Learn what makes Easter a special day for Spring Council of Mama Dip’s Kitchen – plus a recipe for shrimp stuffed eggs
By Spring Council | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Our Easter baskets, the most eye-catching thing a kid could wake up to see, were displayed on our dressers and brought a festive touch to our bedrooms.
Covered with clear pastel-colored cellophane, the baskets were lined with shiny, green plastic grass. Nestled inside were yellow marshmallow Peeps chicks, a hollow milk chocolate bunny that was foil-wrapped with a detailed picture of a smiling rabbit, colorful plastic eggs containing jelly beans and chocolate-covered marshmallows shaped like an egg. My favorite was the speckled malted milk candy eggs. When you bit into one, the moisture from your tongue came in contact with the thin, crisp coating and dyed your lips and fingers a snowy white. Finally, the biggest item in the basket, positioned in the center, was a pastel stuffed bunny rabbit with long floppy ears, shiny plastic eyes and whiskers that touched the cellophane.
My seven siblings and I had to wait until we had eaten dinner for that blissful moment when we could unwrap our delectable baskets and begin the nibbling sessions.
Our Easter Sunday began with getting dressed for our family’s church service at St. Paul AME. After church, we returned home to prepare for Sunday dinner. Mama placed her apron on and attended to the last-minute details of our traditional meal of baked ham, fried chicken, potato salad, string beans, deviled eggs, yeast rolls and her delicious coconut cake with seven-minute frosting. She began cooking on Saturday evening to get a head start.
We helped Mama set the table with her white porcelain dinner plates with a metallic silver band, our everyday flatware and beverage glasses used for special dinners – not the ones we used each day, which were empty jelly jars.
When I was older, my mother once told me not to keep fine china and crystal glasses in the cabinet and only take them out for special occasions. “Use them as often as you can,” she said.
In those days, when my grandmother hosted her church ladies’ auxiliary meeting, I would visit to see her table setting. She adorned her buffet with a polished silver tea set, floral-edged china plates, lace tablecloth, linen napkins and silver spoons. I always felt a feeling of calm and tranquility at her house; the air there seemed different from the usual hustle and bustle of everyday life living in a large family.
I wanted to recreate that special atmosphere – to be taken away from our busy days and to create a space that brings guests together to have fun, relax and unwind.
During my years at Chapel Hill High School, I could be found in the glass-enclosed magazine area of the library, looking at home, garden and fashion magazines for inspiration about entertaining.
I would study the pictures and read their captions. I paid close attention to the way the centerpieces were positioned, the designs on the china, the color of the napkins and the sparkle on the crystal reflecting from the candlelight. I played a guessing game with myself about how many courses would be served based on the number and position of the silverware laid at each place setting.
Absorbed in the pages, I imagined myself preparing delicious party food, creating beautiful tablescapes and being dressed and ready to receive my guests at the door, inviting them into a welcoming atmosphere.
I see each table setting element as a piece of art that someone created, and then I bring them together to create a cohesive tablescape and an enjoyable ambiance to the meal.
Here are some of my favorite tips for creating gracious tablescapes:
- Choose dishes that will pair with the meal you are serving. Here, I use a large dinner plate with enough room to hold two meats and sides. The china patterns I use are pretty but not too delicate for serving fried chicken.
- When styling your dining table, use the same technique you might use when coordinating outfits and do not quite know what to wear. Since we generally pull out different clothing items and accessories with different colors and textures from our closets to try on before making a final decision, do the same for your dining table by having a “dress rehearsal.”
- Next, use colors that contrast with your china pattern. Play around with different china, silverware, linens and glasses on the table to create the look you want. Then, decide on the centerpiece you want to incorporate into the design.
- At one time, before she began building her inventory of tableware, my mother had only one piece: a pretty plate. If you, too, have limited china, start with what you have and begin building your collection. Remember, every piece does not have to be from the same pattern.
- The coordinated pieces on this table were purchased at thrift shops, yard sales and estate sales. You will find great bargains shopping at those places.
- Finally, be sure to provide your guests a delicious meal to accompany your beautiful tablescape. I like to try new flavors in traditional Southern food staples. So over the years, I always added something new to the menu, like the recipe for shrimp stuffed eggs.
Shrimp Stuffed Eggs
- 6 hard-boiled eggs
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- 2 tsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish
- ½ cup cooked shrimp, chopped
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 tsp. finely chopped chives
Cut the eggs in half lengthwise, remove the yolks and set the whites aside.
Place the yolks in a medium bowl and mash them with a fork. Add the mayonnaise, parsley and relish, and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Fold the shrimp into the egg mixture.
Fill the egg white halves with the shrimp mixture. Garnish with chives, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.