One Spring break when the children were young we traveled to England to visit Wordsworth’s home in the Lake District. Our first British dinner was spring lamb, a specialty of the season. The next morning we drove through a countryside filled with sheep and scampering lambs. Imagine being in a car with two children who have suddenly and to their horror figured out the relation between last night’s dinner and the adorable babies in the meadows before us. That was our first, and last, lamb dinner.
For those of you who have not experienced lamb-on-the-hoof, you might consider a boneless leg-of-lamb for your Easter dinner. Lamb is lean, tender and, as you can clearly see from the photo above, dignified. Here’s an excellent recipe from Weight Watchers.
This coming Monday, I’ll be raising a toast to my mother, Minerva, who grilled a mean leg of lamb and served it with mint jelly. Monday would have been her 100th birthday.
Minerva was born on March 16, 1915, in Northern California’s olive country. She was one of seven children and the only girl born to Swiss immigrants John and Lydia Berlinger. When she was young, Minerva had to stay inside during olive season because her six brothers lay in wait to shoot raw olives at her with their sling shots.
When she graduated from high school she asked her mother for $20 for college tuition. Lydia didn’t believe in wasting money to educate girls, preferring to spend the $20 for new living room curtains. Minerva got a college education anyway, gratis the older neighbors across the street who had no children and who favored her to all her olive-shooting brothers. She majored in English literature and became a teacher.
Minerva wasn’t her real name. Her given name was Anne, but when my brother Jon was in high school he nicknamed her Minerva after the Roman goddess of wisdom. Nobody called her by any other name for the rest of her life. It suited her perfectly. Don’t get me wrong: while Minerva could recite Wordsworth verbatim (the trip to England was an homage to her), she could also cuss like a sailor.
So on Monday, March 16, I will think of her and honor the life she lived by raising a glass to Anne Berlinger, aka Minerva, goddess of our family’s wisdom.