If you have been a frequent visitor to Hilton Head Island during the months of March through May you know that spring on our little piece of heaven is something very special. The return of longer days means more sun bringing forth bodacious blooms of jasmine, wisteria and daffodil, more time for the beach and boat, and vacation time – fun time is eminent. Of course it is also a time for renewal and for those who observe Easter, it’s a sense of reflection that rules the heart and ultimately, a celebration of life’s possibilities through faith.
My family like many Southern folks, celebrated Easter with traditions that included (surprise!) …food. Our table always included a lovely glazed ham*, cheesy scalloped potatoes, spring vegetables like asparagus, greens and peas plus homemade biscuits and
a rich, old-fashioned layer cake made from scratch – no cake mixes here! This menu still speaks one thing to me: “Easter dinner”. We Southerners call Sunday lunch, “dinner” by the way.
Now one thing that has changed is that for many years’ lots of folks (and we are most happy about this) travel during their Easter or spring break, making a pilgrimage of sorts to find the sun, sand and wonderful flavors of our island. A most treasured tradition for these visitors and every local I have ever met is Signe’s Heaven Bound Bakery and Café or locally referred to as simply, SIGNE’S.
Like the Harbour Town lighthouse, the RBC Heritage and Sea Pines traffic circle, Signe’s ranks with the most well known and loved Hilton Head landmarks and institutions. Now in its 40th year, Signe’s never ceases to delight with creative and delicious fare for breakfast, brunch and lunch. And owner Signe Gardo still runs the show, effervescent with enthusiasm for baking, cooking, and creating indulgences to blow your mind. While she tells me that she has only ever removed 2 sandwiches from her menu in 40 years (Whew! My favorite, the “Hot Charlie” is not in this pair, thank you very much.), she is always in ‘creating’ mode. I think great cooks are really artists and thus their spigot of creativity can never truly be turned off.
As she says, “I see it and taste it on paper and work it out there first. The recipe has to be cost effective and of course, the flavors must be great. I am working on a smoked salmon and shrimp tart right now. Everything must balance out (in order to add a new item to the menu).”
And while I’ve known Signe for over 20 years and she has to be one of first chefs/restaurateurs around anywhere to actually prepare her dishes fresh from scratch as modus operandi, I learned that she also makes her own vinegars, pickles her own peppers and bottles her own preserved lemons. Even with all the great salads and original entrée items Signe makes, she is, I think foremost, a fabulous baker. Her Challah bread is wonderful – either on it’s own, toasted, and can be used to make some mean French toast. Her biscotti is a crunchy good treat flaunting unique flavor combos like pistachio and rose water, lavender and blueberry, and dried cherry and rosemary. Perfect with a hot cup of java or a cold glass of milk!
I declare that her breads, pastries and muffins as the best on the island and I will add, as a self-appointed blueberry muffin connoisseur, that hers are unequaled by anyone, any place, ever. She did tell me one of her special ingredients – but I am sworn to secrecy, sorry.
Now if you’re on the island for Easter week (or the coming RBC Heritage, or for any reason really!) stop by Signe’s for something delish – she’ll have the items I mentioned above on hand as well as some fun decorated homemade cupcakes and possibly cookies too. Need a picnic to go? “Go Signe’s” and order ahead – she’ll fill a great picnic hamper for the beach.
And if you’ve never been to Signe’s (oh the humanity!) this travesty must be corrected immediately. So I say, RUN, don’t walk on over to see her. Just be sure to give yourself plenty of time to consider the abundant choices – both old and new – because that Signe – she’s been getting creative again!
So friends, Happy Easter, Happy Passover and happy spring on Hilton Head!
Here’s a recipe to glaze that spring ham, ready for Easter:
Ever wondered why ham is such a traditional part of Easter – especially in the south? The historical reason is technological more than culinary. Rural folk slaughtered several hogs in the cold of December to insure they’d have an abundance of food in the house during the holidays that included fresh pork on Christmas and New Years. Because no refrigeration existed, farmers cured the ham portion – a slow process that lasted from December to April. Thus, ham became the available meat source for the Easter meal in most Christian homes across the country.
- 1 (8-10 lb.) precooked smoked bone-in ham
- 1 cup + (packed) brown sugar
- ½ cup molasses
- 1 1/2 cup fruit juice (pineapple, orange, peach or apple cider works well)
- 1/2 cup Dijon mustard (or spicy brown if you are so inclined)
- ½ cup bourbon (or if you prefer, regular soda like Dr. Pepper or Coca Cola works too!)
- Whole cloves (if you like)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a roasting pan with aluminum foil to help with clean-up. Add another section of aluminum foil for wrapping loosely around the ham. Score the ham into a crosshatch pattern and, if desired, stud the intersections of the crosshatches with whole cloves. Mix the brown sugar, molasses, bourbon, mustard and 2/3 cup fruit juice together and spoon/spear over the ham. Pour the rest of the fruit juice around the ham (into the pan). Pull the foil around the ham loosely as you will need access to baste the ham throughout.
Bake the ham 2 ½ – 3 hours basting every 15-20 minutes. Remove the foil covering the last 20 minutes of baking (with the last baste). Remove from the oven and baste one last time to create a nice sheen. Remove from pan to platter and allow to rest. Serve with leftover glaze on the side.