Saturday, April 15, 2017


A Blessing for Food Baskets
Variations on An Easter Tradition

             Originally published April 19, 2014             
  (Updates have been edited into the original copy.)

Since childhood our family has had an Easter Tradition that transcends any chocolate bunny or gourmet flavored jelly bean you might encounter at his time of year.  My mother is from Hungary.  She came to the United States as a young girl and earned her US citizenship at the age of eighteen.  My mother may have been forced to leave her country, but the special details surrounding each Easter remain embedded in our tradition.  This year I am on my own again with regard to carrying on the annual Easter Food Basket Blessing.  I have to admit that I still feel less than adequate when it comes to fully immersing myself in the preparations.  In past years we lived closer and my mother shopped, prepped, and prepared everything with precision and attention to detail.  I miss that!

My mother is the Hungarian version of Martha Stewart, The Barefoot Contessa, and Giada DeLaurentiis (collectively they are amazing hostesses, decorators, and culinary geniuses).  Every memory I have of my childhood includes how effortlessly mom made it look to pull together festive celebrations for our holidays...birthdays too.  Everything happened organically. Home made foods, gifts, and entertainment served with heaping helpings of love were always on the menu.  I believe she made such an effort because of how hard she worked as a child and as a young woman.  The many challenges she faced as an immigrant were woven into every molecule of tradition and culture that she shared with her husband, six children, and the many friends we welcomed along the way.
This Easter my children and I are no longer living like gypsies...even though many of our things are still in storage in another state.  Our current situation has been stable for the past four years.  We do not share a two bedroom apartment with another tenant. (In the past we had one bedroom for four people.)  So, basically we lived "European Style" in our quaint little flat and existed as minimalists.  Truth be told...I kind of liked it. (We're still pretty low key when it comes to possessions.) Less material possessions means minimal clean up and more reasons to get out of the apartment like back in the day when I lived in Germany.  (I miss my little efficiency from those years.)  
The first time I published this article was April 19, 2014.  During that period the drawbacks of our living situation included not having all my kitchen items for cooking, no room to do my own decorating (the other renter already had everything in place when we got there), and my favorite basket that I purchased in Germany was in storage.  So...adaptations to the Easter Food Basket had to be made three years ago when my children and I went to the church for the food blessing. 
My mother always spent Good Friday preparing the items that needed to go into the basket as we headed to church on Saturday morning.  At the church the priest would bless the food we planned to eat on Easter Sunday after mass.  The menu usually included: Home Baked Bread, Butter, Hard Boiled Eggs (later to be made into "Heavenly Eggs" because you couldn't call blessed eggs "Deviled" now, could you?), Ham, Horse Radish, Garlic, Salt and Pepper.  It was a very simple meal that involved many hours of prep time.  We were convinced the food tasted better after being blessed and we always seemed to eat more too.  I always loved the smell of freshly baked bread...still do.  Sometimes mom would make a smaller loaf so we could have a taste right out of the oven.  Pure slice of heaven!
Memories are great.  They are also painfully hard to live up to when the bar has been set so high.  Still...I am determined to share this tradition with my own children.  So here's my modified menu that mirrors my childhood even if it will never totally duplicate the amazing gift my mom gave to me and my siblings.  The entire sensory experience of Easter always culminated in our special blessed meal...and that is what we will have version.  (But Mom...I will still miss being there with all of you!)

Baked Bread (Using frozen dough that had to proof for 6 hours covered in plastic wrap) Still smelled amazing fresh from the oven even if I didn't mix the dough by hand
(Original Post)
(Note:  This year I used store bought loaf from store bakery.  It will smell delicious after warming in the oven to get a nice golden crust.)
Ham (Pre-cooked 3# ham from the store.  Just needs to be warmed up)
Eggs (I did hard boil these myself)
Garlic Salt/Regular Salt/Pepper and Hungarian Paprika (I will take large portions to be blessed and plan to label the containers when we return home.  Every time I use them I will be reminded of our special tradition.  And according to my mom, the food will always taste better since it is blessed.)
Butter (I purchased this too.  And no, I will not make a "Lamb" mold out of butter.  But if you do this I am quite impressed.  It's just not me and that's okay.)

My children and I  had one more hurdle to encounter three years ago.  Since our family's traditional "basket"  was in storage, we needed something in which to transport our food.  We got to church and placed our food on a special table that had been set up near the altar.  I smiled as I saw the collection of items placed there by the families who participated in this cultural display.  There was a large basket with beautiful embroidered linens...later the family shared that the basket was 60 years old and the linens were hand designed in 1921.  Other baskets were adorned with curling ribbons and tiny fabric flowers.  Most were draped with fancy towels or lace.  The priest arrived and offered some readings from the gospel and psalms.  He then encouraged everyone to gather around the table to share what they put into their baskets.  I loved this part!
The food blessing is part of many Eastern European cultures, so I was not surprised to see similar items in other family's baskets.  As I shared my mother's Hungarian tradition, I reached for the carrier of our items and smiled.  "Our basket is in storage," I admitted as I retrieved a pretty blue canvas eco-friendly shopping bag.  Everyone smiled back.  The best part was that I was totally more okay with my blue bag than I anticipated.  It was more important that I made it to the church with all the items I intended.  My children were calm and interested for a few moments. (A Bonus!)  Plus I had the opportunity to reconnect with a family tradition that is near and dear to my heart.  
(Note:  This year we do have a small basket I purchased from Good Will. It has double sided openings on top.  I will use a beautiful hand made shawl from Mexico to line the basket and cover the food.)
Three years ago, I corralled my children, made sure they were loaded into the van with clothing and shoes intact, and we made it to church on time.  After mass, we gathered around our table at home and enjoyed the blessed food.  I remembered the many Easters of my childhood.  Hopefully it was a good memory for my children too.  Blending familiar traditions with the adaptations of present day can be a daunting task.  But I think I'm doing okay.  I need to remind myself of that from time to time.  But I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in that feeling.
So once again, I am sharing our tradition with you.  This year (2017) I have additional friends of my children to invite as we put together our basket of food.  It remains simpler than the miracles pulled off by my  mother, but I hope she would be proud that I am trying.  Being far away makes it hard to carry through some of the beloved traditions, but it is a good feeling to make the best of any situation and share what we have.
Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate this special time of year.  Our family wishes you wonderful times together, special memories of loved ones present and past, and the opportunity to pass along culture and tradition to the next generation.  Blessings to You!
More Information about 
The Tradition of Easter Food Blessing

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Mary Varville-Rodriguez, BSW, Child Development/Early Intervention Specialist/Advocate (15+ years), Prior experiences: AFAA Certified (Frankfurt, Germany) & Global Wellness Certified (Augsburg, Germany) for Personal Trainer/Aerobics Instructor/Exercise Prescription, UTMB at Galveston Dept. of Pediatrics - Project LAUNCH - Community Outreach/Referral Development/EIS-C, Current: World of Writer Writer/Publisher/Marketing Affiliate/Advocate