Easter Food - Celebration of Spring

Scallions and radishes are thriving, hams hanging in the attics since late autumn are waiting to be served, and butchers have their hands full with tender young meat. Everything is getting ready for the big finale - Easter feast.

Maybe Easter is not so eagerly anticipated or commercialized as Christmas, but it remains the most important Catholic holiday. And as far as matching food is concerned, Easter maybe loses for a whisker in the race against Christmas abundance, but it has an additional dimension. Easter also stands for the farewell to winter; it marks the beginning of spring and extends a warm welcome to everything new, fresh and green. It’s all about the rebirth of nature and the start of yet another cycle of life. A couple of weeks before Easter, Zagreb’s green markets are slowly awakening after hibernation and stacking up with lovely greens coming from warmer areas, mostly Dalmatia. Scallions and radishes are thriving, hams hanging in the attics since late autumn are waiting to be served, are butchers have their hands full with tender young meat. Everything is getting ready for the big finale - Easter feast.

“Scallions, along with radishes, the most popular accessories for the Easter season.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

Culinary traditions involving Easter haven’t changed much over the years, and a lot of these customs date back to the old pagan days. Yes, that’s way before chocolate bunnies. Good Friday was reserved for fasting and fish. Holy Saturday was the day when hard-working housewives were preparing food for the official end of the Lent period, and when Easter eggs were painted. Naturally, eggs are the most important Easter food item, both for decoration and consumption. But these days you’d rarely see someone painting them with water left after cooking red onions or decorating them with melted wax. On Easter Sunday people would go to church early in the morning, with a basket of food to be blessed. These goodies included ham, sausages, cheese, eggs, scallions, horseradish, Easter bread, all eaten later as part of a big and filling family breakfast.  Lunch usually consisted of a broth-based soup, boiled meat with horseradish sauce, a nice big roast with young potatoes and fresh salad (lettuce, lamb’s lettuce, beans, beetroot), and then gibanica cheese and egg pie, orehnjača or makovnjača (walnut or poppy seed roll) for dessert. On top of that, there’s also pinca or sirnica, traditional cake that symbolizes family unity. It’s simple yet universally delicious - sweet bread similar to hot cross bun with the addition of lemon and orange zest, rum or brandy, sometimes also raisins. You just have it around and use it in all occassions, from breakfast to a casual snack with guests, washed down with homemade brandy.

“Giant pinca sweet bread.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

Today, Easter breakfast and lunch often merge into one big holiday meal. It starts with a plethora of cold starters. Beside the eggs, boiled ham is the central piece. It takes a lot effort and know-how to procure the best ham. And if you really want to show off, you can prepare the mythical speciality called šunka u kruhu - ham in bread. Ham is rolled and covered in dough made from flour, yeast and salt, and then baked in the oven for hours. You don’t know what’s better later - the mild and tender ham or the warm, juicy, meat-flavoured bread crust. Horseradish, either freshly grated or sauce, scallions and radishes make the best company for the ham. Some cottage cheese and cream on the side won’t hurt, just to compensate for all those hard Lent days. Homemade bread is much appreciated. Traditional braided bread includes a hole in the middle, where you place a pisanica - Easter egg. As aways, roast meat is a must-have holiday dish. But there’s an upside of the modern times, when food items travel fast and everything is easily available, so the meat of choice is now baby lamb, rather than veal or poultry. But then again, anything goes. Young wine from the last harvest is already ready to drink, so Easter meals are the perfect occasion for tasting. Luckily for us, the harvest of 2015 in Zagreb surroundings is one of the best and most promising ones in a long while.

“Slices of boiled Easter ham and horseradish sauce.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

When the celebration and feasting is over, your home will still be full of remaining eggs and leftover ham, so that’s the time to test your creativity and invent a brand new kind of cold salad or omelette. But rejoice, the spring is here, and it can only get warmer and greener!

Header image credit: Taste of Croatia

Author: Taste of Croatia