Easter Feasts around the World

around the world

mailife - - Contents - words and pho­tos by LANCE SEETO

No mat­ter what your re­li­gious be­liefs, Easter is also a time of ir­re­sistibly naughty treats that chal­lenge the diet and waist line, but who can re­sist an ex­cuse to eat more choco­late, buns and pies at this time of the year. Around the world, a va­ri­ety of dishes com­mem­o­rate the end of the Chris­tian Len­ten fast. From global prepa­ra­tions of ham and lamb to Ital­ian Neapoli­tan pizza and Fin­nish pulla bread, Easter is a fam­ily af­fair of hearty Easter brunches and cel­e­bra­tory din­ner feasts.


Easter, or Res­ur­rec­tion Sun­day, was an oc­ca­sion of great cel­e­bra­tion in me­dieval times in the West­ern Chris­tian world, not just for re­li­gious rea­sons, but for culi­nary rea­sons also. It was the end of Lent fast­ing pe­riod when only a few food dishes like pre­served dried fish was per­mit­ted. Meat, eggs, cheese, milk and but­ter were back on the menu; fast­ing was fin­ished and the sin­gle daily Len­ten meal re­verted back to two of­fi­cial daily meals. There was a prac­ti­cal rea­son for Lent in ad­di­tion to its pur­pose of re­li­gious penance – it was the end of win­ter. Food was scarce, with me­dieval house­holds re­ly­ing on the pro­vi­sions stored and pre­served dur­ing au­tumn. By early spring, the chick­ens would not be lay­ing many eggs, the ma­jor­ity of the cheese and salt meat will have been eaten, the only sur­viv­ing an­i­mals were be­ing kept to breed and the cows wouldn’t be giv­ing milk yet. By the end of Lent, all the new shoots and veg­eta­bles would be com­ing into sea­son, the chick­ens would be lay­ing again and the an­i­mals breed­ing and pro­duc­ing milk, mak­ing for a mag­nif­i­cent feast at the end of the fast­ing. One of the dishes that would have been a sure fire hit at Easter­tide was the tart. Sweet or savoury, the abun­dance of eggs, fresh veg­eta­bles and cheese en­sured beau­ti­ful, rich, golden mounds of puffed pas­tries would adorn the me­dieval house­hold.


Hot cross buns are one such fes­tive Easter foods that tempt even the most staunch gluten free di­eter like me. It’s nearim­pos­si­ble to walk past a Hot Bread Kitchen early morn­ing as the smells of this rich, golden dough - a cel­e­bra­tory riot of fruit and spice - wafts across the counter. They’re a mor­ish,

waist-chal­leng­ing, sweet bun I re­ally shouldn’t eat too of but child­hood mem­o­ries of a warmed hot cross bun, lath­ered in fresh cow’s but­ter, is sim­ply too hard to re­sist. The rich his­tory of hot cross buns is re­gret­tably for­got­ten, along with my de­sire to eat a ma­jor­ity gluten free diet, as my brain ac­ti­vates un­con­trol­lable plea­sure zones of want­ing to eat more. No mat­ter how many gluten free recipes I’ve tried, tra­di­tional and mod­ern, I’m sorry to say that there is no real sub­sti­tut­ing for us­ing nor­mal flour to en­joy the same fluffy soft­ness of this Easter treat. I just need to cross the road or take an­other route to avoid the bak­eries!


The Easter hol­i­day and its cui­sine on this feast day isn’t just lim­ited to hot cross buns. All over the world, Easter food is as di­verse and col­or­ful as the dif­fer­ent cul­tures that cel­e­brate it. While crossed buns have English ori­gins, re­gional sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents in far dis­tant coun­tries de­fined other bread and bun recipes from the sweet bri­oche Vene­tian gubana filled with choco­late, raisins and al­co­hol; the Span­ish hor­nazo meat pie stuffed with spicy pork chorizo sausage and hard boiled eggs; or the Cyprian Flaounes Easter bread filled with cheese and raisins, pre­pared on Good Fri­day and then eaten on Easter Sun­day. One recipe, the Ge­noese torta pasqualina, is filled with dark leafy greens, and was tra­di­tion­ally made with 33 lay­ers of dough—one for each year of Christ’s life.


Fam­i­lies around the world will cel­e­brate Easter with lamb dishes, Easter egg hunts and lots of choco­late bun­nies. But how did lamb, eggs and choco­late be­come iconic as­pects of the Easter tra­di­tion? The tra­di­tion of eat­ing lamb on Easter has its roots in early Passover ob­ser­vances be­fore the birth of Chris­tian­ity. Ac­cord­ing to the bib­li­cal Ex­o­dus story, the peo­ple of Egypt suf­fered a series of ter­ri­ble plagues, in­clud­ing the death of all first­born sons. Jews painted their door­posts with sac­ri­ficed lamb’s blood so that God would “pass over” their homes while car­ry­ing out the “pun­ish­ment”. Ac­cus­tomed to eat­ing roast lamb on Passover, Jews who con­verted to Chris­tian­ity con­tin­ued the tra­di­tion at Easter. Chris­tians also re­fer to Je­sus as the “Lamb of God,” so it makes sense that lamb ap­pears in many world recipes at the Easter ta­ble. On a less sym­bolic note, lamb would have been one of the first fresh meats avail­able af­ter a long win­ter with no live­stock to slaugh­ter.


Eggs have been a sym­bol of re­birth since an­cient times, but it was Me­sopotamian Chris­tians who first adopted them as an Easter food. They were also the first to dye eggs, turn­ing them bright red to rep­re­sent Christ’s blood. East­ern Euro­peans took egg dec­o­rat­ing to an art form, cre­at­ing del­i­cate wax re­lief de­signs in the shells to give to friends and fam­ily mem­bers. In the United States and Bri­tain, eggs are dyed and used for hunts and rolls. As egg dec­o­rat­ing grew more pop­u­lar, dishes like deviled eggs and hard­boiled eggs be­came as­so­ci­ated with Easter as a way to avoid wast­ing valu­able food.


The cus­tom of giv­ing candy and choco­late for Easter, mean­while, first ap­peared in the Vic­to­rian age. New tech­nol­ogy, de­vel­oped by the fa­mous Cad­bury fac­tory in Eng­land, al­lowed man­u­fac­tur­ers to cre­ate hol­low sculp­tures made of choco­late, in­stead of painstak­ingly ap­ply­ing layer af­ter layer of choco­late to in­di­vid­ual molds as they had be­fore. These new pro­cesses meant that higher-qual­ity choco­late were avail­able for a cheaper price, and the mar­ket quickly boomed. By 1893 the Cad­bury com­pany alone of­fered a whop­ping 19 dif­fer­ent prod­uct lines for the Easter mar­ket in­clud­ing all sizes of eggs as a tasty sym­bol of re­birth, and the bunny rab­bit to sym­bol­ize fer­til­ity.

The Ro­man neopoli­tan pizza was a sim­ple food served around Easter in Italy

Hot Cross Pud­ding - a mod­ern take on the Easter bun

Span­ish Easter hor­nazo bread is stuffed with chorizo sausage and egg

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