Friday, April 22, 2011

Recipes for Easter and Bitter Herbs

This week for Christians is called Holy week as they celebrate the trials of Jesus leading to his death and resurrection on Easter Sunday.  This is also the week of the Jewish holiday Passover, which marks the exodus from Egypt.  I found an herb connection to these traditions which made it worth mentioning these sacred and important rituals here.

There are a number of things done in celebration that sets theses days apart from the rest of the year.   My family traditions are decidedly Anglo-Saxon and Catholic so a big part of our celebration was Hot Cross Buns. The tradition allegedly is derived from ancient Anglo-Saxons who baked small wheat cakes in honor of the springtime goddess, Eostre. After converting to Christianity, the church substituted the cakes with sweetbreads blessed by the church

Hot Cross Buns are a traditional favorite for Good Friday, Easter, and throughout the Lent season, but they are enjoyable year-round. Yeasty rolls are filled with currants or raisins and nuts, then topped with a cross of icing. In spite of the raisins and icing, these are not sweet rolls but rather have a more savory taste. The hazelnuts are optional.

Countries around the world serve sweet cakes in the same vein, such as Czech babobka and Polish baba. The Greeks and Portuguese serve round, flat loaves marked with a cross and decorated with Easter eggs. Syrian and Jordanian Christians have honey pastries.

Stuffed Ham (see recipe below)

American Traditions
In the United States, ham is a traditional Easter food. In the early days, meat was slaughtered in the fall. There was no refrigeration, and the fresh pork that wasn't consumed during the winter months before Lent was cured for spring. The curing process took a long time, and the first hams were ready around the time Easter rolled around. Thus, ham was a natural choice for the celebratory Easter dinner.
Polish Traditions
The polish tradition of Food Blessing occurs.  Called Swieconka it is one of the most enduring and beloved Polish traditions. On Saturday people take to churches decorated baskets containing a sampling of traditional food to be blessed: hard-boiled shelled eggs, ham, sausage, salt, horseradish, fruits, bread and cake. Prominently displayed among these is the Easter lamb, usually molded from butter and colorful pisanki (richly decorated Easter eggs)
Common foods brought for blessing include: eggs, bread, butter lamb, salt, horseradish, ham, and sausage.  The food blessed in the church remains untouched until Sunday morning.
Jewish Passover
Among the Jewish faith they eat matza, the unleavened bread that was eaten instead of regular leavened bread to remind them of the speedy exit from slavery.  There wasn’t time to let it rise in the haste to leave.

They are also called to eat bitter herbs during this holiday as a reminder of the bitterness of slavery.    Horseradish is the first choice for bitter herb at sedar meals.  My friends take the time to chop a large root in their kitchen for use with the sedar feast.  My friend says it is much simpler now using a modern food processor that the task was growing up when it was chopped by hand, the odor of the horseradish stinging her eyes.   Use of this herb dates all the way back to the Egyptian Kingdoms, a good 3500 years ago.

I’ve read that the Greeks used horseradish as an aphrodisiac but it wasn’t clear to me exactly
how: did they take it orally or somehow use it topically?

The custom of eating horseradish as a condiment spread to Europe during the Renaissance and to England in the mid 1600s. By late in the century the English were solidly in the habit of eating horseradish with many of their meals, in particular beef and oysters.  English settlers brought the root with them to North America and by 1840 it grew wild around Boston.

When we hear a root or food described as bitter tasting, we know this is due to the presence of a large chemical group known as alkaloids.  These kinds of chemicals are made by plants and are distinguished because they contain nitrogen. Many alkaloids have very strong pharmacologic effects in people.  Examples of some  alkaloids that are used as drugs include cocaine, nicotine, strychnine, piperine, caffeine, morphine, pilocarpine, atropine, methamphetamine, mescaline, ephedrine, and tryptamine. Alkaloid containing plants stand out because they taste nasty.
If you are interested in making this Bitter Herb for your sedar, check out my blog posts for Horseradish (part 1 & part 2) that gives you all the steps.
Happy Easter from Marcy & the Backyard Patch

Recipes Mentioned

Hot Cross Buns

3-3/4 to 4-1/4 cups all-purpose flou
1 package active dry yeast
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup cooking oil
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2/3 cup currants or raisins
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts (filberts) (optional)
1 slightly beaten egg white
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur or milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a large mixing bowl combine 1-1/2 cups of the flour, yeast, and Cinnful Dessert Blend (you can substitute cinnamon.)  In a small saucepan heat and stir 3/4 cup milk, the oil, granulated sugar, and salt until warm (120 degrees F to 130 degrees F). Add to flour mixture along with whole eggs. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping bowl. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes.

Using a spoon, stir in currants or raisins, hazelnuts (if desired), and as much of the remaining flour as you can mix in with a wooden spoon. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough (3 to 5 minutes total). Shape into a ball. Place dough in a greased bowl; turn once to grease surface. Cover and let rise until nearly double (about 1-1/2 hours).

Punch dough down. Turn out onto a floured surface. Cover and let rest 10 minutes. Divide dough into 20 portions; shape each portion into a smooth ball. Place balls 1-1/2 inches apart on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise until nearly double (30 to 45 minutes). With a sharp knife, make a shallow crisscross slash across each bun. Brush with egg white. Bake in a 375-degree F oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly.

In a mixing bowl combine sifted powdered sugar, hazelnuts liqueur or milk, and vanilla. Stir in milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it reaches drizzling consistency. Drizzle buns with icing (usually in a cross shape.)  Serve warm.

Stuffed Ham
3 large green cabbages, cored and fine chop
3 pounds kale, fine chop
4 lbs. onions, fine chop
4 ribs celery, fine chop
2 Tbsp. cayenne or crushed red pepper (We used N’orleans Seasoning from the Backyard Patch)
1 Tbsp. black pepper
2 tsp. mustard seed
1 Tbsp. salt
1 corned bone-in ham (about 22 pounds, give or take)

Mix together all ingredients except ham.
Cut an "X" measuring 1 inch square and 2 inches deep on underside of ham. Fill "X" with stuffing until no more will fit. Continue cutting "X's" about 1/2 to 1 inch apart all over ham, stuffing them as they are cut.
Center ham on a 4-foot long piece of double-thickness cheesecloth and place any remaining stuffing on top of ham. Wrap cheesecloth around ham and tie ends together to hold stuffing in place.
Place ham in a large stockpot and add enough water to cover. Place lid on pot and bring liquid to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook ham for 20-25 minutes per pound of ham or till internal temperature reaches 160 degrees, adding water as needed to keep ham covered.
Remove pot from heat and allow ham to cool for an hour in the cooking broth.
Transfer ham to a large colander or a rack to drain for about 1 hour.
Remove and discard cheesecloth and place any extra vegetable stuffing on top of ham in a serving dish.
To serve, slice ham and accompany with vegetable stuffing.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...