I am fascinated by traditional holiday foods from around the world. Each dish has a fantastic story that embodies the history, agriculture and joy of the people who produce it. Let’s check into some of the lovely choices. Every holiday table should have the tried and true family favorites. But there should also be some well rehearsed culinary adventures to sample as well.
I have noticed that many traditional Easter foods involve a sweetened and decorated yeast bread. Examples would be Kulich, from Eastern Europe. This baked in a tall tin and decorated with icing. The Mexican Easter Bread is called Capirotada, and is a baked bread pudding flavored with raisins, cinnamon cloves and cheese. England of course is famous for its hot crossed buns.
There are a couple of versions of sweet yeast breads which are decorated with colored eggs. They are Mona de Pascua from Spain and Tsoureki from Greece. The first looks like a donut topped with a hardboiled egg. In the second case, the eggs are dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ. Columba di Pascua ( The dove of Easter) is a Italian bread with candied citrus peel much like Pannetone eaten for Christmas.
It is important to remember that Easter occurs in spring. Historically, one would have to rely on the pantry or garden to make meals. Greens would barely be beginning to come into gardens. Perhaps there were new potatoes, peas or onions ifone were lucky and Easter was late. Thus breads from stored wheat, eggs from chickens just starting to lay again, and meat, either fresh or cured was accessible, and figured prominently in the Easter menu. Accordingly we see the observance of “ Gründonnerstag” in Germany on Maundy Thursday, when a soup of greens is eaten. In Naples, bread, cured meats and cheese were combined in a tortano for Easter day picnics. In Greece, lamb was traditional, cooked as a stew, with greens and an egg and lemon sauce.
Eggs of course, figure strongly into Easter menus throughout Christendom. Most traditions provide for them to be decorated. Did you know that this tradition of egg decoration predates Christianity by thousands of years? The custom was sanctioned early on by the early Christian church as the egg was declared a symbol of the risen Jesus. This custom was raised to high art in the Eastern European arts of Pysanka, with complex deeply colored geometric patterns, and ultimately to the jeweled eggs of Fabergé. While I would love to see and touch a Fabergé egg, I would prefer to have a fanciful design made in chocolate.
Did you know even the making of Easter baskets has roots in the church ? In Poland decorated baskets are filled with decorated eggs and special foods, and are blessed collectively by the town priests. Modern children whose baskets are filled with toys should remember that in days gone by, the special foods given in baskets were a great luxury.
I hope this gives you a little inspiration as you prepare your celebration. Remember to plan ahead and involve every one in the preparations for the festivities.