Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The sacrifice of the lamb

With Easter now only a couple of days away, it seems like I might actually have to do some proper planning for the festive fodder.

There are some aspects of this that are nice and easy. This afternoon, for instance, I nipped to St Pancras on the way home for the chocolate run.

Nestling under the platforms is a Neuhaus, a premier Belgian chocolate chain with a history going back to 1857. It is a wonderful experience. Not one you do every week - or even every month. But when you do, then even the selection of your chocolates is a wonderfully voluptuous experience.

But the big question is what to eat on Easter Sunday. Roasts are traditional throughout Europe – well, apart from anything else, you want to make a bit of a splash when ending Lent, don’t you?

And lamb is particularly popular. Of course, it’s available at this time of year, but it also works nicely from the Christian symbol point of view.

The Lamb of God, sacrificed for us all – a sacrificed lamb to mark the end of the difficult winter and the beginning of spring.

Like other festivals, the early Christian church purloined a lot of pagan and non-Christian religious pageantry and celebration for itself: good sense, of course – it made selling Christianity to the people as a whole far easier.

Indeed, the word ‘Easter’ comes from Ēostre or Ostara, who was Germanic goddess and also lent her name to Ēosturmōnaþ, which was, in essence, the Anglo-Saxon name for April and which, by Bede’s time, had become ‘Paschal month’.

The centuries since have seen considerable debates about Ēostre, but one train of thinking appears to link her with the Norse goddess of fertility – who gave her name to Friday – Freya (the Germanic version was Ing, which may be where the name Ingham originates – the ‘ham’ bit is ‘home’ – and is the name of one part of my own family).

Both, it seems, have had customs involving hares and rabbits linked to them by some scholars.

For instance, in Leicestershire, “the profits of the land called Harecrop Leys were applied to providing a meal which was thrown on the ground at the ‘Hare-pie Bank’, according to 19th-century scholar Charles Isaac Elton, who went on to suggest that this was a link to the worship of Ēostre.

And in his work of the same period, Charles J Billson lists a number of incidents involving hares around the Easter period in northern Europe.

According to Joseph Bosworth and T Northcote Toller, in their An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (1898), Ēostre was “the goddess of the rising sun, whose festivities were in April. Hence used by Teutonic Christians for the rising of the sun of righteousness, the feast of the resurrection”.

Of course those great icons of the festival, hares and bunny rabbits, are just there for cuteness – and have nothing whatsoever to do with celebrating the arrival of spring and, in its sidecar, a certain rising of the sap.

But such a thought doesn't really tie in with our rather infantilised incarnation of Easter. We have forgotten, as adults, how to celebrate - beyond a spot of booze - and have delegated most of the pleasure to the children. Christmas, for instance, is 'for children,' we're so often told. Of course, that helps to promote all these festivals as spending opportunities.

Yet the older and uglier and (hopefully) wiser I get, the more I have a sense of the seasons and of the need to celebrate the rise and fall of each year - even if without any specific religious content.

Gradually, I am reconnecting with the Earth - and please, that does not mean I have become or am becoming a hippy or a New Age convert. But there is a real joy I'm discovering to that sense of the cycle of the seasons.

However, let’s get back to the big question. I want to have roast lamb – I love roast lamb. Yes, I love the little springy-wingy fluffy things in the fields too, but most of them wouldn’t even be born were it not that we also love the taste of their roasted flesh after a few months of that gamboling malarky.

With mint sauce.

Or lemon.

Mouths watering yet?

But there is just a slight question mark: in my dentally-challenged state, can I eat roast meat?

Should I, perhaps, make minted lamb meatballs instead? Or even a kleftiko?

The answer may be near – but for that, my loyal readers, you’ll have to wait a day or two to find out!


  1. It's all connected though, isn't it? The more you know about food, the more apt you are to eat seasonally and enjoy each season's harvest in it's turn?

    We have enjoyed the root vegetables of fall and the cassoulets of winter, now spring has come again and, in addition to our thoughts turning to that voodoo that the bunnies do so well, we are looking forward to the flavors of spring, too, lighter and more delicate than the heart foods of winter.

    Hope you needn't settle on meatballs! :)


  2. Oh, you're spot on, Irene. And no – I don't think it'll have to be meatballs. :-)