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For foodies, the best thing about Easter, regardless of your personal and religious convictions, is without doubt the plethora of delectable chocolatey treats that make their way onto supermarket shelves in the weeks leading up to this festival. Forsaking plain old slabs, suddenly chocolate is ingeniously moulded into all sorts of wonderous and irresistibly cute baby animals – bunnies, chicks, ducklings - and eggs, eggs, eggs of all sizes. There are gooey, caramel-filled ovoids, bright, foil-wrapped hollows, moist marshmallow parcels clad in cocoa… It’s a dangerous time to head to the shops!
Eggs have come to be associated with Easter because they are traditional symbols of life, fertility and rebirth. The egg holds this special meaning in many cultures around the world. For Christians in particular, Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Hence, Easter Eggs are a reminder of rebirth and eternal life – as they were in pre-Christian times. Boiled eggs are common on the breakfast table during Easter and blown and coloured egg shells are rife as a décor element. As are Easter Bunnies.
In the Northern Hemisphere, Easter time is Spring time. At the Vernal Equinox , the earth becomes fertile once more after the cold winter. Because rabbits and hares are prolific breeders they, like eggs, are also associated with fertility. So there is little wonder that their springtime mating antics, as well as those of birds laying their eggs, entered into Easter folklore. This has been passed down to the Southern hemisphere through the spread of Christianity and colonialism.
But Eggs and Bunnies are not the only festival food and symbols that you’ll see at Easter. Sticky Hot Cross Buns also come to the fore. These spicey, raisin-studded buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday (but few can resist sneaking one or two before the holiday begins). These sweet buns are marked with a cross on top and are popular here in South Africa, but also in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.
But where did they come from originally? Hot Cross Buns are supposedly an ancient Anglo-Saxon custom. Small wheat cakes were baked in honour of Eostre, the goddess of Spring and fertility. When the Roman Catholic church converted the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, they incorporated this tradition and the buns were blessed by the church before being eaten.
In recent years, intrepid bakers have been mixing up non-traditional recipes and varieties containing extra lashings of cinnamon and nutmeg, cranberries and white chocolate, and even chocolate-flavoured Hot Cross Buns have emerged. GF&WS celebrity chef Jenny Morrris has a fabulous e-how recipe for a Hot Cross Bun Tarte Tartin and you can watch how to make this tasty double twist on two old classics here. Or, catch Jenny herself in action at the show. She’ll be doing free live cooking demonstrations..
Simnel Cake, baked since Medieval times, is also common at Easter and is conventionally prepared for tea, to mark the end of Lent, a time of fasting. This rich fruit cake has almond marzipan as a key ingredient and is often decorated with marzipan.
And if all the chocolate, buns and cake are not quite enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, set aside Easter Sunday to bake traditional, round Easter biscuits as gifts for your friends. Making these crisp, sugary currant cookies is a great way to keep the junior bakers in the house occupied during the holidays. So is making your own Easter Eggs with melted chocolate and ready-to-use moulds that are available at your local cake specialist or baking equipment store…