Island Spring Celebrations are all over the map

Hardy Eville, the eight-year-old son of minister Cathlin Baker, painted this scene of his family's Easter meal in their sunny front yard, after church services at the Ag Hall. — Photo courtesy of Bill Eville

Our Easter starts with church “Alleluias” and glorious hymns, lilies and daffodils, colored eggs and chocolate bunnies and lambs, then a relaxed brunch in spring sunshine.

This Sunday, Vineyarders and visitors will celebrate Easter and Passover in their own ways, often with traditions handed down from parents and grandparents.

For Ginny Coutinho, Easter in Oak Bluffs in the 1950s meant a new church outfit from the Sears Roebuck Catalog: dress, hat, purse, black patent leather shoes and white ankle socks. There was coloring Easter eggs and the house filled with Easter lilies. After Mass the family feasted on baked ham, scalloped potatoes, glazed carrots, asparagus and Lemon Meringue Pie, Ms. Coutinho’s favorite.

But most memorable is the delicious smell wafting through the house of Portuguese sweet bread baking in the oven,” she recalled. “Ingredients for many loaves of sweet bread were mixed in a large hand-churned bread mixer… flour, sugar, butter, eggs, yeast, a touch of anise flavoring.”

Her mother, Alice Dias Coutinho, formed dough into loaves and buns, placed them on radiators, covered with towels and coats to rise overnight. Whole eggs in the shell were placed in the center of a pan of buns to cook with the dough. “I loved warm toasted sweet bread spread with butter on Easter morning,” she said.

After dinner it was off to the big, town-sponsored Easter egg hunt at Petaluma Park, now Viera Park. Treats were sold and prizes given for finding the most eggs and the golden egg. The Flying Horses opened on Easter too.

“Today I enjoy Mass and sometimes a sunrise service, visit friends and relatives, and take a walk along the beach,” Ms. Coutinho said. But family traditions continue in the flowers she brings to her sister, Sylvia Rogers, and the sweet bread served in most every Portuguese home. These days fewer people bake but “thankfully Reliable Market sells sweet bread,” she added.

Before dawn on Easter morning, several dozen stalwart parishioners from the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury gather at Ann Nelson’s home. On a hill overlooking the pond they welcome the joyous morning with prayers and hymns as the sun rises.

Afterwards, breakfast is served indoors– coffee, juice, fresh fruit, and pastry. This year the theme is blueberries to preview the church’s new Blueberry Festival. Ms. Nelson and Marian Irving along with Dinny Montrowl will bake the berries into scones, cake, and more.

Later the entire congregation fills the Ag Hall for Easter worship with hymns, sermon, Holy Communion and Sunday school. Then the whole community is invited to a high-spirited egg hunt.

When church is over, the Rev. Cathlin Baker, her husband Bill Eville, and their children, Hardy, 8, and Eirene, 5, celebrate at home in their own special way. Tables are moved into the sunny front yard and with friends and extended family they join in a holiday buffet of baked ham, quiche, salad, and a fancy Easter cake.

“It’s my kids’ favorite day,” said Ms. Baker. “They enjoy the family and their baskets. They enjoy the idea of being together. Spring’s on the way and we’re outside.”

Eastern Orthodox Easter is May 5 this year. Although there is no Orthodox church on the Island, many Vineyarders keep traditions alive at home.

Kate Collins of Oak Bluffs has warm recollections of huge Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations as she grew up in Worcester. She remembers strict fasting, Holy Week church services, being anointed with oil, the Good Friday ritual where children would go in the sign of the cross under a tall table covered with flowers, symbolizing Christ’s tomb. Eggs were dyed red, symbolizing the blood of Christ.

On Holy Saturday the family prepared food for the Easter feast. Saturday’s Easter midnight Mass was memorable. Church clothing had to be brand new. Ms. Collins recalled the darkened church, a single candle at the altar, singing “Christos Anesti,” (“Christ is risen”), worshipers taking lit candles home to bless the house.

Late into the night the family dined on roast lamb, Greek salad, grape leaves, Kalamata olives, baby lima beans, Mayeritsa soup, spanakopita, Easter bread topped with eggs, Greek butter cookies (Koularakia). Ouzo, Metaxa, and sweet Greek wine flowed.

After moving to the Island years ago, Ms. Collins continued many traditions. She prepares festive Easter foods and this year, as always, will dye a big bowlful of red eggs. At 92, her mother who lives nearby will color the traditional red eggs too. Everyone who comes to the house is given an egg, a token of good luck.

Although Denitsa Gancheva wants her two young sons Jason and Tyler to learn about her Bulgarian traditions, they celebrate an American Easter — colored eggs, baskets, and candy. But she dyes the first egg red, using it to trace the sign of the cross on her children’s foreheads and cheeks, symbolizing health and prosperity, a precious tradition from her childhood. She keeps the egg in a safe place, as her family did. From Bulgarian Easters she recalls the intricately decorated eggs, the lamb dinner, children’s games, and a simple ritual in which each family member would ask and receive forgiveness from another, symbolically “starting with a clean slate.”

Ms. Gancheva said regretfully that she loved Kozunak, the delicious, sweet Easter bread, rich with eggs, rum, lemon zest, raisins and often nuts, but has never succeeded at baking it.

Polina Asenova of Vineyard Haven said that she can bake Kozunak, though it has taken her 15 years to learn. Her mother-in-law adds jam to the luscious bread, she said. Ms. Asenova shares Bulgarian ways with her three children, twins Nikola and Lora, 8, and George, 3. She, too, dyes one red egg and keeps it for a year, then buries it. Like those in other Orthodox religions, children have “egg fights,” each hitting his egg against the other’s to see who is “strongest.” She said as the number of young Bulgarian families here increases, they gather at Easter for traditional activities.

As Passover began last Monday at sundown, Jews around the Island joined together with family and friends to mark the occasion with traditional rituals, stories, and food. While the eight-day observance continues, many keep the required practice of banning all leavening and leavened foods (chametz) from diets and homes.

As every year, some held the traditional Passover Seder at home with their own families. Others joined with relatives or invited guests for the important ritual. Many attended the Community Seder at the M.V. Hebrew Center on Tuesday evening, the second night of Passover.

“It was wonderful,” said Ruth Stiller of Vineyard Haven fondly recalling the vast Passover gatherings of her youth in the family home where she now lives. The best china was brought out, relatives came bearing food for the traditional meal, makeshift tables filled the apartment “door to door.”

“The ritual!” said Ms. Stiller, now 90, asked what was most important to her about Passover. As an adult she hosted Seders, purchased a book for each guest, became famous for her matzo ball soup and her talent for making the balls light and delicious.

Randi Baird of West Tisbury has hosted a communal Passover Seder at the Cohousing Common House for the past seven years. Ms. Baird, who grew up Jewish, has raised her sons, Eli, 16, and Miles, 13, in the faith. They began the custom holding a Seder with one other family, “then it grew naturally.”

Although the event includes all the questions, responses, and readings prescribed for Passover, Ms. Baird makes an effort to make the observance meaningful for the present times. While Passover is meant to commemorate the ancient struggles of the Jewish people and their liberation from bondage in Egypt, Ms. Baird encourages those present to consider the struggles that many face today, like disease, enslavement, child labor, poverty. “We create a lively symposium,” she said, and as participants read from the Haggadah, there may be skits, role-play, or costumes to stimulate conversation.

“There are so many things Passover signifies that we are experiencing in our lives and around the world,” Ms. Baird said.

Rather than a formal dining table, participants sit on couches in a circle. The Seder plate, each food symbolizing an element of the Passover story, rests on a table with kosher hors d’oeuvres so guests don’t get too hungry during the lengthy readings and blessings.

This week about two dozen people of all ages gathered, and after the ceremony enjoyed a delicious potluck dinner of traditional foods including matzo ball soup, cinnamon chicken, brisket, potato kugels, asparagus, spring salad, and chocolate dipped macaroons.

For Islanders of all faiths, it is often the rich memories of multi-generational gatherings in years gone by that add sweetness to today’s celebrations.

Ginny Coutinho’s Grandmother’s Recipe for Portuguese Sweet Bread

1 cup milk, very warm

1/2 cup butter, melted

1 tablespoon salt

2 1/2 lbs. King Arthur flour

1/2 cup warm water

1 cup sugar

1 yeast, rapid rise

4 eggs

2 teaspoons anise flavoring

2 teaspoons vanilla

Dissolve yeast in the warm water adding 1/2 t. salt and 1 T sugar. Beat eggs well then add the sugar gradually followed by the flavorings and salt. Add scalded milk to egg mixture then yeast, stirring well.

Gradually add flour (about 1 1/2 cup). Beat until smooth. Slowly pour melted butter and add more flour and mix until you have a good bread dough (not too soft and not too dry). Let rise until double in a warm place. Shape into three loaves and let rise in loaf pans again until double.

Brush loaves with egg wash and bake at 325 for 20 minutes on top shelf and 20 minutes on bottom shelf.

Feijao Tropeiro

(Penny Wong contributed this traditional Brazilian recipe.)

My husband Aguimar doesn’t follow a recipe so this is a very loose idea of how to make it…

In a big pot, fry some garlic and salt in oil.Then add black beans and stir fry a bit.Add chopped up kale and cook a littleAdd already fried eggs, bacon, linguica and pork rinds.Finally add a handful of manioc flour and stir for a few minutes.Eat with rice. Delicious!

This dish is not necessarily an “Easter dish” but is often served at big gatherings and orginates from my husband’s state of Minas Gerais. It was a dish carried by cowboys who had to travel far and carry their own food. You can Google for more info.

Nona’s Brisket

(contributed by Randi Baird)

Serves 8

2 dried pasilla chiles

1 (4-pound) beef brisket, trimmed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

All-purpose flour, for dredging

1/4 cup olive oil

2 onions, diced

2 tablespoons peeled and chopped fresh ginger

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

4 cups chicken or beef stock or water, more if necessary

1 cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon peppercorns

4 tea bags strong black tea

2 cups dried pitted prunes

2 cups dried apricots

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Soak the chiles in lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Seed them, remove the stems, chop the flesh into tiny pieces, and set aside.

Season the brisket with salt and pepper and dredge with flour. Heat the oil in a heavy ovenproof enameled cast-iron pot, just large enough to hold the brisket snugly and brown the brisket on both sides, 5 to 7 minutes per side. Remove from the pan.

In the same pan, over medium heat, add the onions and ginger and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onions are transparent. Add the reserved chiles and deglaze with the orange juice. Reduce the liquid by half. Add the brisket and enough stock or water to cover the meat. Add the cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Place in the oven and cook, uncovered, until the brisket is tender, about 3 hours, turning at 30-minute intervals.

Transfer the brisket to a platter. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf from the liquid and pour it into a food processor or blender. Purée until smooth. If the sauce is too thin or not flavorful enough, reduce in a pan over medium heat. Cool the meat and the sauce separately, then cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350°F. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. In a large bowl, steep the tea bags in the water to make a strong tea. Discard the bags. Put the prunes and apricots in the tea to plump for about 30 minutes, then drain them. Meanwhile, slice the brisket against the grain and place the slices in a pan. Remove the congealed fat and pour the sauce over the brisket. Add the fruit to the sauce, cover the pan with aluminum foil, and heat the brisket in the oven until hot, about 45 minutes. Check the seasonings before serving.

Gayle Stiller’s Charoset for the Seder Plate

Quantities vary depending on much you’re making.

I usually use two or three apples for a Seder of 12 people. I prefer Macintosh because they’re a good taste and texture.

Chop the apples quite fine but not mushy. I leave the skins on for texture. I have a wooden bowl and a chopper that I use mainly for this purpose.

Add a handful of walnuts and chop those in with the apples, then add enough sweet kosher wine and cinnamon until you get the texture, color and flavor that you want. I like a color similar to the bricks or mortar that this is to symbolize.

( I guess it’s hard for me to explain how to make this because I’ve been making it for so long that I do it by instinct.)

Polina Asenova’s Easter Bread or “Kozunak” Recipe

1 kilo flour

6 eggs

300g. whole milk

250g. sugar

150g. butter ( room temperature)

1 lemon zest

2 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tbsp. vanilla

50g. raisins

50g. skinless almonds

pinch of salt

1 egg to brush the loafs

40g yeast

Combine yeast,1/4 cup milk, 1tbsp flour, pinch sugar and salt in a small bowl – let rise for about 20 min. ( until completely puffed out).

In larger bowl combine eggs, rest of milk, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice. Add the yeast mixture when ready.

Sift flour in to another bowl, make an indent in the middle and pour the mixture in to it.

Cover your hands in butter and knead for 30 min . or so, reapplying butter as needed.

I let it rise overnight in the refrigerator ( 8-9 hours) or until double in size.

Punch dough and divide in quarters. Knead with raisins + almonds 5-10 min per piece.

Roll out each to long rope, braid two together to make two loaves.

Put in two bread pans greased with butter, and let it rise on counter till double.

Brush loaves with 1 beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake 20-30 min at 400F.

Thank you so much for sharing our tradition.

Ann Nelson’s Blueberry Scone Recipe (used at West Tisbury Congregational Church breakfast after Sunrise celebration)

2 cups flour

1/3 cup organic granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking power

1/4 tsp salt

6 tbsp. chilled butter

1/2 buttermilk

1 large egg

11/2 tsp vanilla

1 cup of blueberries that have been in the freezer for one hour

In a large bowl stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into flour mixture with a pastry cutter

until it looks like coarse crumbs.

In a small bowl put in the egg and whisk slightly, add buttermilk and vanilla.

Take the blueberries out of the freezer and take out 2-3 tablespoons of flour mixture, coating the blueberries.

Add the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture. Add the blueberries with floured hands.

Ukranian Recipes:

Father Norton’s Paska

2 1/2 cups heated milk

1/2 cup melted butter

1/2 cup oil

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

6 eggs, beaten

2 pkgs. dry yeast

1/2 cup water

9 cups flour, approximately

1 cup raisins (optional)

Mix together milk, butter, oil, sugar, salt, vanilla, and eggs. Mix yeast with 1/2 cup water and 1 teaspoon sugar. Let sit until foamy. Combine yeast and milk mixture. Add 5 cups flour; mix well. Continue adding flour 1 cup at a time until 4 additional cups have been added. Turn out onto floured surface adn knead until smooth and elastic, adding as much additional flour as necessary to keep from sticking. At this point, knead in 1 cup of white raisins, if desired. Place into a well-oiled bowl and turn over. Let rise until doubled. Punch down. Let rise a second time. Punch down and shape into loaves. Let rise. Brush with 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of milk. Bake about 45 minutes at 350˚.

Mom Belas’s Easter Cheese

1 lg. pkg. farmer’s cheese

1 8-oz cream cheese

2 eggs

5-6 T. cream

2 tsp. salt

Sugar to taste

Lemon juice to taste

1/4 cup flour

Mix softened cream cheese with farmer’s cheese. Add eggs, cream, salt, sugar and lemon. Mix until blended. Add the flour and blend in. Put in slightly buttered 9x9x2″ pan. Bake in 350˚ oven for 45 minutes. Insert knife. If wet, bake until done. Top will be golden brown.

Orthodox Red Easter Eggs

3 dozen white or brown eggs (room temperature)

1 package imported red egg dye from specialty store

1/2 cup white vinegar

Wash eggs with soapy water and rinse. (If you wish, make crosses on the eggs with white wax.) Dissolve the egg dye in a glass of warm water. Add dye mixture and vinegar to enough water to cover eggs. Bring the solution to a boil without eggs and simmer for about five minutes. Skim if frothy. Cool mixture by removing from heat and adding a few ice cubes. Add eggs to pot and return to heat, boiling gently for 20 minutes or until desired color. Remove eggs. When cool, wipe each egg with a lightly oiled soft cloth. Dye may be resused by ading a little more vinegar. To dye eggs for Easter bread, let uncooked eggs sit in cool dye until desired shade. (Boiled eggs baked in bread may crack open.)

Always use dye approved by the U.S. Food and Drug administration. The practice of using textile dye is not recommended and could cause ill effects if consumed.