Family Recipes, Part 1: Easter traditions and reasons to chart your own course

When it comes to holiday traditions, Easter can be confusing. For many Christians the celebration of Christ’s resurrection stands at the heights of the sacred calendar. Yet most of traditional practices — including the name of the holiday — have pagan roots. Where did the word Easter and its bunny come from? Well, that would be a reference to Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility whose sign was a rabbit.

If you’re a Protestant, you have even less traditional ground to stand on, because following the Reformation, Easter celebrations were rejected as too papal. It was Catholics who established the tenets of the Christian Easter feast. Protestants didn’t come back to the fold, so to speak, until the late-nineteenth century. By that time, they also had the benefit of enjoying candy Easter eggs (Cadbury introduced the first chocolate egg in 1875), jelly beans, and Easter baskets stuffed with treats.* 

While the Easter table might lack the kind of nostalgic grounding in tradition that one experiences at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I find this freeing. For us, Easter has become a time to create new holiday memories and traditions with our friends. Since it takes a two-hour drive or a four-hour flight to spend the holiday with family, I try to incorporate family by including some traditional family recipes on the menu. 

For this year, I’ve adopted the traditional Hungarian kiffel (something we usually eat at Christmas) to our celebration of the resurrection. The kiffel combines cream cheese pastry and a touch of jam for a mixture of savory and sweet that’s hard to resist. This also kicks off a series on traditional family recipes that I plan to continue sharing on the blog. I figure, what better way to explore the history of what we eat, than to delve into the foods I associate with my family history?

Whenever I eat a kiffel, I think of my dad sneaking a few each time he passed through the kitchen and my mom telling him to save some for the rest of us. It makes them all the more special to think about my grandma and great grandma making them before me. While our families will be celebrating Easter across the country, our little Alabama duo will think of them fondly and enjoy a cookie in their honor. It’s not a bunny or an egg — but who said those had all that much to do with celebrating the resurrection in the first place? 


 Photos by  Stephen DeVries . 

Photos by Stephen DeVries

Great-Grandma Yahraus’s Kiffel Recipe (gluten free)

Note: I adapted the recipe below to my gluten free needs. For those making the cookie with wheat flour, see my notes in parentheses.) 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese (cold)
  • 1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter (cold) 
  • 2 1/4 cups All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Blend (2 cups if using wheat flour)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder (1/2 tsp. if using wheat flour) 
  • 1 rounded Tablespoon sour cream
  • 1 egg yolk 
  • Jam or other filling of your choice (I varied mine between orange marmalade, blackberry jelly, and chocolate chips)

Directions: 

  • Sift together flour and baking powder. 
  • Using a fork or pastry cutter, cut in cold butter and cream cheese. 
  • Working with your hands add in sour cream and egg yolk so that the dough forms a soft ball. Be careful not over mix the dough — if it has a marbled look, that’s okay. 
  • Divide into two balls, wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour (can be refrigerated overnight). 
  • Preheat oven to 375ºF
  • Working one ball at a time, unwrap roll out on a sheet of parchment paper dusted with tapioca starch. Roll out dough until it is 1/8 inch thick.
  • Cut dough into 2” squares and place a 1/2 tsp. of filling in the center. Fold into triangles or cylinders. 
  • Bake for 10-13 min. (Mine were perfect at 12 min.) 
  • Sprinkle with powdered sugar. 

*My information on the history of Easter came from Cathy K. Kaufman’s “Easter” entry in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (1ed.), Andrew F. Smith, ed., Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Accessed online at http://www.oxfordreference.com.libdata.lib.ua.edu/view/10.1093/acref/9780195154375.001.0001/acref-9780195154375-e-0280?rskey=iQtsmi&result=7 on 18 Apr. 2014.