When I was a child, Easter week was frenetic in our house: countless church services, cleaning, baking and fasting. All roads led to a late mass on Easter Saturday, where young guns popped fireworks before the designed time, and the masses clamoured and pushed their way to get the holy light from the priest. Once your candle was lit, the challenge was to get it home without setting the interior of your car alight.
Once you were home, the real fun began with a middle-of-the-night feast: lamb offal soup for the adults, chicken soup for the kids. And then there were the red eggs. In the Orthodox tradition, red eggs symbolise that Christ has risen, representing new life. We clinked these red eggs together with much aplomb. It was said that the egg that remained uncracked after doing the rounds of the family would give its owner good luck for the rest of the year. The idea was then to eat the egg. Often we kids clinked two or three eggs in a bid to hit on a 'winning' egg, our uneaten eggs discarded onto a plate.
As if all this food wasn't enough, the next day we got together with the extended family and meat was shovelled into us until we couldn't move. This well and truly made up for any deprivations in the lead-up to Easter.
These days, Easter is still very much about having family time, but some of the more heavy-duty rituals have fallen by the wayside. Even though the elusive Easter bunny leaves lots of eggs in our backyard, one tradition we still love is painting eggs each year. No matter if you don't get into the whole resurrection thing - dying Easter eggs is a great thing to do with young kids, and is a chance to find out more about the many decorating traditions around the world. After all, it's doesn't always have to be about chocolate.
- Purchase a dozen (or more if you like) eggs, and a packet of red (or blue, or yellow...) egg dye. One pack is enough for 24 eggs. The dye is available from many delicatessens around Easter time, as well as from some supermarkets. There are two types of dye - the cold water variety where you boil the eggs first, and then soak them in the dye; and a hot water variety, where you boil the eggs in the diluted dye. I prefer the latter as it seems to have more vibrant results. Feel free to let the eggs soak for longer than it says on the packet.
- Recently I also came across an intriguing natural method to dye them with onion skins. If anyone tries this method, please can you let us know if it actually works?
- If using commercial dyes, follow the simple instructions on the pack. Most recipes call for a small amount of wine vinegar.
- When the eggs have cooked through (they must be hard boiled), remove them from the dye and let them dry. It's all very messy, so use your oldest pots, and a tray to catch any spills.
- When cool, wipe them with a cloth dipped in a bit of oil until they shine. This was always my job as a kid, but by this time my daughter and her friend had lost interest and returned to the barbies. You can't win them all.
Divine Easter bread...
Now, another lovely cooking ritual around Easter time is that of making tsourekia, a sweet egg bread. The best are moist, chewy and not too sweet. The ingredients that lift them to divine status are mahlepi and mastih, the latter an aromatic resin only found on the Greek island of Chios.
It just happens that I have a connection to the equally divine Yiayia (Grandma) Frosso, who makes the best tsoureki outside of Greece. She could not be led astray from her church duties to show us how in the lead-up to Easter, but has promised a mentoring session soon after the festivities come to an end. No doubt there will be a full report in this blog. In the meantime, she has parted with her recipe, loosely translated from the Greek. As tsoureki is notoriously hard to get right, we have booked in to make these with my mother later in the week. In the next blog, I will share the results, be they good, bad or just mediocre, and the recipe. Stay tuned.