Tsoureki is a traditional Easter bread. It’s braided and flavoured with mastiha or pine resin and citrus zest. Another tradition, kokkina avga or red eggs, are often baked right into into the bread. These deep red eggs are dyed in the traditional method using onion skins as dye and they represent a drop of Christ’s blood. Mayeritsa is soup made from organ meats and is eaten after midnight mass and, of course, no Greek Easter feast is complete without lamb—preferably the whole beast, slowly spit-roasted over open coals.
Hot cross buns date to before Christ, when the Anglo-Saxons populated Britain. To them the bun represented the moon and the cross the moon’s quarters or perhaps the four seasons. To Christians, the cross is symbolic of the crucifixion of Christ.
Many of the foods enjoyed at Easter are also eaten as a decadent way to break the semi-fast of lent, which runs from the end of February to early April. Naturally, these dishes tend to be on the rich side and laden with the sort of sweet and tasty treats forbidden during lent. The English indulge in Simnel cake, which is full of dried fruits, spices and marzipan.
Easter is serious business in Germany and considered the most important date on the Christian calendar. Gründonnerstag or green Thursday, is the Thursday before Easter when Germans celebrate by eating green foods. Kerbelsuppe (Chervil Soup), Eier in Grüner Sauce (Eggs in Green Sauce) and Fischfrikadellen mit Grüner Sauce (Fish Cakes with Green Sauce). Here too, lamb – which symbolizes innocence, or rather innocence lost—is the main course on Easter Sunday followed by bunter osterkuchen, a flamboyantly colourful cake decorated with marzipan eggs.
In both Canada and the US, ham reigns as the Easter main course of choice, but it is less symbolic and more to do with practicality. In parts of Northern Europe and North America, pigs would be slaughtered in the fall, and every single part of the animal was used. Before the invention of refrigeration, which meant much of the meat was cured, smoked, turned into sausage and hams and stored all through the winter. In the spring, at Easter, a whole ham was cooked up and brought to the table—we can only imagine, with great flourish and appreciation.
Eastern Europe and Russia
Russia and the Ukraine are home to the most beautiful and intricately-decorated Easter eggs in the world. In the Ukraine, this painstaking art is know as, pysanky. And then there is the food! Kulich is an Easter bread loaded with butter, eggs, fruit and nuts, topped with icing, often bearing the message “Christ has Risen.” There is also paskha, a sort of cheesecake, white in colour and formed in a pyramid symbolising the purity of Christ.
Italy, Spain and France
Pane di Pasqua or Easter bread is salty, herb-y and filled with proscuitto and hard-boiled eggs, sounds like it would be lovely served with a hot, hearty bowl of meaty minestra di Pasqua or, Easter soup. Now, the French know a thing or two about chocolate and in true French style bring a twist all their own to the tradition of chcolate goodies at Easter. Poisson d’Avril (fish of April) – chocolate fish that fill the shops around Easter time – combines two traditions: Easter and a sort of French April Fools Day trick. Poisson d’Avril arrive in shops around April 1st, a time when traditionally, kiddies creep up from behind and slap paper fish onto the backs of adults to the battle cry of, “Poisson d’Avril!”
In Spain, folks looking for a treat after Lent, tuck into hornazo, a bread stuffed with sausage, bacon and hard boiled eggs. It is typically eaten at the end of Lent.
And for Easter breakfast, torrijas, similar to French toast drizzled with honey, is a sweet tradition. In Catalonia, la mona de Pasqua is cake decorated with chocolate eggs and beloved cartoon characters baked for godfather’s to give to their godchildren after Easter Sunday mass.