Pass The Sprouts

For years at every family holiday dinner, my Aunt Louise would make a Brussels sprouts dish and a coconut cream pie as her contributions to the meals. She insisted that my brother-in-law Russell loved Brussels sprouts and my brother Herk had to have her coconut cream pie.

While both dishes were eventually gobbled up, we never had the heart to tell her that Russell probably hates Brussels sprouts while several family members fought over the last piece of pie. It’s funny how recipes, traditions and families evolve like that.

Two people get married, have kids who then add the grandchildren and great-grandkids, etc. And through the lineage, family customs are handed down, sometimes changing and tweaking as they go. Some may call them quirks while others deem them tried-and-true family traditions.

Making pierogies with all the family at Christmastime like they do in my daughter-in-law’s family is something that brings generations together and acts as the glue that binds their hearts. My mother’s neighbor Helen Prezkop does that, too, and her children come from far and wide to take part in all that dough making, potato mashing and shaping. It’s a wonderful time for families, and it’s a recipe steeped in fun and laughter.

My father often talked about his childhood at Christmas and Easter. He grew up in the German section of Center Wheeling where everyone knew what it meant to count your pennies. His Easter celebration centered around his beloved St. Alphonsus Church, where he served as an altar boy, and the family meal.

He spoke of the solemnity of Holy Week and how the life-like statues in the church were covered and the church stripped of all adornment during that week. He talked lovingly of the times he would accompany his mother to the Centre Market on Saturday, where they would buy their fresh fruits and vegetables and all the trimmings for holiday dinners.

When he described the markethouse foods, you could almost taste the hot cross buns and fresh cheeses. There were no shopping carts and they walked from their home to the marketplace and back, carrying their purchases as they went. I’m sure it was quite a heavy load for that skinny German kid who cherished holidays with his family as a child and later as a married family man.

I’m sure we tried his patience when coloring those eggs for the Easter baskets. Yet through all the mess and fuss, he always managed to produce several perfectly beautiful eggs, which he then polished with a touch of butter.

When we break bread this Easter Sunday with family members, we will miss those members no longer seated around the table. We will laugh and maybe share a story or two and, of course, we will eat pie and maybe even Brussels sprouts. After all, it’s a family tradition.

Happy Easter.

Heather Ziegler can be reached via e-mail at