Holiday Foods: Easter Eggs

Holiday Foods: Easter Eggs

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Five Traditional Easter Foods in Switzerland

Easter arrives early this year, and I’m still working to plan my brunch menu for Sunday. As I consider my options, I’ve been thinking about some of the traditional Swiss foods for Easter. In no particular order, here they are, as well as some recipes if you want to recreate them at home.

1. Chocolate Bunnies

When I first moved to Switzerland three years ago, I was surprised by the invasion of huge chocolate bunnies during the weeks leading up to Easter. In all shapes and sizes, and with various types of decoration, you can find these bunnies in milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, with nuts or without and more. Sometimes the bunnies look almost half the size of the children who will be eating them on Easter morning!

Chocolate bunny at The Kambly Experience in Trubschachen, Switzerland.

2. Naturally-Dyed Hard-Boiled Eggs

This time of year, Swiss supermarkets like Coop and Migros sell bags of brown onion skins. You can use these at home to dye hard-boiled Easter eggs (learn how to do this at apartment therapy). I haven’t tried it yet, but maybe this year. Otherwise, I can just buy the pre-made ones at the supermarket.

3. Osterfladen

According to Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse, the first tarts in Switzerland resembling today’s Osterfladen (German) or Gâteau de Pâques (French) may have started as early as the 16th century, and several sources pinpoint Basel as the birthplace. These tarts generally contain either rice or semolina. My local bakery uses semolina and a thin layer of apricot jam. One of the bakers I spoke with last year said he preferred using semolina over rice because it makes a lighter cake.

4. Colomba Pasquale

Colomba Pasquale, known as Colombe de Pâques in French, is a yeasted cake with a distinctive shape that resembles a dove with outstretched wings. The top of the cake usually has a generous coating of powdered or coarse-grained sugar and almonds. Traditionally, the dough is studded with candied orange peel, but you can find myriad flavors.

While Colomba Pasquale originated in Italy, it’s popular throughout Switzerland, and is especially well-known in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, since at least the 1950s. Apparently, the Swiss typically eat this after lunch on Easter day, accompanied by chocolate eggs and sparking wine, as reported by Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse.

5. Zopf/Tresse

Braided loaves of Zopf (German)/Tresse (French) seem to be an essential component of an Easter breakfast or brunch. There’s evidence the Swiss have been making loaves of Zopf since the mid-15th century. Zopf will be on our table for Easter again this year, and I like to pair it with a bittersweet orange marmalade.

This time of year, it’s also common to see Zopf dough made into little bunnies for children. Known as Zopfhasen in German, these are also a fun baking project for little hands. They have raisin eyes and are sometimes sprinkled with sugar.

What are YOUR favorite Swiss Easter foods? Please leave a comment below or send me an email. I’m always looking for new recipes!

Origins of Egg-Dyeing and Colored Eggs

Like many longstanding traditions, the origins of coloring eggs at Easter time is somewhat vague. Many different origins for the tradition have been proposed, and no one knows for sure which is true.

Eggs are often seen as a sign of fertility, and this combined with the colors of spring just before Easter seems to indicate that the ritual of coloring eggs is tied to both the onset of spring and the fertility associated with it. Some early Christians dyed their eggs red to symbolize the blood of Jesus and honor his sacrifice. The colored egg tradition was combined with the myth of the Easter Bunny in the early 18th century by German immigrants.

Some claim that Easter Eggs were originally pagan symbols, but there is no real connection that can be found other than some vague theories associated with the Goddess Eostre.

In other religions, the hard-boiled egg is often dipped in saltwater to signify new life and the Passover. The link of new life being celebrated is a common theme among many religions. In Medieval Europe, for instance, eggs were often forbidden during Lent, and this led to the tradition of Pancake Day. Once Lent was over, eggs were again consumed and thus became part of Easter celebrations.

Ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Romans all used eggs during their spring festivals, and this common theme combined with the renewal of spring may also have played a part in the spread of the egg-coloring tradition.

The History Of Easter: A Moveable Feast

While many associate the Easter holiday with the Christian festival celebrating Jesus’s resurrection, the history of Easter is more complex. “ Easter actually began as a pagan festival celebrating spring in the Northern Hemisphere, long before the advent of Christianity. F ollowing the advent of Christianity, the Easter period became associated with the resurrection of Christ” and the holiday was still actively celebrated as a pagan festival associated with the spring equinox,” according to according to ABC News Australia

So, what does the term 'pagan' mean? P agan is “ derived from the Late Latin paganus , which was used at the end of the Roman Empire to name those who practiced a religion other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.” A polytheistic nature-base belief system, Pagan Federation International contends that “ paganism is the ancestral religion of the whole of humanity [which] remains active throughout much of the world today.”

As it relates to the origins of Easter, the pagan outlook on the holiday is one connected to the cycles of the earth. In fact, one of the unique aspects of the history of Easter is the unfixed nature of the date, a decision made in 325 AD by the Council of Nicaea , the first Christian church council.

Highlighting Easter’s pagan history and origins, the council determined that the holiday should be celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon of the Spring Equinox. The mobility of the date is why Easter is often called a “moveable” feast.

Holiday Foods: Easter Eggs - HISTORY

"Easter foods are primarily those of Easter Sunday, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead, a day of special rejoicing for Christians, who rejoice too at reaching the end of the long Lenten fast. The concept of renewal/rebirth is responsible for the important role played by the egg in Easter celebrations, a role which no doubt antedates Christianity. There are also special foods associated with the other days in the Easter calendar. In Europe, there is a general tradition, not confined to Christians, that Easter is the time to start eating the season's new lamb, which is just coming onto the market then. Easter breads, cakes, and biscuits are a major category of Easter foods, perhaps especially noticeable in the predominantly Roman Catholic countries of south and central Europe. Traditional breads are laden with symbolism in their shapes, which may make reference to Christian faith. In England breads or cakes flavoured with bitter tansy juice used to be popular Easter foods. Simnel cake has come to be regarded as an Easter specialty, although it was not always so. The most popular English Easter bread is the hot cross bun. "
---Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 266-7)
[NOTE: This book (any many others) have extensive information about traditional Easter foods. If you need more information please ask your librarian to help you find these.]

This delightful custom, like the Christmas tree, was introduced to America by people of German descent.
"The Pennsylvania Dutch imported the Oschter Haws, or Easter Hare, who delivered colored eggs to good children. By the early nineteenth century, entire Pennsylvania Dutch villages would turn out with gaily decorated Easter eggs to play games, including egg-eating contests."
---Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Andrew F. Smith editor [Oxford University Press:New York] 2004, Volume 1 (p. 419)

Eggs are traditionally connected with rebirth, rejuvenation and immortality. This is why they are often associated with Easter. On a more practical level? In the early Christian calendar eggs were forbidden during Lent. This made them bountiful and exciting forty days later. Easter eggs are sometimes decorated with bright colors to honor this celebration. Russian Faberge and Ukranian Pysanky are two of the most elaborate forms. Conversely, the abstinence of eggs is associated with Lent.

"Eggs were colored, blessed, exchanged and eaten as part of the rites of spring long before Christian times. Even the earliest civilizations held springtime festivals to welcome the sun's rising from its long winter sleep. They thought of the sun's return from darkness as an annual miracle and regarded the egg as a natural wonder and a proof of the renewal of life. As Christianity spread, the egg was adopted as a symbol of Christ's Resurrection from the tomb. For centuries, eggs were among the foods forbidden by the church during Lent, so it was a special treat to have them again at Easter. In Slavic countries, baskets of food including eggs are traditionally taken to church to be blessed on Holy Saturday or before the Easter midnight Mass, then taken home for a part of Easter breakfast. People in central European countries have a long tradition of elaborately decorated Easter eggs. Polish, Slavic and Ukrainian people create amazingly intricate designs on the eggs. They draw lines with a wax pencil or stylus, dip the egg in color and repeat the process many times to make true works of art. Every dot and line in the pattern has a meaning. Yugoslavian Easter eggs bear the initials "XV" for "Christ is Risen," a traditional Easter greeting. The Russians, during the reign of the tsars, celebrated Easter much more elaborately than Christmas, with Easter breads and other special foods and quantities of decorated eggs given as gifts. The Russian royal family carried the custom to great lengths, giving exquisitely detailed jeweled eggs made by goldsmith Carl Faberge from the 1880's until 1917.

In Germany and other countries of central Europe, eggs that go into Easter foods are not broken, but emptied out. The empty shells are painted and decorated with bits of lace, cloth or ribbon, then hung with ribbons on an evergreen or small leafless tree. On the third Sunday before Easter, Moravian village girls used to carry a tree decorated with eggshells and flowers from house to house for good luck. The eggshell tree is one of several Easter Traditions carried to America by German settlers especially those who became known as Pennsylvania Dutch. They also brought the fable that the Easter bunny delivered colored eggs for good children. Easter is an especially happy time for children and many Easter customs are for their enjoyment. Hunting Easter eggs hidden around the house or yard is a universal custom and so are egg-rolling contests."
---Easter eggs, American Egg Board

"Because the use of eggs was forbidden during Lent, they were brought to the table on Easter Day, coloured red to symbolize the Easter joy. This custom is found not only in the Latin but also in the Oriental Churches. The symbolic meaning of a new creation of mankind by Jesus risen from the dead was probably an invention of later times. The custom may have its origin in paganism, for a great many pagan customs, celebrating the return of spring, gravitated to Easter. The egg is the emblem of the germinating life of early spring. Easter eggs, the children are told, come from Rome with the bells which on Thursday go to Rome and return Saturday morning. The sponsors in some countries give Easter eggs to their god-children. Coloured eggs are used by children at Easter in a sort of game which consists in testing the strength of the shells (Kraus, Real-Encyklop die, s. v. Ei). Both coloured and uncoloured eggs are used in some parts of the United States for this game, known as "egg-picking". Another practice is the "egg-rolling" by children on Easter Monday on the lawn of the White House in Washington."
---The Catholic Encyclopedia

Why do we decorate eggs?
Historians tell us the people have been decorating eggs for thousands of years. The practice was inspired by religion. Techniques and styles vary according to culture and period. Decorative eggs were also fabricated from other foods, most notably confectionery. Notes here:

"Because eggs embody the essence of life, people from ancient times to the modern day have surrounded them wtih magical beliefs, endowing them with the power not only to create life but to prophesy the future. Eggs symbolize birth and are believed to ensure fertility. They also symbolize rebirth, and thus long life and even immortality. Eggs represent life in its various stages of development, encompassing the mystery and magic of creation. The concept of eggs as life symbols went hand in hand with the concept of eggs as emblems of immortality. Easter eggs, in fact, symbolize immortality, and particularly the resurrection of Christ, who rose from a sealed tomb just as a bird breaks through an eggshell."
---Nectar and Ambrosia: An Encyclopedia of Food in World Mythology, Tamra Andrews [ABC-CLIO:Santa Barbara CA] 2000 (p. 85-6)

Easter candy
The tradition of exchanging decorated candies, chocolates, jelly beans and other sweets at Easter flourished in the 19th century. Coincidentally, this is the same time folks began exchanging the same type of specialized sweets for Valentines Day. Advances made possible by the Industrial Revolution are responsible for this. Panorama eggs (hollow sugar eggs with scenes inside) feature prominently in traditional Easter baskets. Marshmallow Peeps were introduced in 1953.

[1820s London]
"Egg Comfits:

'Have the two halves of an egg made in box-wood take some gum paste, roll it out, thin, and put into the casts, make it lay close, cut off with a knife the outside edges quite smooth, let them dry. They are usually filled with imitations of all sorts of fruits--In Paris they put in a number of nick-nacks, little almanacks, smelling bottles with essences, and even things of value, for presents. Join the two halves with some of the same paste, moistend with a little water and gum arabic'. These eggs were covered with syrup in the comfit pan, which, considering the fragility of sugar paste, must have been a delicate operation. It is still perfectly feasible to make such eggs, although no one but the most dedicated of experimental confectioners would ever attempt to pan them. The underlying concept has survived, but removed to an entirely different branch of confectionery, to enjoy enormous success as the chocolate Easter egg."
---Sugar Plums and Sherbet: The Prehistory of Sweets, Laura Mason [Prospect Books:Devon] 2004 (p. 130)

"No. 212. Eggs in Rock Sugar. Make moulds which open in two equal parts, shaped like large eggs place them on a table, and take sugar prepared as at No. 209, and fill one half of each mould, while your assistant closes them instantly and completely. They are very light, and look very natural.

"No. 213.--Eggs in Grained Sugar.
To make egg-shells as thin as natural ones, take moulds in lead, opening in two, and run one side in grained sugar, as for bon-bons, (see No. 53) another person must instantly close it, turning it round in his hands till the sugar has taken all round the mould inside there must be a person to every two moulds, as only one can be turned in the hand at a time the egg comes out whole, having neither opening nor seam it is empty and transparent, nor can any one imagine how it is made. Fruit, or any thing else, may be imitated in the same manner. If you choose to break one end of the egg, it may be filled with yellow cream to represent the yolk of a boiled egg."
---The Italian Confectioner, or Complete Economy of Desserts, G. A. Jarrin, facsimile 3rd edition 1827 [Brieingingsville PA] 2010 (p. 95)

[1920s USA]
"Hollow Chocolate Eggs.

Take a small cocoanut, saw carefully in two lengthwise and clean out center thoroughly. Dry well, then grease the inside with Nucoa Butter. Take sweet chocolate coating that has been thoroughly chilled and cover the inside to a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Set in a cool place and allow to harden. When hard and cool, remove the chocolate crust carefully from the shell. Do not handle too much as they scratch easily. Repeat the foregoing operation for as many eggs as you wish, then take two of the halved shells, spread moist coating along the shells and stick them together. Before sticking them together, drop two or three little pieces of candy inside the shells so as to produce a rattle when the shells are closed. Now when the shells are stuck together run a band of any color icing around the joint. The entire egg can be iced if so desired, or the coating can be given a rough appearance."

"Easter Bunny Wafers
Run cream into a flat rabbit mold in starch, flavoring and coloring to suit. Allow the cream to set, then remove from the starch. Now run a hard buterscotch wafer. on a greased slab. Run these wafers about 2 1/2 inches in diameter then have a helper put a cream rabbit flatly in the center of each wafer. Work quickly as the butterscotch sets rapidly. Placing a couple of very small candy eggs besides the rabbit looks nice and increases the novelty of the piece.

"Fried Eggs Made of Candy in a Frying Pan
Get some toy skillets cast a couple of circles of white cream in the center (cast only one if room will not permit two). After the white has hardened cast a little bright orange cream on top of the white. You will now have a fried egg made of candy. When the egg or eggs harden, with a brush coat them with a thin syrup, then take sugar and powdered charcoal, rubbed down, and shake this lightly over the syrup to give a salt and pepper effect."
---Rigby's Reliable Candy Teacher, W.O. Rigby, 19th edition [Rigby Publishing Company:Topeka KS] undated 1920s? (p. 211-212)
[NOTE: This book also offers recipes for Fried Eggs on Toast for Easter, Chocolate Nougat Eggs for Easter, Almond Paste Chicks and Hard Nougat Eggs.]

According to the Encyclopedia of Religion, Mircea Eliade editor in chief [MacMillan:New York] 1987, volume 5 (p. 558):
"Among Easter foods the most significant is the Easter lamb, which is in many places the main dish of the Easter Sunday meal. Corresponding to the Passover lamb and to Christ, the Lamb of God, this dish has become a central symbol of Easter. Also popular among European and Americans on Easter is ham, because the pig was considered a symbol of luck in pre-Christian Europe."

Bread symbolism
"Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ but it also celebrates fertility, and the season of renewal. On Holy Thursday to commemorate the Last Supper, when Christ shared bread with his disciples, they prepare in absolute silence a brioche or egg bread called koulitch. On the Saturday night of Resurrection, they walk in procession to church with a basket of eggs, holding a candle in one hand, and the bread in the other. They exchange a kiss and ask each other's forgiveness for any offense they might have committed against one another, as a token of peace for the future."
---The History of Bread, Bernard Dupaigne, Harry N. Abrams :New York] 1999 (p. 137, 139)

"Easter has always had a close association with food. The word comes from the name for the Anglo-Saxon goddess of light and spring, Eostre, and special dishes were cooked in her honour so that the year would be endowed with fertility. Most important of these dishes was a small spiced bun, from which our hot cross bun derives but from which also the traditional spicy sweet bread of Greece probably had its origins. The baking of buns associated with religious offerings goes back to remotest antiquity. The Egyptians offered small round cakes to the goddess of the moon, each marked with a representation of the horns of an ox, which were her symbol. 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 thus birth and rebirth, was transposed into a Christianised form and the ritual of baking "hot cross buns" became standard practice of the Easter celebration in English society. 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 (Queensland, Australia), March 26, 1997, LIFE Pg. 40

"The practice of eating special small cakes at the time of the Spring festival seems to date back at least to the ancient Greeks, but the English custom of eating spiced buns on Good Friday was perhaps institutionalized in Tudor times, when a London bylaw was introduced forbidding the sale of such buns except on Good Friday, at Christmas, and at burials. The first intimation we have of a cross appearing on the bun, in remembrance of Christ's cross, comes in Poor Robin's Amanack (1733): Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs, with one or two a penny hot cross buns' (a version of the once familiar street-dry "One-a-penny, two-a penny, hot cross buns'). At this stage the cross was presumably simply incised with a knife, rather than piped on in pastry, as is the modern commercial practice. As yet, too, the name of such buns was just cross buns: James Boswell recorded in his Life of Johnson (1791): 9 Apr. An. 1773 Being Good Friday I breakfasted with him and cross-buns.' The fact that they were generally sold hot, however, seems to have led by the early nineteenth century to the incorporation of hot into their name."
---An A-Z of Food & Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 164)

"The pagans worshipped the goddess Eostre (after whom Easter was named) by serving tiny cakes, often decorated with a cross, at their annual spring festival. When archaeologists excavated the ancient city of Herculaneum in southwestern Italy, which had been buried under volcanic ask and lava since 79 C.E., they found two small loaves, each with a cross on it, among the ruins. The English word "bun" probably came from the Greek boun, which referred to a ceremonial cake of circular or crescent shape, made of flour and honey and offered to the gods. Superstitions regarding bread that was baked on Good Friday date back to a very early period. In England particulary, people believed that bread baked on this day could be hardened in the oven and kept all year to protect the house from fire. Sailors took leaves of it on their voyages to prevent shipwreck, and a Good Friday loaf was often buried in a heap of corn to protect it from rats, mice, and weevils. Finely grated and mixed with water, it was sometimes used as a medicine. In England nowadays, hot cross buns are served at break are served at breakfast on Good Friday morning. They are small, usually spiced buns whose sugary surface is marked with a cross. The English believe that hanging a hot cross bun in the house on this day offers protection from bad luck in the coming year. It's not unusual to see Good Friday buns or cakes hanging on a rack or in a wire basket for years, gathering dust and growing black with mold--although some people believe that if the ingredients are mixed, the dough prepared, and the buns baked on Good Friday itself, they will never get moldy."
---Holiday Symbols and Customs, Sue Ellen Thompson, 3rd edition [Omnigraphics:Detroit] 2003, (p. 233)

"Hot cross bun, a round bun made from a rich yeast dough containing flour, milk, sugar, butter, eggs, currants, and spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. In England, hot cross buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday they are marked on top with a cross, wither cut in the dough or composed of strips of pastry. The mark is of ancient origin, connected with religious offerings of bread, which replaced earlier, less civilized offerings of blood. The Egyptians offered small round cakes, marked with a representation of the horns of an ox, to the goddess of the moon. The Greeks and Romans had similar practices and the Saxons ate buns marked with a cross in honor of the goddess of light, Eostre, whose name was transferred to Easter. According to superstition, hot cross buns and loaves baked on Good Friday never went mouldy, and were sometimes kept as charms from one year to the next. Like Chelsea buns, hot cross buns were sold in great quantities by the Chelsea Bun House in the 18th century large numbers of people flocked to Chelsea during the Easter period expressly to visit this establishment."
---Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 114)

"Bath buns, hot cross buns, spice buns, penny buns, Chelsea buns, currant buns-all these small, soft, plump, sweet, fermented' cakes are English institutions. The most interesting of the recipes is perhaps the simple spiced fruit bun, the original of our Good Friday hot cross bun without the cross. These spice buns first became popular in Tudor days, at the same period as the larger spice loaves or cakes, and were no doubt usually made form the same batch of spiced and butter-enriched fruit dough. For a long time bakers were permitted to offer these breads and buns for sale only on special occasions, as is shown by the following decree, issued in 1592, the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Elizabeth I, by the London Clerk of the Markets: That no bakers, etc, at any time or times hereafter make, utter, or sell by retail, within or without their houses, unto any of the Queen's subject any spice cakes, buns, biscuits, or other spice bread (being bread out of size and not by law allowed) except it be at burials, or on Friday before Easter, or at Christmas, upon pain or forfeiture of all such spiced bread to the poor. If anybody wanted spice bread and buns for a private celebration, then, these delicacies had to be made at home. In the time of James I, further attempts to prevent bakers from making spice breads and buns proved impossible to enforce, and in this matter the bakers were allowed their way. Although for different reasons, the situation now is much as it was in the late seventeenth century, spice buns appearing only at Easter--not, to be sure, on Good Friday when bakeries are closed, but about a fortnight in advance. "
---English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Elizabeth David [Penguin Books:Middlesex UK] 1979 (p. 473-5) [NOTE: This book contains a recipe for hot cross buns.]

"Hot Cross Buns

Mix two pounds of flour with a small tea-spoonful of powdered spice and half a tea-spoonful of salt. Rub in half a pound of good butter. Make a hollow in the flour, and pour in a wine-glassful of yeast and half a pint of warmed milk slightly coloured with saffron. Mix the surrounding flour with the milk and yeast to a thin batter throw a little dry flour over, and set the pan before the fire with the milk and yeast to a thin batter throw a little dry flour over, and set the pan before the fire to rise. When risen, work in a little sugar, one egg, half a pound of currants, and milk to make a soft dough. Cover over as before, and let it stand half an hour. Then make the dough into buns, and mark them with the back of a knife. Time, fifteen to twenty-minutes to bake. Probable cost, 1d. each. Sufficient for twenty-four buns." (p. 319-320)

"Good Friday Buns
(Commonly called Hot Cross Buns). --Rub a quarter of a pound of butter into two pounds of flour. Add a pinch of salt then mix a wine-glassful of fresh, thick yeast with a pint and a half of warmed milk and stir these into the flour till it forms a light batter. Put the batter in a warm place to rise. When sufficiently risen, work into it half a pound of sugar, half a pound of currants, half a nutmeg, grated, and a quarter of an ounce of powdered mace. Knead these well into the dough, make it up into buns, and place them on buttered baking-tins. Make a cross on them with the black of a knife, brush a little clarified butter over the top, and let them stand a quarter of an hour before the fire. Bake in a good oven. When bread is made at home, hot cross buns may be made by mixing the currants, &c. with bread dough after it was risen. Time, one hour to let the dough rise twenty minutes to bake. Sufficient for two dozen buns. Probable cost, 1s. 6d. for this quality." (p. 260)
---Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery with Numerous Illustrations [Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.:London] 1875

"Easter," The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Andrew F. Smith [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2004 (p. 419-420)

"The colomba, a pannetone-like sweet bread shaped like a dove, is Italy's best known Easter bread. Originally from Lombardy, it is now mass-produced and eaten everywhere in the country."
---"Festivity and Food," Oxford Companion to Italian Food, Gillian Riley [Oxford University Press:New York] 2007 (p. 199)

"Colomba pasquale. 'Easter dove.' Dove-shaped Easter cake, said to have been created in Milan to honor the legend of two white doves who settled on a Milanese war chariot until the city won the battle of Legnano in 1176. Pavia also claims the cake was created in the shape of a dove by a young girl who brought it to the Lombard conqueror of Pavia, Alboin, in 572, who was so impressed that he allowed her to go free."
---Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink, John Mariani [Broadway Books:New York] 1998 (p. 79)

"Lombardy claims la colomba, a delicate panettone-like sweet bread shaped like a dove. It has become the national Easter bread of Italy and is made industrially and shipped all over the country. Even so, many local specialties remain. The dove, a pagan symbol of the coming of spring as well as the sign of the Holy Spirit in Catholicism, is the inspiration for a sweet called mascardini in Palermo, pasta raffinata in Noto, and caneddate in Syracuse, where it is shaped like a dove sitting with little candies at its base. It tastes nothing like the la colomba, for it is made of pasta forte, a mixture of sugar, flour, and water spiced with cinnamon and cloves some bakers add finely pestled almonds."
---Celebrating Italy, Carol Field [Harper Perennial:New York] 1990, 1997 (p. 423)

"Russian Easter Loaf. Kulich. Many Russian families still treasure an heirloom recipe for kulich. The traditional loaf is saffron- flavoured and somewhat dry in texture, but it may also be made rich in butter and cake-like, as in the second recipe below. Old-fashioned cooks still treat their kulichi very gently upon removal from the oven. They turn the bread out on to a large down-filled pillow and carefully roll it from side to side until it is completely cool, so that the loaf does not lose its shape. Kulich may be decorated with a silver or coloured dragees or, for a dramatic effect, crowned with a large red rose."
---A Taste of Russia, Darra Goldstein [Jill Norman Book:London] 1985 (p. 108) [NOTE: this book contains a recipe for Kulich. We can scan/send if you like.]

"Krendel' and Kulich are ancient festive cakes. They use the same rich yeast dough, to which nuts, spices and dried fruit may be added, but the krendel' is wound into a figure of eight whereas the kulich is baked in a tall mould like a baba. The first is common at name-day parties and other celebrations. Kulich appears only at Easter, when it is the pride of the table. In some families it replaces bread for the entire Holy Week. To bake a kulich you will need a tall cylindrical tin or. a deep round tin which allows plenty of room for the dough to rise. Kulich should be lightly browned on top when done. A cylindrical kulich is sliced from the top in rounds with the first slice preserved as a lid. It is traditionally eaten with paskha, an enriched mixture of curd cheese, spices, nuts, dried fruit and sugar. The word paskha means Easter, and the blend of dairy fats celebrates the end of Lenten prohibitions."
---The Food and Cooking of Russia, Lesley Chamberlain [Univeristy of Nebraska Press:Lincoln NE] 1982, 1986 (p. 262-265) [NOTE: Recipes follow happy to send.]

"Paskha (as sweetened cheese mixture) and kulich (a rich yeast bread with raisins and almonds) were the highlights of the Easter table. These distinctive desserts were especially savored as they maked the end of the long Long Lenten fast when all meat, egsg, and dairy products were forbidden to devout Orthodox believers. In the countryside especially, baskets containing colored eggs, paskha, and kulich were taken to the midnight Church service on Easter Eve. As the worshippers gathered, they stood in the darkness, each with an unlit taper in hand, waiting for the service to begin. At midnight the priest lit the first taper to mark the resurrection of Christ. From this taper, all the others were lit, and soon the entire church was aglow. The priest then led a candlelit procession out of the church and circled the building three times he finished by blessing all the dishes and baskets of foods that were arrayed inside and outside the church. The parishioners reclaimed their baskets of foods and hurried home to begin the Easter festivities."
---Classic Russian Cooking: Elena Molokhovets' A Gift to Young Housewives, translated and introduced by Joyce Toomre [Indiana University Press:Bloomington IN] 1992, 1998 (p. 423)

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The History And Symbolism Behind Traditional Easter Foods

A big Easter dinner is a tradition in our house, as in many. After church comes the hunt for the basket, then, if the weather permits, some time outside to play. By early afternoon we are busy in the kitchen preparing the feast. It’s a busy day but one we all enjoy.

How about you? Do you have a busy Easter topped off by a big meal? What do you serve for Easter dinner with your family? There are a few traditional Easter dishes that have an interesting history and symbolism behind them. I thought you may enjoy reading about a few.

Hot Cross Buns

This currant or raisin filled yeast bun is a traditional favorite in England. Usually eaten on Good Friday, they get their name from the “cross” on top of the bun. Mostly thought of as a Christian symbol, the hot cross bun finds its roots in pagan tradition. There is some disagreement with the symbolism of the cross from the pagan custom. Some thoughts are that the cross represents the sun wheel while others believe the cross might symbolized the four quarters of the moon.

When the Christian Church attempted to ban the buns, the people balked. So the church did the next best thing and embraced the bread, but only as a Christian food. As a matter of fact, Queen Elizabeth I passed a law that only allowed the bun to be eaten during Christmas, Easter, or funerals. In modern times, these rules are broken. But tradition still holds that Christian families in England serve hot cross buns at Easter time.

Originally created by monks with leftover scraps of dough and given to students as rewards, pretzels became a popular part of Lent celebration during the Middle Ages. Pretzels do not contain eggs, milk, butter or lard ingredients which were avoided during lent. Thus, the pretzel became associated with lent and leading up to Easter.

Pretzels are also said to represent praying arms, while the three holes represent the Holy Trinity. In some countries, pretzels used to be hidden along with the Easter eggs.

Greek Easter Bread

This sweet dessert bread, tsoureki, is traditionally served as part of the Greek Orthodox Easter feast. Tsoureki was also traditionally given as an Easter gift from children to their godparents. Different versions many include a citrus flavored bread topped with nuts. A red egg is traditionally cooked with the bread as well.

This Easter treat is traditional shaped into a braid. A red egg is cooked and tucked into the braids of dough. The bread is said to represent the light given to us by Christ’s resurrection and the red egg represents Christ’s blood. Another version of Greek Easter bread is cooked as a circle with red eggs forming a cross across the top of the bread.

Ham is a traditional part of the Easter feast in many American homes, and it’s origin is more practical rather then symbolic. In early years, before refrigeration, fresh pork slaughtered in the fall that hadn’t been consumed before Lent had to be cured for preservation. Curing was a slow process and the first hams were generally ready around Easter time, making it a common choice for Easter feasting. Today, many families still serve ham as part of their Easter celebrations.

This traditional meat is actually a combination of two symbolisms. The original use of lamb dates back before Easter as part of the Jewish Passover where a sacrificial lamb is roasted and eaten as a reminder of the angel of God passing over their homes in Egypt.

Later, Jesus was often referred to by Christians as The Lamb of God. As Christianity grew, Hebrews who converted to Christianity brought some of their traditions with them and the combination resulted in the use of lamb as part of many Easter dinners.

As you plan your Easter meal, think about incorporating some of these traditional foods. Then, when you gather around your table, share the stories about the history and symbolism of the Easter food on your table. Happy Easter from our family to yours.

Looking for some new dessert ideas for the holidays? Why not celebrate with some simple desserts? Make them for Easter, or make them during the busy work week. I’ve combined four of my most popular Kindle cookbooks for desserts and baked goods into one bundle for you. Enjoy!

So What’s with the Baskets (and Eggs and Bunnies)?

Victorian Easter illustration, via The Graphics Fairy

The iconic eggs of Easter definitely have roots—or analogues, at least—in pre-Christian fertility celebrations and creation myths. They were a symbol of renewal and rebirth for countless religions and cultures over millennia, from ancient Hindus to Phoenicians to Egyptians and Greeks. It makes sense that they became linked with Easter too. But it’s also true that eggs (and many other foodstuffs) were traditionally given up during Lent, which ends just before Easter Sunday, so there’s another explanation for why they may have become so closely tied to the holiday.

And what about the baskets that traditionally hold them?

Somewhere along the line, at least as far back as the 1600s, German Protestants began believing (or telling their children, anyway) that a hare—another long-lived symbol of fertility and the returning fecundity of springtime—would bring colored eggs to place in improvised “nests” made from bonnets, hats, and presumably, baskets they would leave out overnight.

History of Easter Eggs

Easter, which takes place this on April 4 in 2021, usually occurs towards the beginning of spring, a season when plants bloom and animals give birth. Eggs in particular are a clear symbol of rebirth and fertility. So it may not seem surprising that Easter eggs are often associated with Easter, a holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It may also be no surprise they are sometimes referred to as “resurrection eggs.”

But when it comes to Easter eggs, evidence suggests that the obvious metaphor came after the association between the holiday and the item was already established.

The origin story of Easter eggs starts in Medieval Europe, but it may or may not have originated with Christians. According to some, the first Easter eggs actually belonged to a different religious tradition.

“Many scholars believe that Easter had its origins as an early Anglo-Saxon festival that celebrated the goddess Eastre, and the coming of spring, in a sense a resurrection of nature after winter,” Carole Levin, Professor of History and Director of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program at the University of Nebraska, tells TIME in an email. “Some Christian missionaries hoped that celebrating Christian holy days at the same times as pagan festivals would encourage conversion, especially if some of the symbols carried over. Eggs were part of the celebration of Eastre. Apparently eggs were eaten at the festival and also possibly buried in the ground to encourage fertility.”

An alternate Easter eggs story does stick with Christianity, but in that version the Eastern eggs may have been a matter of practicality. Back then, the rules for fasting during Lent were much stricter than they are today. Christians were not allowed to eat meat or any animal product — including cheese, milk, cream or eggs —so they hard-boiled the eggs their chickens would produce during that time, and stored them so they could distribute them later, according to Henry Kelly, a professor of medieval studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Because Lent ends in the lead-up to Easter, that “later” at which the eggs would be given out (often to the poor, who were unable to afford meat for their celebrations) would naturally happen right around the holiday.

But what about the tradition of dying Easter eggs for the Easter Bunny to hide for kids?

One of the earliest pieces of evidence of dyed eggs in British history goes back to 1290, when the household of Edward I bought 450 eggs to be colored or covered in gold leaf to be distributed among “the royal entourage” for Easter, according to Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain by Ronald Hutton, a history professor at the University of Bristol. The book also mentions that two centuries later, the Vatican sent Henry VIII an egg enclosed in a silver case as a “seasonal present.” Such objects were also known as “eggsilver.” (Today, the most famous ultra-decorated Easter eggs are the Fabergé eggs that were first presented to the Russian royal court in the late 19th century.)

Residents of 13th century English villages brought gifts of Easter eggs to their manorial lords every holiday, and eggs also became what people would give to the church as a special offering on Good Friday. There’s evidence that such eggs were colored — especially red, a color thought to signify joy — to be given as gifts in the 16th and 17th centuries, Levin adds, and residents of a southwestern area of Lancashire paid their “Easter dues” in these eggs up through the early 18th century even as the gentry switched to cash.

It was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that dyed Easter eggs became something to give to children rather than to the Church, the poor or to local authorities. The Victorian era was a notable time of change for ideas about family life, and Easter was among the many religious holidays that saw a shift toward family-friendliness, with an emphasis on rituals geared toward kids. The Victorian middle classes “had a fascination with old traditions,” says Anthony Aveni, author of The Book of the Year: A Brief History of Our Seasonal Holidays and a professor of Astronomy and Anthropology at Colgate University, so the Easter egg-dying tradition (like the idea of an “Easter Bunny” who delivers Easter eggs) was a natural fit. Easter-egg hunts soon followed, and it was right around that time that the first White House Easter Egg Roll took place, in 1876.

The working classes began adopting these traditions in the first half of the 20th century as their wages increased a bit, allowing them to invest more in the holiday celebration. When Easter was incorporated into the official public holiday schedules so that workers would also get time off for the day, that “both enhanced the status of Easter and provided an incentive to find special things to do at it,” Hutton tells TIME.

By the end of the 20th century, Easter eggs could mean any hidden treat — but the real deal, whether made of Oreo Creme or actual eggs, continues to delight each year at Easter time.

Spring Holiday

Springtime in Estonia

In the Estonian Folk Calendar, Kavadepüha or Spring Holiday falls anywhere between 16 March and 20 April in the week leading up to Easter. This week was important for completing household chores, such as cleaning after a long winter. The weather during this week could apparently predict the weather for the summer. If it was raining, then a wet summer was to follow and if there was fog, then this meant a hot summer was in store.

Dutch Easter Table Decoration

The Dutch Easter table is typically decorated with baskets of freshly painted Easter eggs, candles and spring flowers such as daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths. The centerpiece is often a vase with decorated willow branches (known as paastakken). Hanging from this "Easter tree" are chocolate eggs and paper ornaments such as bunnies, butterflies, flowers, lambs and other springtime symbols symbolizing fertility, nature's rebirth and, perhaps, even ritual sacrifice.

In some parts of the Netherlands, you can still find a traditional palmpaasch (a decorated stick topped with a broodhaantje, or "bread rooster"), one of the few folkloric bread customs to have survived to modern times. The origins of the bread rooster can be traced back to the sacrificial breads that replaced Germanic bone offerings and ancient animal sacrifices. The usual Christian explanation for the tradition is that the rooster, a familiar weather vane on top of Christian church spires, is a symbol to remind Christians of Peter’s betrayal of Christ, but also a representation of Jesus Christ as the bringer of light.