Passion of the Crust
American tastes at Easter emphasize the entrée, globally and
historically, the season offers a bounty of breadstuffs
many centuries, the Festival of Eastre (or Eastore) celebrated
a fertility goddess whose name also denoted the fertility
season. In her honor, an ox was sacrificed and, according
to Charles Panati’s book The Sacred Origins of Profound
Things, an image of the ox’s horns was “carved into ritual
bread”—which evolved into the twice-scored Easter biscuits
we call hot cross buns. In fact, the word “bun” derives from
the Saxon for “sacred ox”: boun.
It’s also reckoned that the cross was a sun wheel, signifying
the balance of day and night at the vernal equinox.
As Easter became more of a Christian tradition, so too did
hot cross buns. Early Christians noted the fortuitous coincidence
between the Eastre feast and their own celebration of the
Resurrection, and so planned their ceremony to overlap. With
the threat of persecution ever at hand, it allowed Christian
ritual to go relatively unnoticed.
Hot cross buns seem to be more of an English than American
Easter breadstuff, perhaps reasserting England’s reclamation
of the tradition after notorious killjoy Oliver Cromwell forbid
the buns because of their pagan heritage—an edict rescinded
by Elizabeth I. (A superstition attached to them suggests
that hot cross buns baked on Good Friday will never go stale.)
Although Easter dinners around the world typically feature
fabulous meatstuffs, allowing Lenten fasters to make up for
lost entrées, special Easter breads have emerged from many
Easter in Greece may be the most dramatic, beginning with
a soup called mageritsa, made from a lamb’s head, heart,
liver, and intestines, while the rest of the lamb rotates
on a spit. Greek Easter bread, called lambropsomo (or,
in a Turkish-derived variant, tsoureki), is a braided
loaf heavy with symbolism. The braid’s three strands represent
the Trinity, while decorations of wreaths suggest the crown
of thorns. If the loaf is round, it’s supposed to represent
the sun, rebirth and resurrection. Then there are dyed blood-red
eggs in its center, baked with the dough—either one egg as
a resurrection symbol or four to denote the cross.
And the egg ritual doesn’t stop there. You might be invited
to select a raw egg from a passing basket, which you smack
against someone else’s egg. Whoever holds the last intact
egg wins good luck for the year to follow.
Italy’s tortona also is made from dough strands twisted
around a scarlet egg, while columba di Pasqua is a
sweet Passover loaf that uses panettone dough, shaped
like a dove and studded with raisins and almonds and candied
orange rind. You’ll find a similar bread in Genoa, where it’s
called pan dolce, while in Sicily, a large crown-shaped
loaf decorated with colored eggs becomes the centerpiece.
Venice celebrates with sweet, oversized fugassa di Pasqua
buns. Less common is Rieti’s pizza pasqualina,
made from ricotta, eggs and honey, and reflecting the Sabine
heritage of the region.
Lent doesn’t end in Poland until you’ve had your blessing
basket (an array of colored eggs, bread, butter, salt and
more) blessed on Easter Sunday. And then there’s the babka,
a word meaning “grandmother,” a bread rich with raisins.
Easter happens to be the second-biggest shopping season in
Germany, and eggs are a big feature both in gift-giving and
at-home celebrations. Which means you might end up eating
a traditional Easter meal of eggs in green sauce, the latter
an herb-colored mayonnaise. In the bread department, braided
(osterzopf), wreath-shaped (osterkranz) and
compound braided (striezel) loaves are served, while
accompanying treats might be breads baked into the shapes
of rabbits and chicks and other familiar holiday symbols.
Bulgaria is an Eastern Orthodox stronghold, with egg coloring
on Holy Thursday. They’re put to good use, too, because tradition
allows the family’s oldest woman to smear red egg on the children’s
faces. Hand-made kolache is the sweet holiday pastry
The name is similar to Russia’s kulich, a rich, eggy
yeast bread baked in a tin can and decorated with dried fruit,
often topped with a red rose.
Easter was believed to be a time of witches in ancient Sweden,
and bonfires would be lighted on Maundy Thursday to keep them
away. That doesn’t discourage the kids, who celebrate the
holiday in a Halloween-like fashion, going door-to-door in
witch costumes. Sweden’s Easter pastry is semlor, a
sweet bun filled with marzipan and whipped cream. From early
times, semlor was only eaten on the Tuesday before Lent, but
is now popular throughout the Easter season.
The simplest and most profound of the holiday breads is the
unleavened matzoh that features in the Passover Seder. It’s
said that matzoh is a symbol both of slavery and freedom,
because the lack of leavening allowed it to be prepared quickly
during the exodus from Egypt. So important is it to the Seder
that all leavened bread is removed from a household before
the ritual begins.
If you’re worried about the effect of all of this good food
on your diet, here’s surprising news: A study conducted in
the United Kingdom two years ago by the Food Standards Agency
determined that hot cross buns were the healthiest Easter
option. The agency’s nutritionists compared 14 holiday items
and found that on a weight-for-weight basis, hot cross buns
contained the lowest amount of sugar and fat, the most fiber
and the lowest calorie content! Not specified is whether the
buns in question had sugar drizzled over them—and, if not,
what’s the point?
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be placed in running for Nicole's Bistro Gift Certificate.
me again B.A. The Chain Restaurant loving
fat guy who loves big, heaping helpings
of prepared, marketed fried things. Even
could care less about Daniel's at Ogdens
to be perfectly honest. I read the review
mostly because my office stares right at
it's front door and we all watched as the
refurbishing was done. My problem here today
is with your first two paragraphs.
kind of news article that bugs you is what
percentage of Americans spend 30 minutes
or less preparing food!?!? You know what
kind of news article bothers me? "Remains
of a woman found stuffed in a barrel......"
or "....Albany Police Lt. dies from
injuries sustained in shootout with suspect."
I realize food and it's service and preparation
may be the all consuming obsession in your
life, but please tell me you have a bigger
heart than that.
the reason "44 percent of weekday meals
in the U.S. are prepared in 30 minutes or
less.." is that some people work 2
or 3 jobs. Some people may be a single parent
with young children, who may only have less
than 30 minutes to spare.
I promise you this, the next time I get
35 minutes or so.........I'll order some
Kobe Beef, puff pastry, shitake mushrooms
and the ingredients to make a proper buerre
blanc....dim the lights, put on a bowtie,
apron and plenty of snotty attitude and
invite you over for dinner.
Chicken Fingers ok for an appetizer?
really love this guys knack for picking
"the best kept secrets" in the
Capital District. Way to go B.A.! Keep up
the good work!
Leon's review was wonderful. Her descriptions
of the various selections made me hungry.
I am saving the review and putting it on
my refrigerator to remind me to take a busman's
holiday to Great Barrington for melitzana.
eaten here twice- I agree with all said
by Nillson- HOWEVER- No authentic Mexican
place should be totally rated without mention
of their Margarita quality -which is superior-very
limey with just the right ingredients- and
their selection of Mexican Beers-Tecata-Negro
Modello and Dos Equis Dark and Amber. Excellent
Selection. Another mark of good Mexican
cuisine is the freshness of their pico di
gallo-the true MEXICAN salsa- again excellent.
If it were not for the diner atmosphere
I would have rated it 4 stars- and yes-
please bring back the star rating system
which I relied on heavily.
surprisingly nice effort for a city which
seems to only allow Italian restaurants
very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!