Jan Bilton: Origins of Easter favourites

By Jan Bilton

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Hot cross buns were originally made in honor of the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre. Photo/Thinkstock
Hot cross buns were originally made in honor of the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre. Photo/Thinkstock

Easter, a time when religious and cultural traditions are observed around the world, is also a time of moveable feasts of traditional foods.

The hot cross bun - generally regarded as an English custom - was originally made in honour of the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre. With the advent of Christianity, goddesses went out of favour but the bun remained. It was marked with a cross, a symbol of evil, because Good Friday was regarded as an evil day.

Another tradition - the rabbit - had its origin in pre-Christian fertility lore. The hare and the rabbit were the most fertile animals known and served as symbols of new life during spring. The first sweet, edible Easter bunnies, made of pastry and sugar, were produced in Germany during the early 1800s.

Eggs also play an important part in Easter celebrations. The decorated egg predates Christianity. Ancient Egyptians often dyed eggs in spring colours to give as gifts. Hollow candy eggs containing tiny religious scenes were popular gifts in England in the 1800s.

Lamb is considered to be the traditional meat for Easter and Easter Sunday is the perfect excuse for a midday roast with all the classical trimmings and some seasonal salads. An economical roast - and one also fit for a Sunday picnic - is a minced lamb roll or loaf filled with herbs and capsicums.

Probably one of the oldest traditional festival bakes is the simnel cake marking Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent. This was a day when homage was paid to the patron saint of the local church and servant girls were given the day off to visit their mothers, taking with them a simnel cake.

The cake is now more of an Easter celebration and is often topped with 12 balls of marzipan, representing the 12 apostles.

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