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Celebrating food traditions...
Passover, Ramadan & Easter
Food is often the bond that ties us to family, religious festivals and celebrations and the delightful memories of traditional recipes and the foods of our upbringing.
This coming week, sees Passover, Ramadan and Easter, the most sacred festivals of the three Abrahamic faiths anchoring upon the start of Spring. Each festival has significant culinary rituals and foods, seemingly quite different, yet with shared commonality and traditions.
Passover commemorates the Israelites exodus from slavery in Egypt celebrated at the Seder table, where family and friends gather and recount stories of freedom. Symbolic foods are displayed on a platter, known as the Seder plate, remembering their plight and giving hope for renewal throughout the service. The plate has six places for the traditional foods, a lamb bone signifying the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb the Israelites made to mark their doorposts with its blood as the sign for God to save them from death. Bitter herbs to remind us of their hardship and a vegetable, often lettuce or parsley dipped into salt water, as a reminder of their tears. Charoset is a paste of nuts, apples and red wine, symbolising the mortar they used as slaves, and an egg which is boiled and roasted, with its roundness representing the circle of life and a phase of renewal following destruction. It is also part of the traditional Seder to drink four cups of wine throughout the service, signifying the phases of redemption from oppression.
Unleavened bread or matzah and also known as the bread of affliction, is eaten for the duration of the eight day festival, as the Israelites fled Egypt in such haste that there was not enough time for their bread to rise. Matzah is made simply from whole grain flour and water, which has only been in contact for no more than 18 minutes preventing the fermentation process taking place. It is then baked just until it starts to rise. All leavened goods and foods made from wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt are known as chometz and are forbidden throughout the Passover.
Ramadan is celebrated in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and one of the holiest months of the year for Muslims, commemorating the first revelation of the prophet Mohammad and signified throughout by fasting, prayer and spiritual reflection. Fasting is compulsory from dawn to sunset, for all those who are able, breaking the fast at the nightly Iftar meal. The fast is traditionally broken on eating three dates, a custom that was practiced by the prophet Muhammad himself. Many start their fast, the Suhur also with dates, a fruit packed full of natural sugars and essential vitamins and minerals, providing energy for a day ahead without food.
The Iftar is celebrated each night with a large gathering of family and friends sharing a lavish meal of meats, salads, freekeh, and vegetables. Rich desserts including knafeh and loqma doused in sweet syrup, intricately decorated cakes and biscuits, especially maamoul, a butter pastry filled with either dates or dried figs and nuts are served, having been prepared, baked and crimped to perfection, by the matriarchs of the family, from recipes that have been handed down through the generations. Eid al-Fitr marks the breaking of the fast and the end of Ramadan, celebrated by three days of feasting.
Easter is one of the holiest holidays within Christianity marking the crucifixion and miracle of resurrection of Jesus Christ and the celebration of the end of the period of fasting, prayer and almsgiving of Lenten. The Last Supper, celebrated on Holy Thursday, was supposedly a meal of bread and wine, although research from Italian archaeologists suggested the meal was more substantial with dishes made from lamb, bitter herbs and dates.
Eggs, an ancient symbol of fertility and new life have been a traditional food of Easter for centuries. Boiled eggs were supposedly dyed red to symbolise the blood of Christ and started the tradition of empty shell decorating as a festive craft. Eggs made out of chocolate started in France in the 1800’s, a trend that took off almost immediately by Cadbury’s and has remained one of the most popular of all the Easter foods. The Simnel cake previously associated in Medieval times with Mothering Sunday has since become an Easter cake, decorated with eleven marzipan balls representing Jesus’s apostles that dined with him at the Last Supper. The spiced fruit dough of the hot cross bun is a mark of the cross of the crucifixion and reminiscent of the spices used to embalm Jesus’s body afterwards.
The thread of culinary traditions weave through the three festivals, interlinking and celebrating with specific foods. The culture of feasting and sharing tables laden with food is a common bond between the three faiths, often extending an open invitation for anyone who may be alone or hungry to partake and join in the festivities. Although it is written in the opening lines of the Haggadah, the story of the Exodus from Egypt that is read at every Seder table, it applies to all faiths and festivals. “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need come and celebrate”.
Happy holidays and enjoy!