Paganism 101: Three Easter Breads (and a Matzoh)
The waning and the waxing. Clockwise from top left: matzoh, Italian Easter bread, fougasse and hot cross buns
There is a lot of symbolism in the foods of Easter, and not all of it is Christian. In fact, the word “Easter” is believed to be derived from “Eostre”, the pre-Christian, Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. This Eostre went away in the fall and then returned every April, just like Persephone in the ancient Greek myth. Sure, the idea of dying and then rising again is common to both Christian and pre-Christian religions, but some of our modern Easter symbols are more exclusively linked to pagan fertility beliefs. These include rabbits, like the Easter Bunny, who were revered for their relentless fecundity (didn’t you see that glint in his eye?), and eggs (brought by that dirty rabbit in his “basket”), which represent the cycle of birth.
So, now that I’ve totally lost your attention with my Paganism 101 lecture (Course Title: “What the Easter Bunny is Really Bringing”), I’m going to discuss the breads of the season, which either swell with fertile yeastiness, or, pointedly, don’t. Matzoh (top left), which you probably know about, is remarkable in its absence of leavening. This is the “bread of affliction” that recalls the poverty and suffering of Jews in exile with its distinct lack of fruitful rising.
The braided wreath of Italian Easter bread echoes the pagan maypole, with its circular weaving that alludes to the endless cycle of the seasons. Its challah-like dough is simply loaded with eggs, and, in case you still don’t get the point, the ring is studded with more hard-cooked eggs. Here’s a tony local version (top right) that we found at Tarry Market, though it’s common throughout the county and often appears with multicolored sprinkles and even icing.
Fougasse is another traditional Easter loaf—this time, from France. Its foliate shape, created by slashing a flat, oblong loaf, alludes to the re-greening of the world every spring. This fougasse, sourced at the Pelham Manor Fairway Market, seems more Christian than most: its stylized floral/foliate shape can also be seen as cruciform.
Hot cross buns (bottom left) are a centuries-old English bread, reliably dated to the Elizabethan period (but they were already an established tradition then). During Elizabeth’s reign, the popular buns were in danger of being outlawed for their Roman Catholic associations, with some versions reputedly baked with actual Communion wafer dough. Throwing those pesky Catholics a “bun”, the reasonable, Protestant Bess allowed her English bakers to make the bread—but she decreed that the buns would thence forward be available only during the Easter and Christmas seasons.
That said, some English historians also believe that the hot cross bun dates way back to the Anglo-Saxon worship of Eostre, with the crossed lines on the buns symbolizing the four quarters of the moon. Pre-Christians celebrated April as Eostre’s month, so the buns made an easy segue into Christian Easter. The crossed lines came to represent the Crucifixion on Good Friday, but, interestingly, their dough is studded with dried fruits, which simultaneously celebrate the end of Lenten fasting and the start of spring. You can find Easter hot cross buns at the Kneaded Bread bakery.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I can’t say that I feel the same way about the Easter Bunny. Just look at him, with his rakish left ear, bowling along with his “carrot,” trying to pass off his “eggs” and his “jelly beans”. Eww.
Nothing like the month of April to make you realize how broke you actually are. With that in mind, we’re sharing these upcoming dining deals, so you can put away those bags of ramen.
Dollar oysters and 50-Cent Clams at Crabtree’s Kittle
Me, when I get a bill I can’t pay, I wanna hide in a bar downing oysters and beer. Good thing the Kittle House is planning the imminent return of dollar oysters and 50-cent clams. Also, check out Captain Lawrence on tap in the taproom (perfect for drowning your sorrows). And if you can’t face cooking for your family on Easter, the Kittle House is planning both a stellar brunch buffet and a dinner. See menus here.
“Bottomless BBQ” Sundays at PLATES
In this case, pigging out pays! From the site: “Join in every Sunday for Chef Karp’s $28 ‘bottomless BBQ’ Sunday with a $10 kids menu for the 10 and unders. Pulled pork, ribs, brisket, and other ‘smoker specials.’ You order it, we keep it coming! Pair it with our beers on tap, Magic Hat #9 or Hefeweizen Circus Boy, and take a spot on the outdoor patio or inside as you please. Regular menu also available. Dinner service begins at 5pm.”
The Wine Geeks Armonk’s $15 and Under Table
Okay, so let’s say that drowning your sorrows in shellfish and beer isn’t quite how you roll. Check out Wine Geeks bargain table for super saver deals, like a $7.99 bottle of Famega Vinho Verde ’09 (Portugal). It’s priced to drink by the gallon!
American Wagyu Rib Eye Seared a la Plancha at X2O
Look, if you’re going to eat beef, you might as well go rib eye. And if you’re going to go rib eye, you might as well go Wagyu. And once you’re heading down that meat path, you might as well hit X2O. Recently, we found this lovely Wagyu steak from DeBragga paired with a guzzle-able caramelized onion soubise, black-trumpet mushrooms, chick-pea fries, and a tiny knot of grilled ramps. Yes, it’s all very fancy … but in a way, it’s also warmly familiar. This dish reminded me (distantly!) of the Sunday dinner my Nana regularly made—a slab of perfectly medium-rare beef with onion gravy and a creamy, delicious starch. Mmmmm. Now if only my poor old Nana had black-trumpet mushrooms, ramps, and a killer Hudson view!