Easter – 'With all the thrills upon it'

by Don Bingham

Easter is one of our favorites among all the holiday celebrations. When I think of Easter growing up, it consisted of a sunrise service at our church, with breakfast to follow, the church service with its beautiful music and then home for a wonderful feast for lunch!

And, oh yes, it was of utmost importance that we all were dressed in our finest for Easter Sunday. I have no doubt that I could go directly to our garage and find photo after photo of each of us decked out in our white sports coat and pink carnation. In those days, it would have been rude to be minus a boutonniere for the men and a corsage for the ladies on Easter.

My wife, Nancy, and I brought many of our family traditions into our marriage, and then added a few dozen more. In case you are wondering, the boutonnieres and corsages have all wilted from the items we consider necessary for proper Easter celebration.

We still carry out many time-treasured traditions with our grandchildren — though some of their parents consider them a bit off the scale. We love to hide the plastic eggs filled with various amounts of pocket change. We manage to include a few $1 and $5 bills to keep up the motivation levels of those participating in the hunt.

We dye eggs, put out anything pastel colored in china, change floral arrangements to spring and make sure we can all fit in the white clothes that have been hanging in the closet. Sometimes the residuals from too much Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, Benito Juarez’s Birthday observed, St. Patrick’s Day and other “excuses” to dine in grand style have affected the wardrobe potential.

There are many wonderful movies to have playing, even if they are on “mute” and showing in the background — such as “The Robe,” “Ben-Hur,” “King of Kings” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” Of course, my favorite is “Easter Parade” with Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Ann Miller, Peter Lawford and music by Irving Berlin.

We even have various styles of Easter baskets to display around the house. And what would Easter be without CHOCOLATE! We love to shower our kids and grandkids with treats and one of my greatest delights is to give my son his annual Reese’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Egg. He and his wife have two children of their own, but there is no limit to the encouragement a chocolate Easter egg can bring to the heart of a man. I plan on doing this tradition as long as there is breath.

Oh yes, I must tell you about the amazing discovery of the Chocolate Easter Egg from The Greenbrier in White Sulfur Springs, W. Va. My wife and I have attended cooking classes there and have viewed, firsthand, this “wonder of Easter” in the giant decorated chocolate egg. It’s huge — decorated with royal icing, inside and out. When you open the egg, it’s filled with delicacies, candy and goodies, and should be among the chocolate wonders of the world. We have tried to order them (they no longer will ship the eggs due to their fragile state) and just the thought of them might be worth the trip to West Virginia for a sample! But, oh, the fun of these incredible-edible, chocolate eggs!

The Easter Feast for us always includes Nancy’s glazed ham, carrots, asparagus, “stuffed” eggs and a magnificent coconut cake. The Easter Basket Salad has been around for many years — it came to us by way of the Ward Family of Conway — all amazing cooks! It’s a salad that is passed, offering each diner to partake in a colorful boiled egg with an avocado sauce to ladle over the eggs. I get the honor of cooking the coconut cake (recipe included). One must be seated, and in reverence and respect for all things sweet, decadent and rich, to enjoy this Easter monument.

And if you have not tried the Orange Butter Rolls, it’s a must. Do save time, as they are challenging, but believable. The dough boasts of sour cream, the sauce is made of orange juice, sugar, sour cream and butter. They are rolled in crescent style and could serve as a second dessert.

Among my cherished memories of Easter are the thoughts that flood the heart on Good Friday. I enjoy sitting quietly reflecting on the origin of the Christian’s faith with the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The hymns, anthems and classics of Easter still offer a platform for praise and adoration. Charles Gounod’s “O Divine Redeemer,” Paul Gerhardt’s “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” and Issac Watt’s “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” How thankful I am for this season to focus on what should be celebrated on a daily basis. What a joy to read passages like Isaiah 53:5 — “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed (ESV).”

Here are some of our Easter favorites, some pictures of Easter in our home and a wish for you to enjoy this colorful season of the celebration of life here and now and life everlasting!

Easter Basket Salad with Avocado Accompaniment

8 hard-boiled eggs, shelled
Red, yellow and green food colorings
1 large head Boston lettuce
1/4 small head chicory
1 small avocado
1 small tomato
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup dairy sour cream
2 teaspoons grated onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Fill several small deep cups with water. Stir in a few drops of food coloring into each to tint pink, green, yellow, orange or other colors of your choice. Place 1 egg in each cup; let stand, turning several times, until delicately tinted. Remove from water; drain on paper towel. Repeat with remaining eggs; chill.

Wash lettuce and chicory; dry well. Separate leaves; chill.

Cut avocado in half; pit and peel; mash well in a small bowl. Dice tomato and stir into avocado with mayonnaise, sour cream, onion, salt and lemon juice; chill.

Just before serving, line a large salad bowl with small leaves; break remaining leaves into bite-sized pieces and place in bowl; top with chicory. Nestle eggs in greens. Pass dressing separately to spoon over each serving.

Serves 8.

Ham en Croute

1 (5-pound) fully cooked canned ham
2 cups chopped fresh mushrooms
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 tablespoon snipped parsley
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, beaten

Place ham on rack in shallow baking pan. Bake in 325 degree oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove ham from oven; remove drippings from pan. Remove rack, leaving the ham in baking pan. Cool ham for 20 minutes.

Trim excess fat from outside of ham.

While ham is baking, prepare the filling. In medium saucepan, cook mushrooms, green onions and garlic in butter about 3 minutes; remove from heat. In a bowl combine the mushroom mixture, dry bread crumbs, cheese, wine and parsley. Cover and chill at least one hour.

To make pastry, stir together flour, baking powder, sage and dry mustard. Cut in shortening. Gradually add milk, one tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork until all is moist; form pastry into a ball.

On a lightly floured surface, roll pastry to 14×12 inch rectangle. Spread chilled mushroom filling over the ham. Drape the pastry over the mushroom topped ham, covering top and sides with pastry. Mold pastry to the shape of the meat; trim pastry even with bottom of ham. Cut slits in top. Cut decorations from remaining dough and arrange atop ham.

Brush pastry with the beaten egg. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until pastry is browned. Transfer to serving platter. Garnish.

Serves 12.

Coconut Cake

4 cups all-purpose flour
4 cups granulated sugar
2 cups sweet milk
1 1/2 cups corn oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 eggs

Mix ingredients together and pour into prepared 9-inch cake pans (3-4). Bake at 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until lightly golden and done in center.

Kathryn’s Icing:

1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
1 cup marshmallow cream
3 egg whites

Boil sugar and water until strings form. Add about 1 cup marshmallow cream and dissolve. Beat egg whites until stiff, then gradually combine both mixtures. Beat until stiff.

Sprinkle coconut between layers along with icing. Ice layers and top. Sprinkle coconut over all.

Variation: Fruit filling or coconut juice may be added between layers.

Company Carrots

1/4 cup margarine
1 small onion, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 cups milk
4 cups cooked carrots, drained
6 slices American cheese

Cook onion in margarine until soft. Stir in flour, mix, add salt and pepper. Stir in milk, bring to a boil and cook 3 minutes until thick.

In 2-quart casserole, layer carrots and 3 slices of cheese; repeat; pour sauce over all. Top with buttered bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes.

Serves 4-6.


1 pound asparagus

Cut off the tough ends of the stalks. Peel the stalks 3/4 way from end of stalk to just under the tip. (Save peel and ends for soup.) Bring a large frying pan of water to boil. Add a handful of asparagus and cook 3 to 7 minutes until desired doneness — a little crunchy. As each quantity is done, run cold water over to stop the cooking.

Serve cold, in vinaigrette, or reheat by tossing quickly in melted butter in a skillet.

Serves 4.


Recognized throughout the state as an accomplished chef, Don Bingham has authored cookbooks, presented television programs and previously served as the executive chef at the Governor’s Mansion. He is now the director of special events at the University of Central Arkansas.