Easter Foodie History
Ham vs. Lamb
There are many ideas floating around out there as to why ham was introduced as the main event on many of our Easter dinner tables. Some believe ham was traditionally eaten because of Lent. Because red meat is not allowed to be consumed during Lent people who cured their own hams would take this for their Easter meal. The curing time was up around the time of Easter. Another belief about ham being the “traditional” favorite is that Christians used this meat as part of claiming their religious beliefs.
Lamb comes into focus when we look at the Jewish communities. Those of the Jewish faith do not consume pork. The sacrificial lamb was roasted and eaten, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs in hopes that the angel of God would pass over their homes and bring no harm. As Hebrews converted to Christianity, they naturally brought along their traditions with them. The Christians often refer to Jesus as The Lamb of God. Thus, the traditions merged.
While Easter is a religious holiday, some of its customs are believed to be pagan traditions.
The egg; the ancient symbol of a new life, has been known to be associated with pagan festivals celebrating spring. Christians believe eggs represent Jesus’ resurrection and emergence from the tomb.
Decorating the Easter has no religious background and was said to have begun in the 13th century. It is said that eggs were forbidden during Lent so people would decorate them to mark the period of penance and fasting and then eat them on Easter as a celebration. –(The History Channel)
Bread has long played an important role in religious ceremonies and holidays. This is true in many cultures and cuisines. Holiday breads are often baked in symbolic shapes and include special ingredients. Easter breads often feature eggs, a food forbidden by the Catholic Church during lent. English Hot Cross Buns, Italian Colomba, & Russian Kulich are two prime examples of this culinary genre.
“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 honor 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, 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 symbolize the four quarters of the moon. The old association of protection and fertility, and thus birth and rebirth, was transposed into a Christianized 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, yeast dough of enormous proportions lavishly decorated with crystallized 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 mixes 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 moldy, 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)