Easter, like Christmas, is a time of year that has certain culinary connotations. Hot cross buns, simnel cakes, spring lamb and of course, chocolate eggs all spring to mind. However are we really aware of why these particular goodies are eaten? In a recent poll, 43% of British people had no idea what Easter commemorates and yet a staggering 75% of us happily buy Easter eggs. So why exactly do we choose certain foods?
The ancient Greeks and Chinese gave eggs as a symbol of springtime hope and the early Christians granted them with a religious connotation, choosing eggs to represent the tomb from which Jesus emerged. The tradition of Easter eggs was henceforth born and today a cracking 80 million chocolate ones are sold in the UK alone every year and the British Retail Consortium estimate that we Brits will spend no less than £520 million just on choccie eggs in 2006.
Decorating eggs started with simple vegetable dyes and red was often used to symbolise the blood of Christ. In Germany and Austria they are coloured green for Maundy Thursday and in the Ukraine, eggs are exquisitely decorated with intricate patterns. These 'pysanki' are blessed by priests and then given as gifts on Easter Sunday. It was the Russian Tsars however who introduced an element of bling to Easter. From the 1880s until the revolution in 1917 they commissionedjewelerler, Faberge, to bedeck eggs with diamonds and gold in order to make the ultimate Easter pressie.
Eggs, along with butter are just some of the goodies that Lentern fasters are supposed to give up and so Easter time has long been a baking celebration across Europe. Spiced breads, cakes and biscuits abound to herald the rebirth of Christ and take on all manner of shapes from crosses, fish and even lambs. Hot cross buns were traditionally baked on Good Friday in England and in the 17th century were first cut with their distinctive cross to let the devil fly out. Happily it also let the butter ooze in.
Just as the devil had a part to play with buns, he was instrumental in the choice of lamb at Easter time. Superstition has it that one is lucky to cross the path of a lamb at Easter time (and this doesn't mean in the supermarket meat aisle) as it is the one animal that the devil can never take the form of because Christ is the lamb of God. New season lamb also happens to be deliciously tender and juicy in the spring and so often forms the main course of Easter meals across Europe.
And what of the Easter Bunny? Amazingly this is not a myth dreamt up by the Hersheys and Cadburys of this world. Hares and rabbits have been viewed as the most fertile of animals since Pagan times and have long been held as a sign of an abundance of new life. The roots of the 'Easter Hare' and his philanthropic habits can be traced back to the 16th century although today one wonders if it is a tradition that dentists the world over would like us to maintain.
So as you tuck into your Easter eggs, cakes and roast lamb be confident in the knowledge that you are helping to perpetuate traditions that are hundreds of years old.