Eating for Easter

Image result for pics of hot cross buns

A beloved friend coping with laryngitis wrote to say she intended to cure herself by eating Easter eggs. An idea, which, as my delicious daughter would say, ‘had legs’, but which was not one which appealed to me.

My preference for Easter is hot cross buns, spicy, and with a good, sweet cross, heated up gently in the oven, and eaten with lashings of butter for breakfast on Good Friday.

Food marks the seasonal calendar as much as the religious reason for the various festivals. One of my favourites, Pancake Day, aka Shrove Tuesday, evolved in order to use up the butter, eggs and sugar which were no-no’s during the penitential Lenten days leading up to Easter.

In England, it was once known as a half holiday which began when church bells were rung at 11 am. and then pancake races were and are run in towns and villages all over the country, even today. Legend has it that in 1445 a housewife in Olney, Buckinghamshire was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the church bells ringing.

She raced out of the house to church, still carrying her frying pan and tossing the pancake so as to stop it burning in her hot, probably iron, pan. Today, the rules for the race are strict, and it’s mostly run by women, who must wear an apron and a head scarf, and must toss the pancake at the beginning and end of the race.

This jollification is not so different from the Lenten carnivals held in more extrovert Latin countries…. The word carnival evolves from the Medieval Latin carnelevamen  – “the putting away of flesh”, and this was the last opportunity to put away not just meat, but also the pleasures of the flesh, eating and drinking and celebrating before the hard, hungry, deprived days of Lent.

Easter, marking the end of the forty days of Lent, is, as everyone knows, never the same date every year, but is calculated according to a full moon, and what are called The Golden Numbers which are too complicated for me as a maths  dud, to even try to explain. (I have an antique Anglican prayer book printed in 1745, in which the golden numbers and the dates of Easter, have been worked out up to the year two thousand, which must have seemed like an infinite eternity to the mathematician who calculated these figures).

Then there was a brief opportunity to indulge the pleasures of the flesh on Mothering Sunday, which fell on the third Sunday before Easter. I remember as a girl picking wild daffodils to take to my step-mother on this Sunday, which has now evolved into another wholesale commercial festival with bought flowers, chocolates, and gifts of every description, including taking mum out to tea or lunch.

In the eighteenth century, servant girls were given the day off to visit their mothers, and were usually given some food or clothes by the ‘big house’ to take with them.  But long before then, joyous people had been celebrating Mothering Sunday with a simnel cake, a delicious confection with two layers of marzipan (not your pallid shop-bought stuff, but the real thing, almonds pounded with an egg white… sweet and rich). One layer went inside the cake for the baking, and one layer went on top to be toasted. Yum…

Apart from the Christmas feasting, there’s another delicious foodie ritual for those who observe the rhythms of the Christian calendar, and that’s ‘Stir-up Sunday’. This happens on the last Sunday before Advent, (meaning the coming of Christ) which means it’s five Sundays before Christmas… often the last one in November, but like everything else in the Christian calendar, it varies every year, and so is a moveable feast.

The name comes from a prayer that Christians have been using for over a thousand years, originally in Latin, and translated into Archbishop Cranmer’s beautiful English in 1549. It goes: ‘Stir up’, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”… but for centuries the stirring has also been associated with the making of the Christmas pudding. Stir-up Sunday means mixing all the spices, fruits, suet, sugars, in a big bowl, and everyone takes a turn in stirring the mixture, and usually making a wish. There are religious rituals too, but I’m talking food here.

Some families leave the bowl for a week to ‘mature,’ and also leave a bottle of brandy by the bowl, for passing family members to sling a slug into the pudding, and give it a stir. Eventually the flour and other ingredients are added, and then the whole thing is bundled into basins, wrapped and boiled and stored for Christmas.

We always had a goose for Christmas when I was a child, much more delicious than the turkey which has become fashionable since then. On Boxing Day, my father used to give me a slice of good bread covered in cold goose dripping sprinkled with salt and pepper. Few children today would ever know how utterly delicious this simple pleasure was. I tried to re-create it one Christmas in this country, but when the farmer’s wife told me the goose she had decided some weeks earlier to fatten up to sell to me, knew, and ran off all over the farm to escape her, I never ate goose again!

Which brings us full circle back to Easter, and those chocolate Easter eggs. Most people know Easter eggs have an association with a pagan goddess called Eostre, and the Easter egg custom percolated into Europe from Mesopotamia, and the Greek Orthodox church, but my interest is in chocolate Easter eggs. I discovered that a splendid old Quaker, Joseph Fry, started a chocolate business in 1759, and his sons later invented not only my favourite chocolate – Fry’s Cream in 1866 – but the chocolate Easter egg in 1873, getting on for a hundred and fifty years ago.

Quakers dominated the chocolate industry in England, Cadbury, Rowntree, Terry, Fry, were all owned by Quakers, just as so many banks were, including Barclays and Lloyd’s, and firms like Clarks Shoes and Bryant and May matches. This was because Quakers, as non-conformists, were barred from universities and the professions, but because their word was their bond, they prospered because everyone trusted them.

They became incredibly rich, which bothered them, so their money went into charitable causes, including the first model town Bournville, for Cadbury employees who were given free health and dental care amongst other advantages.

And the reason all these Quakers were in the chocolate business was because they invented chocolate drinks for the poor to drink, instead of beer and alcohol. This meant that the poor had to boil their water, a healthy practice in a time when water was not always pure, and the chocolate flavour was neither addictive nor debilitating, unlike alcohol.

Which is a good and Christian thought, that we all enjoy our chocolate treats because a group of high-principled men tried to find something delicious but not in-ebriating for us all to eat and drink! So yes, let us eat chocolate Easter eggs, even if they don’t cure laryngitis!

Food for threadbare gourmets

I’m still thinking in emergency mode, since our region is officially in a state of civil defence emergency as we endure Cyclone Cook.… and thinking of all the things I can do to improve the taste of tinned or packaged food, if necessary. I have a packet of pumpkin soup which I will jolly up with some chicken bouillon, a knob of butter and a little cream, and either some curry powder to ‘hot’ it up, or nutmeg to spice it.

Tins of tomato soup I jazz up with vegemite or marmite, about half a tea-spoon, plus the butter and cream. A tin of baked beans I’ll ‘improve’ by stirring in tomato puree, a slurp of balsamic vinegar, and some stevia to taste, even a little molasses…and then there’s tins of salmon – well I could write a whole book about ways to use a tin of salmon, but will curb my enthusiasm now, as we batten down our hatches. I’m posting this blog early, while we still have electricity.

 Food for thought 

Learn to wish that everything should come to pass exactly as it does.

Epictetus Ad 50 – 135  Roman Stoic philosopher, whose teaching sustained the late Rear-Admiral James Stockdale throughout his seven years captivity, torture and solitary confinement during the Vietnam War.


Filed under cookery/recipes, culture, great days, history, humour, life/style, philosophy, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized

20 responses to “Eating for Easter

  1. Good gracious! I have just looked up Cyclone Cook and I hope you and yours can stay safe and that you have enough stashed away to keep you fed and watered. I’ll be thinking of you both staying snug I hope.
    I’m with you on Hot Cross Buns and I like to sprinkle a little cinnamon sugar on the butter that has been spread – delicious!
    Stay safe and I hope your electricity stays on for all sorts of reasons but especially that you can post!
    With love, 🙂


    • Sally, it was lovely to read this message from you, even though i didn’t reply straight away… and then in the cleanup after the storm, I completely forgot to do my blog h0usekeeping as well. It was a lovey feeling of immediacy to receive your comment straight away, and to know that you were ‘with’ us…
      I will be using your tip for cinnamon sugar… I love cinnamon…Love, Valerie

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I echo the previous comment in hoping that you and your loved ones are staying safe amidst Cyclone Cook. How scary!

    I enjoyed your post, and it was fascinating to learn about the history behind the food-related traditions that we enjoy throughout the year.

    I agree with you — buttered hot cross buns are delicious. I had one yesterday with my mid-morning coffee at the office. What a treat! 🙂


    • Hello Grace, apologies for not replying before… clearing up after the storm swept everything else out of my mind.. we survived !
      I was lovely to read your comment, and also to know that we are agreed about hot cross buns !!!


  3. Thank you, Mr Fry, for the chocolate Easter egg, although I am much more partial to hot cross buns. Hope your lights are still on.


  4. Dear Valerie,

    Fascinating history of the chocolate Easter egg. Nice to know it came from such humble and beneficent beginnings. I’ve often wondered if the Easter egg didn’t also have a connection to the egg at the Passover seder which symbolizes the circle of life.
    Every culture has their holiday food traditions, don’t they. I do remember my mother spreading chicken fat, shmaltz in Yiddish, on rye bread and sprinkling it with a little salt. Delicious.
    I don’t know who coined it but there’s a saying in Judaism that states the basic tenets of the faith are, “They hated us, they tried to kill us, God delivered us. Let’s eat!”
    My thoughts and prayers are with you and himself as the storm heads your way. Stay safe.




    • Hello Rochelle.. well you’ve gathered we survived the storm… lots of cleaning up… I found your take on food customs intriguing… further down another reader took them up and expanded the theme to German food.. folk customs around food are so fascinating… thank you for taking the time to write such a long illuminating comment…


  5. Learn to wish that everything should come to pass exactly as it does.—oh what HUGE statement that is…and one I need to plaster on my forehead!
    I hope you are able to stay safe and dry!
    Love You!


  6. Batten down the hatches, my dear friend, and ride out the storm safely! 😉 xoxoM


  7. This post was serendipitous. My next book to read is: “The Rowntree Family of York.” by Paul Chrystal. I have been interested in the works of Mary Parker Follett, another Quaker and the first woman business consultant. I’m certain you already have heard of her, but I have only recently become acquainted with her work. We do travel the same pathways… Hugs and love coming your way.


    • Dear Rebecca,
      You won’t have seen my note at the end of this week’s blog..I suddenly realised that in the aftermath of cleaning up after the storm, I’d forgotten to answer my lovely comments… and I’d hate to miss you… how fascinating about your Rowntree research… do hope my following buttons are still working… am still having such trouble… please tell me if I’ve missed a post…
      Please stay in touch, love, Valerie

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Valerie – you haven’t missed any post. I have been working on a special project and will be back to blogging in the summer. In the meantime, I continue to enjoy reading blogs every morning when I have my coffee. Always an inspiring way to begin my day.


  8. “a slice of good bread covered in cold goose dripping sprinkled with salt and pepper….” One of your readers commented about the Jewish version with chicken fat. Here in Germany it’s schmalzbrot, pork fat with bits of bacon in it. When I first moved here, twenty-five years ago many traditional restaurants still had little ceramic pots of schmalz on the table to be spread on bread.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What wonderful rich traditions! One of my earliest memories of being curious enough about something to ask was when I heard the nursery rhyme “Hot Cross Buns.” I asked my mother what they were because we had never had any. Our Easter fare was ham or lamb with mint jelly, chocolate bunnies, and jelly beans. Never a favorite holiday of mine as 3 of those 4 things I find disgusting to eat. And the bunnies were usually poor quality chocolate which I didn’t really care for.


  10. Hello Luanne, thank you for your lovely comment … yes, I remember that old jingle about hot cross buns…interesting that it crossed the Atlantic… I wonder when… was it being sung by the Pilgrim Fathers – and Mothers -, or is it a later import…. fascinating !!!!


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