Easter in southern Sask. — 1930s style

Preparing for the Easter holiday was a particular challenge for many prairie families during the Dirty Thirties

It was the mid-1930s and the week before Easter. For a month, my mother had been gathering and saving onion skins to make Easter eggs.

She had also put aside about five dozen eggs over the past month that she had collected from our few egg-laying hens.

As a young boy, I looked fondly on her work as she carefully boiled the eggs and onion skins together to transform white eggs into rusty yellow and orange-ish colours. If an egg cracked while boiling, she would give it to me to eat while I continued to watch her magically turn the eggs into brilliant coloured ones.

This scenario may seem a normal one in today’s preparations for Easter, but back then in the early 1930s, Saskatchewan was suffering through an extreme drought and the Great Depression. The eggs my mother made may have, in retrospect, lightened the mood of the hardship we were experiencing.

Life had never been easy in our early homesteading years and with the drought and its dust storms and the Depression, those years became even more difficult. So, when the holidays arrived, it was a time of joy. And so it was for Easter.

Despite the lack of money and luxury, holidays were special occasions and mother spared no effort to allow us the happiness of them. Easter was one of the celebratory holidays that meant so much for her. After all, in Syria, Easter was and is still the holiest of holidays and the most festive. There, in Syria, the homeland of my family, Easter for the eastern Christians was a time of traditions, joy and excitement. When children awoke, they would greet their parents and the rest of the family with “al-Masih Qam” (Christ has risen) to which the family’s response would be “Haqqan Qam” (Indeed, He has risen).

But we children were not thinking of the religious aspect of Easter but rather anticipating eating these hard-boiled eggs, an extravagance during those barren years of little or of none. Although our few hens did provide us with eggs, these eggs were used, primarily, to trade for the staples we needed, such as sugar and rice at Kouri’s Market in Pontiex, Sask., since Norman (Nu’man) Kouri, the owner, was a relative of ours from the same hometown of the Qaroun. I still believe that he took our eggs and even our butter as trade-ins because he felt sorry for us. We children thought he was the richest man in the world since he owned a store.

On Easter day, the coloured eggs lifted our holiday spirits. Mother would place the eggs in different places in our living room to give Easter an aura of colour. Then we would get down to the real part — eating the eggs until we were full.

Throughout the following week, my mother would recycle the remaining Easter eggs as ingredients in various dishes, especially salads. These recipes are my own versions of her dishes.

Potato Salad with Sardines

Serves four.

On our farm, various types of this salad were prepared by my mother on those occasions that sardines were available. This was when my father would have few extra pennies to buy a can or two from Kouri’s Market.

  • 1 can sardines preserved in oil, bones removed, then chopped into small pieces and the oil reserved (106 g)
  • 4 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
  • 4 tbsp. finely chopped green onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 small hot pepper, seeded and very finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 4 med. sized potatoes (about 3 inches long), boiled, then peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

Place all ingredients, except potatoes and eggs, but including the reserved oil, in a salad bowl then thoroughly mix. Add potatoes and eggs then gently toss just before serving.

Potato Salad – Batata Mutabbala

Serves about six.

This Syrian version of potato salad, which Mother often prepared, makes a refreshing change from the usual mayonnaise-based type and is perfect for picnics and barbecues.

  • 4 large potatoes, cooked, peeled, then diced into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 eggs, hard boiled, peeled and chopped
  • 4 tbsp. finely chopped green onions
  • 4 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh mint
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Place all ingredients, except oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper, in a salad bowl.

Combine oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper and stir into ingredients in salad bowl. Toss gently, making sure potatoes and eggs do not crumble too much, then serve chilled.

Tuna salad

Serves about six.

  • 8 oz. canned tuna, flaked with a fork
  • 1/2 med. head lettuce, chopped
  • 2 cups finely chopped spinach
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)
  • 1/4 cup green olives, pitted and sliced in half
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. dried tarragon
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 4 hard boiled eggs, chopped

Just before serving, thoroughly mix in a salad bowl all ingredients, except the eggs and then add the eggs. Gently toss and serve immediately.

Beet and Tahini Salad – Salatat Shamandar

Serves six.

Beets are not used extensively in the daily menus of the Middle East, but mother did use them occasionally. Tahini was not available to us during this period, so mother would substitute something like peanut-butter to prepare this salad.

  • 2 med. beets, cooked, peeled and finely diced
  • 4 tbsp. tahini
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, quartered or chopped

Place beets in a bowl and set aside.

Thoroughly combine tahini, lemon juice, yogurt, nutmeg, salt and pepper, then stir into beets. Spread on a platter, decorate with eggs and serve.

Deviled Eggs

Makes 16 deviled eggs.

Deviled eggs may have been appetizers for our neighbours, but in our home, they were a joy around Easter time as a great breakfast treat. The traditional ingredient, labna, is a type of cream cheese that we made at home by draining yogurt of all its water in a cotton bag. Labna can bought in any Middle Eastern grocery store. If not available, replace it with cream cheese.

  • 8 large eggs, hard-boiled
  • 1/2 cup labna or cream cheese
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped green onions
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped pimento
  • 1 tsp. mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • Mixed greens, for garnish

Slice the eggs in half lengthwise and carefully remove the cooked yolk, taking care not to break the whites.

In a bowl, thoroughly mash the yolks with the remaining ingredients, except the lettuce leaves. Stuff the whites halves with the mixture, spreading across the entire surface of the white and with enough to form a dome over the whites to bring the eggs back to their original shape. Line a serving platter with the mixed greens.

Arrange the eggs on the greens and chill before serving.

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