By Angela Allyn
Angela is an artist, cultural observer and a community arts program coordinator and she has always wanted to write about food. This article is adapted from a post that Angela wrote a few years ago for a Chicago moms blog.
Everyone talks about the December Dilemma for Jewish/ Christian families, but in my house it has always been the Spring Conundrum. I was raised Catholic and married into a mostly Jewish family. We celebrate Passover—and have had several awkward Seders on Good Friday. As a Catholic girl growing up in a Jewish neighborhood, I went to everyone’s celebrations. Thus I am programmed right about now to crave gefilte fish and horseradish as well as Cadbury Cream Eggs. All my holiday memories invariably include some signature food item.
Nothing gets inside and stays inside your memory and brain like the smell and taste of something you ate every year at the same time. Those smells and tastes get all wrapped up in the rituals of each holiday and stay with you for a lifetime, evoking powerful memories, even as you see them sitting on a grocery shelf.
A very wise preschool teacher once told me, if you want to build a sense of family, of home, make sure there are delicious tastes and smells and songs built into every experience.
I listened to that wisest of women, and now my kids crave the same holiday foods and ask me to ship those foods to them, wherever they are in the world! My ordinarily aloof teen lit up like a fluorescent light bulb when I brought home the ring jellies from the newly stocked aisles at the famous Jew El (a Jewel grocery store on Howard Street with a massive kosher grocery section). When they put out the huge bricks of Matzo, it’s a sure sign spring has arrived. And for my celiac son, Passover is a miracle because anything labeled Non-Gebrokts kosher is gluten free by definition.
But how to deal with Easter? And how to get my cream-filled eggs without being theologically confusing? I am a lapsed Catholic keeping a Jewish home.
I did a little research.
Most of what we consider Easter traditions actually predate Christianity and have more to do with spring fertility rites than a messianic tradition. This means I can put eggs out in the garden and play with whatever live bunny we have in residence, and I can explain how and what my family celebrated in my childhood, and I also tell folks that eggs and candies and bunnies were about celebrating the coming of spring for ancient people who had survived a dark, cold winter. Just like us. And I can eat my caramel-filled eggs without compromising belief systems.
A recent addition to our food associations with the season are Peeps, those dayglo (and gluten-free) marshmallows. They are coming out in a rainbow of new flavors and some chocolate-dipped versions that are elevating them to my picky palate. (For me: no chocolate, no deal.) Peeps also make great art projects, as the Tribune proved with its first Peeps diorama contest, which is now copied around the country.
So find a little bit of what means home to your family this spring holiday season, whatever it is. Figure out what story you want your kids telling their kids. And figure out what it is you want them to crave when the snowdrops start poking out of the ground. A hint: make sure you can ship it easily. My husband’s grandma shipped him Poppycock and Mallomars (mass-produced New York confections) until he was in his 30s.