiting for her. Granny Ollie didn't have a PAAS coloring kit, but she would gather eggs from the hen house and separate the white ones out and dye them with golden strips of onion peel she had saved. I asked, "didn't that just made them the same color as the brown eggs she didn't want to use?" Shirleen replied, "Sort of, but they were brighter, like the color of copper. They were special. I couldn't wait to get my eggs from my Granny." They would then have family dinner and gather all of their cousins at Granny's house for the big egg hunt. "That was sort of a big deal because we got to visit with all of our cousins. Other holidays was usually just us, but Easter Aunt Wanda, my cousin Imogene and all our other cousins would come over and hunt eggs with us."
My dad told me that he and Granny would color their eggs with a store bought kit that she would always make a show of bringing out and setting up. They would color their eggs, and mark them with crayon or wax before they dyed them so some of the dye wouldn't stick. The marked one was the lucky egg. He told me if you found the marked egg you won a dime. There were prizes for the most eggs found as well. After talking with him about his egg hunts growing up and remembering ours together the said, "We are all old enough now we could probably just hide our own eggs."
I didn't realize until I spoke with my dad and Shirleen that my endearment for Easter is deeper seated than I had originally thought. It goes beyond the egg hunt and the potato salad. It matters to me that I was given the same simple but special traditions they experienced growing up; same house, many of the same characters, just time moved a little bit. This year I am hosting Easter festivities at my new house in Asheville. I know it won't be the same, I might not have my Granny to dye eggs with me, but I sure have my memories, my love for her and my family, and a great hope to pass on our traditions to future generations. And I have Granny's potato salad recipe.
I wish all of you the happiest of Easters, I hope your day is filled with hope, love, kindness, family, and good eating. To help you out with the last thing, here is the recipe for Sylvia's German Potato Salad.
6 medium Idaho baking potatoes
2 Tbs butter
Splash of milk
1/2 Cup sugar (Shirleen uses 1/3 Cup)
1/3 Cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs mustard
1/2 Cup finely diced white onion
Sliced easter egg and chives/green onion for garnish
Peel and cube the potatoes, bringing them to a boil in a pot of well salted water. When the potatoes are fork tender-maybe 20 minutes, pour off the majority of the water, saving maybe 1/4 cup or so. Mash* the potatoes, add butter, milk, and salt "until potatoes are good" ("What?" I asked Shirleen, who was reading the recipe to me. "That's what she wrote. Until they taste good." She replied. Hm, ok. That's the kind of thing I would write in a recipe...)
Add the sugar, vinegar, and mustard and mix until well
blended. Fold in the onion. Top with hard boiled Easter egg and chives/green onion if desired.
*Note: We like the potatoes totally mashed and smooth but you're welcome to try it however you prefer your mashed potatoes.