As Easter approaches, I am reminded of my days as a little girl in Ozone Park awaiting wearing a lovely new dress, shiny patent leather shoes, a wide-brimmed hat and the arrival of the Easter bunny with lots of chocolate and jelly beans. We wore the pretty dress and hat for church and the sweets would be there in the basket when we got home. There were some other connections to the taste of Easter with the Italian pastries that included grain pie and sweet bread with colored hard-boiled eggs nestled in the middle. These are the images and memories of many children growing up in the 1950’s. There is, however, one memory that might be a little unique to my family.
Grain Pie, Source: michelescicolone.com
One of my father`s brother, John — Uncle Johnny to us — was an avid hunter, often bringing bear steaks, deer sausages and quail that he would bring back from the trips upstate. Uncle Johnny was a fabulous chef as well, much to his wife`s enjoyment, leaving her the task of taking care of their three children. He was also a generous and caring father so it was not surprising that he would purchase several small bunnies right after the winter was ending. He would set up a few cages in the backyard of his home in Ozone Park, under the porch. My younger cousin Frances took on the task of feeding the new pets with my sister and I helping to feed the rapidly growing bunnies. We gave them cute little names, like Cottontail or Flopsy. They got big quickly with the lettuce, carrots and other greens we fed them every day. Uncle Johnny started this tradition when Frances was little and continued it for years. And while we kept feeding the cute little bunnies and watched them grow into fat rabbits, we never questioned Uncle Johnny when every good Friday, year after year, after year, the rabbits would mysteriously get out of their locked cages. It seemed like a strange co-incidence that this would happen every year, but we never gave it a second thought.
One year, when Frances, my sister and I were a little more than upset on Easter Sunday, as we ate our dinner of a tasty tomato and meat sauce with pasta. We questioned how strange it was that the rabbits always got out at the same time. Uncle Johnny smiled his warm smile that seemed a little sinister and then he asked us how we were enjoying dinner. We agreed it was delicious and then he began to laugh, as did his wife, my father and my mother. Even Frances`s older brother and sister chuckled as well. It took us a few minutes to put the pieces together as Uncle Johnny described the yearly event in detail, leaving out the final part that we suddenly realized what it was with horror.
Uncle Johnny was a hunter and a wonderful cook and every Easter he put his talents to great use with a delicious result. And three little girls were unwitting participants in his yearly plan. So if you know someone who buys little bunnies and fattens them up just before they disappear, check what is served before you eat.