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Healthy Lifestyle: The foods of Easter

Published:Saturday | April 3, 2010 | 4:00 AM
Easter Bun
Thanksgiving might be a turkey, but Easter is definitely a ham. - MCT
Hot cross buns are great for year-round eating, but are particularly ideal during the Easter season.
Herbs and mustard flavour a quick rack of lamb roast.
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Heather Little-White, Contributor

Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ, but it also celebrates fertility and the season of renewal. Nature is reborn after the death of winter, and the Christian celebration has evolved from pagan celebrations. As such, Easter has had a long association with food.

Originally, Easter was called Pascha, the Hebrew word for Passover, a Jewish festival that happens at this time of year. Later, it was replaced by Easter, a word which is believed to have evolved from Eostre, the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility and springtime. Special dishes were cooked in her honour so that the year would be endowed with fertility.

When you think of Easter foods in Jamaica, bun quickly comes to mind. The eating of bun in today's Jamaica could have arisen from the tradition of hot cross buns. Hot cross buns are an Easter favourite in many areas around the world, particularly in the United Kingdom where they are eaten on Good Friday. The tradition is said to derive from ancient Anglo-Saxons who baked small wheat cakes in honour of the springtime goddess, Eostre. (About.com: Home Cooking)

In ancient Greece, a similar small, sacred bread containing the finest sifted flour and honey had the name 'bous', meaning 'ox', and from which the word bun is said to have originated. In time, the representation of the horns became a simple cross, although it also has been suggested that this was intended to symbolise the four quarters of the moon. The old association of protection and fertility, and birth and rebirth, was transposed into Christianity where the ritual of baking hot cross buns became standard practice of the Easter celebration in English society.

Hot cross buns

Hot cross buns are a traditional favourite for Good Friday, Easter, and throughout the Lent season, but they are enjoyable year round. Rolls are made from yeast and filled with currants or raisins and nuts, then topped with a cross of icing. Hot cross buns were eaten all year round in pagan, pre-Christian times. The bun represen-ted the moon and the four quarters, the four seasons. Christians took over this tasty tradition and changed the meaning of the cross to represent the cross on which Jesus died.

Over time, there have been variations of the Easter Bun and several people make home-made buns as gifts or for retail purposes. Hot cross buns are varied to become spice buns, penny buns, Chelsea buns, currant buns - all of which are these are small, soft, plump, sweet, fermented cakes. The most interesting of the recipes is the Jamaicanised home-made stout bun, an easy-to-make spiced fruit bun without the cross.

After converting to Christianity, the Church substituted buns with cakes and then with sweetbreads blessed by the Church. Countries around the world serve sweet cakes in the same vein, such as Czech babobka and Polish baba. The Greeks and Portuguese serve round, flat loaves marked with a cross and decorated with Easter eggs.

In the Baltic region of Russia, their Easter cake is kulich, a yeast dough of enormous proportions lavishly decorated with crystallised citrus peel. In traditional households, it is presented on a table decorated with decorated eggs and the younger members of the family visit to share the eggs and bread." ('An ancient tradition', J. Passmore, Courier Mail).

Syrian and Jordanian Christians have honey pastries. Sweetbreads are still popular in Trinidad and are delectable prepared with coconut and fruit.

Egg bread

Bread is part of the Easter tradition. On Holy Thursday, to commemorate the Last Supper when Christ shared bread with his disciples, a brioche or egg bread called koulitch is prepared in absolute silence. On Resurrection night, there is a procession to church with persons holding a basket of eggs, holding a candle in one hand and the bread in the other. Kisses are exchanged and each other's forgiveness is asked for any offence committed against one another, as a token of peace for the future (The History of Bread, Dupaigne, 1999)

Eggs

Easter cannot be imagined without eggs. A symbol of fertility and new beginning, Easter eggs usher in joyous moments into our Easter celebrations. It is a popular traditional game to hunt out Easter eggs, a lot of fun, especially for the children. For Easter Sunday, Orthodox Christians dye and decorate eggs. Decoration of Easter eggs is a fun activity where you can pour out your creative ideas and make decorated Easter eggs for gifts for friends and family members.

Easter eggs are decorated with characters like bunnies, chicks and penguins. Coloured Easter eggs are made by dyeing them. This is an old tradition that is still interesting today. It is safe to use natural and food colour dyes. However, if acrylic paints are used, the painted eggs should not be eaten.

Pretzels

In Italy, salty pretzels are traditionally eaten at Easter time. Pretzels were first twisted into shape to indicate the torso of a person with arms folded, praying. The pretzel dates back to the Romans in the early part of the seventh century. There are two types of pretzel - hard and crisp, or soft and chewy, the latter being the older of the two forms.

Easter feast

A common Easter Sunday feast comprises lamb or goat roasted over a charcoal fire and served with Kokoretsi, special Greek breads, cakes, cookies, varied kinds of wines, Lambropsomo and Magiritsa. One of the major aspects of Greek Easter feasts is that every guest is warmly welcomed into households and invited to eat.

Lamb

After Easter Sunday services, Serbian Orthodox families traditionally begin feasting with appetisers of smoked meats and cheeses, boiled eggs and red wine. The meal consists of chicken noodle or lamb vegetable soup followed by spit-roasted lamb. Lamb is sheep less than one year old. The roast lamb dinner that many eat on Easter Sunday has its genesis in the tradition of the first Passover of the Jewish people. The sacrificial lamb was roasted and eaten, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, hoping that the angel of God would pass over their homes and keep them free from harm.

Ham

In the United States, ham is considered traditional Easter food. In the early days, meat was slaughtered in the fall and, when there was no refrigeration, fresh pork that was not consumed during the winter months before Lent was cured for consumption during spring. Since the hams took a long time to cure, the first hams were ready around Easter.

Heather Little-White, PhD, is a nutrition and lifestyle consultant in Kingston. Send comments to saturdaylife@gleanerjm.com.

Trinidad Coconut Sweet Bread

Ingredients

11/2 cup grated coconut

1 cup sugar

11/2 oz margarine

1/2 cup dried fruit or candied peel

1/4 tsp salt

21/2 cups counter flour

1 tbsp yeast

Preparation

1) Put 1 cup of warm water in a bowl and sprinkle the yeast in, add 1 tbsp sugar and 2 tbsps counter flour. Mix well and leave to rise.

2) In another bowl, mix grated coconut, sugar, salt and softened margarine.

3) Add yeast mixture, counter flour and dried fruit - mix well.

4) Grease a bowl lightly with margarine, place dough in and turn once, then cover bowl with a dish towel and let dough rise for one hour.

5) After one hour, knead dough again, divide into two equal parts and put into two greased baking tins.

6) Cover with towel again and leave to rise until nearly double in size.

7) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and bake loaves until light brown.

8) Remove bread from oven, turn out on to a rack and brush with thick syrup to glaze.

Source: Get Trinidad.com

OLD-FASHIONED EGG SALAD

Ingredients

1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 tsps lemon juice

1 tsp dried minced onion

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

6 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, onion, salt and pepper.

Stir in eggs and celery. Cover and refrigerate.

Serves 3

Source: Taste of Home 2009