The Idiot’s Guide to Easter
It’s almost Easter & in this part of the world, everyone’s getting ready for the long weekend – either packing to go away or hitting the shops and buying as many chocolate eggs and bunnies as money permits while preparing for the various Easter meals and customs. Of course this isn’t the case everywhere and I was sharply reminded of this when my friend Shaleema phoned this morning, yelling that she’d been invited to her Christian boyfriend’s home for the weekend & she had no idea what to do, could I help.
With the amount of Easter advertising these days, it came as quite a surprise to me that someone didn’t know what it was about but, clearly, I was dead wrong; in my own family, Easter has always been a relatively low key affair with (when we were home) roasted leg of lamb, chocolate eggs that were hidden all over the place and painted or dyed hard-boiled eggs, but now that my children have left home, the hardboiled eggs have fallen by the wayside and the kids prefer real chocolate. I really miss that. When we lived in Italy, it was a whole suckling lamb and humungous Easter eggs that contained gifts and, of course, the children loved those eggs. As a family, we didn’t go to church all that often and, anyway, I didn’t like going on the Friday because it was a sad affair but the Monday dawn service was great.
THE WORD ‘EASTER’
It’s quite interesting to look at the etymology of the word – some translations below just for fun.Afrikaans – Paasfees Armenian – Pasg Basq – Pasg Bulgarian – Ostern Danish – Påske Dutch – Pasen English – Easter French – Pâques German – Ostern Icelandic – Páskar Italian – Pasqua Latin – Pascha Portuguese – Páscoa Spanish – Pascua de Resurrección Swedish – Påsk Turkey – Paskalya Welsh – Pasg
STUFF TO KNOW ABOUT EASTER
- According to Christian scriptures, Easter is that time of the year when Jesus came back to life, three days after he died on the cross.
- The crucifixion is commemorated on Good Friday which is always the Friday just before Easter.
- Christians believe that Jesus paid the penalty for all sin through his death, his burial & his resurrection and that all believers will have eternal life in Jesus Christ.
- There are some Christians who believe that Easter has pagan origins and that it’s become too commercialized so they ignore it.
- Easter fires are lit in some parts of the world to symbolize the end of the old life and the beginning of the new.
- If you’re visiting a very religious family, you need to read the The Trial of Jesus so that you can understand what they’re talking about.
- When your hosts mention the word “lamb”, make sure that they’re not talking about the Lamb of God before you offer to help prepare it for dinner.
- Easter is celebrated differently in almost every country so it may be a good idea to find out what they do around the world, just in case.
SUPER EASY HOT CROSS BUNS
- 450g strong white bread flour
- 100g sugar
- 7g dried yeast
- 250ml milk
- 50g butter
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 ½ tsp ground allspice
- 100g raisins
- 1 whole orange, grated zest only
- 1 jumbo sized free-range egg
100 g ready-made sweet short pastry
- 1 tbsp smooth marmalade (take out any bits)
- 1 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
- 2 tbsp water
- Sift the flour, the dried yeast, the sugar, the spices, the orange zest & the raisins into a bowl.
- Warm the milk & butter and milk together until the butter has melted & then remove from the heat & whisk in the egg (it must be warm, not boiling), then fold the milk & butter mixture into the flour to form a dough.
- Put the dough onto a floured surface & knead briskly until it’s smooth & elastic (around 10 – 15 minutes); now divide it into 12 pieces that you shape into balls, cover this with a damp cloth & set aside until it has doubled in size (leaving it overnight does the trick – you’re using dried yeast here & not instant yeast – if you want quicker results, use instant yeast even though the quality of the roll will not be as good).
- Divide the dough into 12 pieces, shape into balls and cover with a damp cloth. Set aside for 12 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 180C.
- Cut the short pastry into strips & form crosses on each bun, put them on a baking tray & bake until they’re ready (around 20-25 minutes).
- While they’re baking, simmer your glazing ingredients until the sugar has melted & the mixture is smooth & glossy; as soon as you remove the buns from the oven, brush each one with the glaze – set aside to cool down.
This bothered me until the age of ten when my grandmother put me straight (she stayed with us when my mom was away having brother number 1); she said that there was nothing about rabbits in the Bible plus they don’t lay eggs but it didn’t matter – what mattered was that we children understood the enormity of the resurrection which, of course, I didn’t. Years later I found out that it was part of Easter’s pagan heritage and could be traced back to 13th century Germany when locals worshipped loads of different gods & goddesses; the goddess Eostra was in charge of spring & fertility and locals held feasts in her honour during the Vernal Equinox – her symbol was the rabbit because of its rather brisk reproduction rate. In those days people believed that the rabbit was a hermaphrodite & could breed without losing its virginity which is why the Christians associated them with the Virgin Mary (bear in mind these were primitive times & archaeology & science wasn’t nearly as developed as it is today). When I discussed this with a friend who happens to be a priest/rabbi/minister, he pointed out that the narrative should never be more important than the meaning behind it but if you’re visiting an extremely religious family, they may not want to hear that – so keep it to yourself..
- 1500: according to Discovery the first Easter bunny story was documented during this time but I’ve only been able to find a reputable source that confirms a man by the name of Georg Franck von Frankenau wrote De ovis paschalibus which was all about Easter eggs and told of a really old Alsace tradition about an Easter hare bringing Easter eggs – he lived from 1643 – 1704, a good while later.
- 1680: the first story indicating about them laying & hiding eggs in gardens was published.
- 1700: when German immigrants arrived in Pennsylvania, the stories became popular in the USA and the nest making traditions began.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE INVITED
- First of all, make sure what kind of Christians they are – that will give you an indication of what to take; if they’re ordinary run of the mill Christians, take the best Easter eggs you can afford as well as flowers for the hostess; if the hostess is your boyfriend/fiancé/husband’s mother, take a gift as well because she’s the one you’d need to impress.
- Pack something suitable for Church just in case and bear in mind that super plunging necklines and extra short skirts aren’t suitable for women; guys, you’re lucky you can wear pretty much anything that’s neat.
- Be prepared to help wherever it’s needed because Christians tend to cook a lot at this time of the year; if you’re the spoilt princess type, don’t go.
- Never talk about religion, especially at the dinner table – actually, never talk about religion at all; if you’re stuck, talk about Easter eggs, there are loads of interesting stuff to discuss about them.
- The eggs symbolize new life and, therefore, the Resurrection and that’s really what Easter is all about.
- Ancient Zoroastrians painted eggs for their New Year (Nowrooz) & this tradition is about 2,500 years old (there are sculptures of people carrying eggs to their king during Nowrooz on the walls of Persepolis) – the New Year developed into New Life.
- Some followers of Eastern Christianity believe that Mary Magdalene took hardboiled eggs to the tomb of Jesus to share with the other women who were waiting at the tomb; when they saw the risen Jesus, the eggs miraculously turned red – for this reason followers of this branch of Christianity always paint
- Egg decorating is par for the course and you’ll probably have great fun if your hosts like to do this type of thing – it may be a good idea to learn a little about painting, decorating and dyeing eggs
I found this in Delia’s Book of Cakes and decided to share it because it is, truly, unfloppable – her recipes never flop & if Easter is something foreign to you and you want to take something special, this is the cake to bake for your hosts – believe me, you’ll impress.
- 250g caster sugar
- 250g ground almonds
- 2 large free-range eggs, whisked
- 1 tsp almond essence
- 175 g butter
- 175 g soft brown sugar
- 3 free-range eggs, whisked
- 175g plain flour
- Pinch salt
- 1 tsp ground mixed spice (Delia suggests ½ a tsp but I prefer a full teaspoon)
- 350g mixed raisins, currants and sultanas
- 55g chopped mixed peel
- ½ lemon, grated zest only
- 1-2 tbsp apricot jam
- 1 free-range egg, whisked for glazing
- For the almond paste: put the sugar and ground almonds in a bowl, add enough of beaten egg to mix it to a fairly soft consistency; add the almond essence & knead for a minute until the paste is smooth & pliable.
- Roll out a third of the almond paste to make a circle (18cm in diameter) & reserve the rest for the cake topping.
- Preheat oven to 140C & grease and line a 18cm cake tin.
- For the cake: cream the butter & sugar together until pale and fluffy, then gradually beat in the eggs until well incorporated & sift in the flour, the salt and the mixed spice – a little at a time; finally, add the mixed dried fruit, the peel and the grated lemon zest and stir into the mixture.
- Put half of the mixture into the greased and lined cake tin, smooth the top & cover with the circle of almond paste; add the rest of the cake mixture and smooth the top leaving a slight dip in the centre to allow for the cake to rise.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 1¾ hours, then test it by inserting a skewer in the middle – if it comes out clean, it’s ready; once baked, remove from the oven and set aside to cool on a wire rack.
- Brush the top of the cooled cake with the apricot jam; divide the rest of the almond paste in half; roll out a circle to cover the top of the cake with one half and form 11 small balls with the other half.
- Place the circle of paste on the jam glaze and set the balls round the edge, then brush the cake topping with a little beaten egg.
- Preheat the grill to high – place the cake onto a baking tray and grill for 1-2 minutes or until the top of the marzipan just begins to brown; alternatively, lightly heat the cake topping using a cook’s blow torch, until the marzipan is golden-brown.