My Nana was a most extraordinary lady. Tomorrow, it will be two weeks since we lost her. As this is Holy Week there are surely parallels to be made about resurrection and new life. But frankly, they do not bring me comfort because they do not bring back her smile or her dancing or her enthusiasm for life which was contagious to those around her. I feel like I should do more here in tribute to her; I want to do more here in tribute to her, given the profound impact she has had on my life. At her memorial service I talked about how I believed that Nana’s legacy was that she taught us the language of food. She showed us how we can channel our feelings of grief, joy, and frustration into the preparation of food and use it to show other people that we care about them. It would seem fitting then, that tomorrow we plan a huge dinner in honor and remembrance of her. But the idea of doing so seems like an overwhelming task because there is simply so much to say, both with words and with food. Where do you even begin?
Answer: You begin with bunnies. Pear bunnies, to be exact.
One of the earliest lessons that we learned from Nana is that celebrations should not be limited to holidays. Simply being together for dinner on Sunday night was enough of a reason to get out her china and crystal and plan a great big dinner, just for us. As part of these non-holiday family dinners, there were always a few things we could count on. One was a relish tray. Nana had a specific divided glass dish that she used and it always had carrots, celery, little sweet pickles, and olives. The relish tray was the first thing brought to the table so that we could all have a little nibble of something as she brought out the first course. For the grown ups, this was usually shrimp cocktail served in sherbet dishes with thin crystal stems and for us girls, she often made us pear bunnies on little china plates.
Pear bunnies were a fixture at Nana’s dinners decades before the advent of the internet and Pinterest. Perhaps she saw a picture in a magazine once and continued to make them for years after, knowing how much we loved them? The exact origin doesn’t matter, only that they became a treat that us girls looked forward to and Easter in particular would be incomplete without them.
Of the many foods that Nana was known for preparing, pear bunnies seem to be the most representative of her playful nature, which is probably another reason we loved them so much. Plus, they gave her an excuse to buy maraschino cherries for the nose, which was important because then she would use the leftover cherries and juice to make us Shirley Temples to have before dinner.
Nana’s bunnies always had a little ball of cream cheese for a tail, but since I can no longer eat dairy, I substituted a marshmallow. All of the other components are pretty straight-forward: raisins for eyes, carrots for ears, and always maraschino cherries for the nose. Best if served on your grandmother’s well-used and much-loved china. :)
- 4 canned pear halves, drained
- baby carrots
- maraschino cherries
- large marshmallows
- 1. Arrange pear halves on little plates on top of a leaf of lettuce.
- 2. Cut 1 raisin into eighths. Cut one cherry into eighths as well. Thinly slice several baby carrots longways.
- 3. Make two very small cuts in the narrow end of the pear and insert raisin pieces for eyes. Place nose in front of the pear and put pieces of carrot behind eyes.
- 4. Cut marshmallows in half and place them in the back of the pear.
- Pear bunnies can be partially assembled ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. Add cherry nose and marshmallow tail just before serving.