Memories of Easter as a small girl have been fused into my mind.
Easter is the most significant religious celebration in the Greek Orthodox faith. The Lenten fast begins seven weeks before Easter on a Monday… ‘Clean Monday’. This time of fasting is a time to cleanse the body and spirit. During this fasting you abstain from foods that contain red blood, meat, poultry, milk, cheese and eggs for example.
Easter preparations begin on Holy Thursday when the eggs are dyed red, with the red representing the blood of Christ. My mother would also decorate a few using a leaf from her garden as a stencil. She would place the leaf on a clean egg, put it into some stocking, tie it tightly and slowing immerse it into the red dye. When the eggs were ready and the leaves removed she would polish them with a little olive oil. They would then take their place in a large bowl.
Women in Greek families are busy baking tsourekia and koulouria. The house is filled with aromas of mahlepi and warm tsoureki straight out of the oven. I now spend Holy Thursday dying eggs and baking with my children. My kitchen becomes a hive of conversation and laughter.
Good Friday is the holiest day of the Easter calendar. It is a day of mourning. Traditional foods such as lentil soup are eaten. There is a church service in the afternoon and families attend at this time and help decorate the Epitaphio (the tomb of Christ) with fresh flowers, later to return for the evening service when the priest and choir chant Byzantine hymns. During this service the Epitaphio is taken out of the church for a procession and all follow holding their lit candles symbolising the mourners.
On Holy Saturday the Mayiritsa (Easter soup) is being cooked and the house prepared for the coming feast.
Families attend church for the Resurrection service. Just before midnight the church is darkened and everyone is silent. The flickering light of the ‘Eternal Flame’ (a candle inside the altar) is the only light. At midnight the priest lights his candle from the Eternal Flame and sings ‘Christos Anesti’ – ‘Christ is risen’. The Priest holds out his candle and the flame is given to the closest person and this flame travels throughout the entire church while everyone chants ‘Christos Anesti’. You take your lit candle home and place it near your icons and enjoy the late dinner of Mayeritsa and the breaking of the fast.
Easter Sunday is a day to be spent with family and friends and every soul feasts on lamb, usually cooked on a spit or, at times, oven roasted. Everyone always loves the part where the red eggs are cracked. From ancient times, the egg has been a symbol of the renewal of life, the mssage of the red eggs is victory over death and Christ breaking free from the tomb. As a child I just wanted to have the strongest egg.
Here is a recipe for koulouria, Easter biscuits and a recipe for dying your Easter eggs naturally. I decided to simmer the onion skins and the eggs at the same time, giving my red eggs a marbled effect, which I love. Enjoy dying your Easter eggs and baking…have fun and Happy Easter.
Natural dye for Easter eggs using onion skins giving a traditional red colour to the eggs
12 uncooked eggs, at room temperature
skins from 12 brown onions (or a mixture of brown and spanish onions)
2 tablespoons white vinegar
4 1/2 cups of water
olive oil for polishing the red eggs
Pour the water into a large saucepan, add the onion skins and the vinegar and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes…the longer you simmer the deeper the colour will become.
Strain the dye and allow to cool to room temperature.
When the dye has cooled, add the eggs and bring to the boil and simmer for about 12 – 15 minutes, if the colour is not as deep as you want leave them in the dye for a 5 – 10 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon remove the eggs carefully and allow to cool on racks. When the eggs are cool enough to handle, polish with a little olive oil and using paper towelling.
Koulouria (Easter biscuits)
1 cup oil
1 cup sugar
150 grams unsalted butter
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup orange juice
self raising flour
2 eggs yolks
Cream the butter and sugar adding eggs in one at a time. Add the vanilla and orange juice, combine well.
Start adding flour a little at a time working well with one hand mixing continuously. Add as much flour as it needs to form a smooth dough that is not sticky.
Avoid overworking the mixture as that will make the biscuits tough.
Take pieces of the dough and on a smooth surface roll into a cylinder, fold in half and twist. Continue until all the dough is finished. Place on a baking dish lined with a baking sheet. Brush tops with the egg yolks (which have been mixed) and bake in a 220 o C oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.