Apr 05, 2012
By Eileen Goltz
Special to The Standard
I have always been fascinated by the origins of foods and food traditions. Have you ever wondered what a bunny that lays eggs has to do with Easter and which came first, the bunny or the egg?
Ancient cultures had an early spring festival celebrating the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Theses festivals were held at the time of the first full moon following the vernal equinox. A fertility goddess named Estre was the goddess of offspring and springtime. While many different pagan religions held the same type of festival they all had different names for their fertility goddess. She was known as Ishtar, Ashtoreth and Eostre. It was believed by Babylonian legend that a giant egg fell from heaven and was incubated by doves. This is how the myth of Ashtoreth/Ishtar/Eastre was born. The hare (rabbit) was the symbol of the goddess. The male god of fertility was called Baal. The egg was the symbol of Baal.
Not until 325 A.D. when the Nicean Council declared Easter a religious holiday was it celebrated by Christians. Because the celebration of Eastre and the celebration of the Resurrection fell at the same time of year the Nicean Council declared that the day would be celebrated on the first full moon after the vernal equinox and would be called Easter, instead of Eastre.
According to The Encyclopedia of Religion, “It was a popular Easter custom amongst Europeans and Americans to eat ham at Easter, because the pig was considered a symbol of luck in pre-Christian European culture.” German tradition believed that pigs are symbols of luck. If you had a pig to feed your family you were considered lucky. This is also probably the reasons that people started keeping their money in banks that were shaped like pigs.
Like I said, food plays a prominent role in any holiday, and Easter is no exception. For many Americans, Easter dinner includes a hearty helping of ham. Besides ham, pastries and bread also figure prominently in Easter fare all over the world. In Russia a paska cake is molded and baked with a cross on each side. In Germany and Austria, an Easter bread called stollen is baked in twisted or braided strands and Poland has the mazurka, a sweet cake made with honey. Today, hot cross buns, small buns decorated with a sweet icing in the shape of a cross are the American treat associated with Good Friday and Easter.
The following recipes are perfect for any brunch, lunch or dinner you may have this year. May your table be full of family, friends and the good cheer that always accompanies a gathering of those you love.
HOT CROSS BUNS
1/4 cup water – at room temperature or just slightly above
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
3-1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup finely chopped, mixed candied fruit
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup Confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoon water
Place all the dough ingredients, except the raisins and fruit, in the bread machine pan. Set on the dough only cycle. Add the raisins and candied fruit at the bread machine’s signal for adding extra ingredients. Remove the dough from the bread machine at end of dough cycle. Place it in a bowl, cover with a cloth and let it rest for 10 minutes.
Divide the dough into 12 pieces. Shape the pieces into balls and place them 3 inches apart on a lightly greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise in warm place until almost doubled, about 45 minutes to an hour. Bake in a preheated oven at 375º for 15 to 18 minutes, or until light brown on top. Remove from the oven. Place the baking sheet full of buns on a wire rack to cool. Prepare the glaze, then spread it over the warm buns. Let the buns continue to cool on the baking sheet. When completely cool, fill a cake decorating bag, fitted with a round tip, with icing. Pipe an icing cross on each bun. Or… simply spoon narrow stips of icing, in the shape of a cross, on each bun.
Mix the yeast, 1 cup flour, sugar, salt, and other spices in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the milk and water together. Combine the dry ingredients mixture, the liquid ingredients, and the butter in a large bowl. Beat for 2 to 3 minutes at medium speed. Add the egg and beat 1 more minute. Stir in the raisins, fruit, and enough of the remaining flour to make a firm dough. Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 5 to 7 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Use additional flour if necessary. Place in a lightly greased bowl; turn over to grease the other side of the dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place. After about 15 minutes, test the dough to see if it has risen sufficiently and is ready to be shaped. To test, gently stick two fingers into the risen dough up to the second knuckle… take them out. If the indentations remain, the dough is ripe and ready. Continue to follow the preparation directions above, from the **.
SWEET PECAN TURKEY (OR CHICKEN) BREAST
1/3 cup chopped pecans
4 chicken boneless skinless chicken breasts or 1 turkey breast (about 2 1/2 lbs) ( sliced 1/2 inch thick)
1/2 cup brown sugar syrup
3 tablespoons pancake syrup or maple syrup
2 teaspoons margarine
Bake pecans in a shallow pan at 325, for 8-10 minutes or until toasted; set aside. Bake the turkey or chicken breast slices in a grill pan for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Then place them in a 9X13 baking dish. In a sauce pan combine the brown sugar, pancake syrup and margarine. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for 2 minutes, add the pecans. Cook 1 minute then spoon the mixture over the meat and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.
TROUT AND HORSERADISH STUFFED EGGS
6 hard-cooked large eggs
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup minced smoked trout (or other smoked fish)
1 1/2 teaspoons bottled white horseradish, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Black olives, chopped to garnish
Cut a paper-thin slice off both ends of eggs and halve eggs crosswise. Mash egg yolks with a fork and stir in remaining ingredients; season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer filling to a pastry bag fitted with a large decorative tip and pipe into whites, mounding it. Decorate with chopped black olives and parsley. The stuffed eggs may be made 6 hours ahead and chilled, covered. Makes 12 stuffed eggs. This recipe can be doubled or tripled
CURRIED STUFFED EGGS
6 hard cooked eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons sour cream
1 1/4 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet relish
1 green onion, chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Garnish: thinly sliced green onion
Cut a paper-thin slice off both ends of eggs and halve eggs crosswise. Mash yolks with a fork; stir in remaining ingredients; salt and pepper to taste. Transfer filling to a pastry bag fitted with a large ribbon or other decorative tip and pipe into whites, mounding it. Garnish with sliced green onion. Makes 12 stuffed eggs. This recipe can be doubled or tripled
BONE IN HAM WITH DRIED CHERRIES
1 bone-in fully cooked ham, about 9 pounds
2 bottles (12 ounces each) light beer
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup cherry preserves
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup dried cherries
Cornstarch or arrowroot
Remove ham from refrigerator 1 hour before baking. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place ham in a large roasting pan and pour beer over it. Cover and bake 1 hour. Prepare glaze: While ham is baking, combine honey, cherry preserves and ground cloves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until preserves have melted and glaze is smooth. Stir in dried cherries. After cooking the ham for a little more than an hour, baste with pan juices and spoon about half of the glaze over the ham, cover and continue cooking 20 minutes. Spoon remaining glaze over the ham, and cook another 20 to 30 minutes.
Prepare sauce: Remove ham from the pan to a cutting board and cover with foil for 15 minutes. Bring the pan juices to a simmer over two burners. Dissolve cornstarch or arrowroot in cold water (see Kitchen Note) and slowly whisk into liquid. If using cornstarch, cook about 3 to 5 minutes to thicken. Transfer to a bowl and serve with the sliced ham.
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