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04 April 2010

Easter Monday

Today is Easter Monday, a holiday in England (and in medieval times it included the Tuesday after Easter and was known as Hocktide).

Easter, the most sacred holiday of the Christian church and now generally celebrated by way of chocolate and cute iddle bunnies, has ancient and strange traditions in England and the rest of the old world, being one of those holidays morphed uneasily into pagan traditions. The gorging on eggs and other delicacies represents the end of Lent, a time of fasting and contemplation, but the eggs themselves suggest a pagan sensibility of fertility and the renewal of spring.

Other than the chocolate, hot cross buns, yeasted, spiced, and with a paste cross on top, are a delicious English tradition. You can find a recipe here.

According to Elizabeth David, the woman who re-invented cookery in England (our answer to Julia Child):

"Bath buns, hot cross buns, spice buns, penny buns, Chelsea buns, currant buns--all these small, soft, plump, sweet, fermented' cakes are English institutions...The most interesting of the recipes is perhaps the simple spiced fruit bun, the original of our Good Friday hot cross bun without the cross. These spice buns first became popular in Tudor days, at the same period as the larger spice loaves or cakes, and were no doubt usually made form the same batch of spcied and butter-enriched fruit dough. For a long time bakers were permitted to offer these breads and buns for sale only on special occasions, as is shown by the following decree, issued in 1592, the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Elizabeth I, by the London Clerk of the Markets: That no bakers, etc, at any time or times hereafter make, utter, or sell by retail, within or without their houses, unto any of the Queen's subject any spice cakes, buns, biscuits, or other spice bread (being bread out of size and not by law allowed) except it be at burials, or on Friday before Easter, or at Christmas, upon pain or forfeiture of all such spiced bread to the poor... If anybody wanted spice bread and buns for a private celebration, then, these delicacies had to be made at home. In the time of James I, further attempts to prevent bakers from making spice breads and buns proved impossible for enforce, and in this matter the bakers were allowed their way. Although for difference reasons, the situation now is much as it was in the late seventeenth century, spice buns appearing only at Easter--not, to be sure, on Good Friday when bakeries are closed, but about a fortnight in advance..." English Bread and Yeast Cookery, 1979.

But back to the strange traditions. On Easter Monday, the villages of Hallaton and Medbourne in England hold their traditional Bottle Kicking match, a sort of freeform rugby game that unites the national pastimes of alcohol and violence. Three bottles--actually small wooden barrels--two with ale, one empty, are escorted to the picturesque Butter Cross in Hallaton, along with a hare pie. The pie is blessed and then thrown in pieces to the crowd and small loaves are distributed.

After the food fight, the barrels are decorated with ribbon and then paraded out to a field which overlooks the two villages. The barrels are thrown into the air and the aim is for players to return the barrels to their village.
There are no particular rules to the event and people join and leave the scrum as they see fit. As the scrum progresses along the fields and through fences and hedges (including barbed wire!) a trail of injured and exhausted people are deposited in its wake. The kicking is played out as the best of three matches which have no time limit... more

At the end of the game the players return to the Butter Cross where they drink the ale.

It's not known how long the Bottle Kicking has gone on (this photograph dates from 1900) although the distribution of food, hare pie and bread, certainly suggests a medieval origin where food was distributed to the poor on important occasions.

For more information on Easter food, see foodtimeline.com.

One part of poking around online for this blog post I really enjoyed was finding the historical pictures of the Bottle Kicking. I always enjoy looking at photographs from a century ago and seeing how things have changed.

Do you have any spring traditions you enjoy, or that you would like to participate in?

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9 Comments:

Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I do believe I could be persuaded to consume several hot cross buns. The photo makes them look more appealing than a package of Peeps!

7:46 AM  
Anonymous Nikki Comer said...

I love Easter because it is the demonstration of God that life is essentially spiritual and timeless.

Hope you had a Egg-ceptional, Eggs-traordinary Easter !!!

Nikki

8:08 AM  
Blogger Vicky said...

Booze, food fights, and kicking - what's not to love about England - LOL.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Fun, fun, fun. I flipped through my copy of The English Year and in its entry on the Hallaton Hare Pie and Bottle Kicking it says they've found references dating back to at least 1796 (and that the general tradition of "scrambling" events is much older).

Great post!

10:52 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Oh, and yes, my friends and I have "Drink Up, It's Easter!": we have a BBQ and we hide "Easter Beer" (cans painted like Easter eggs). Sometimes there's a Peeps diorama event too, or a Peeps hunt (with bb guns, but you have to eat what you kill).

Can you tell we don't have kids? LOL!

10:54 AM  
Blogger Janet Mullany said...

Yes, hot cross buns are delicious. I haven't made them recently but I made a Simnel cake last year, which was fiddly and very expensive as it involved large amounts of marzipan/almond paste, but it was eaten fast so I guess the family liked it.

I think my Easter/spring festivities involve food mostly, but I'm in awe of Kalen's Peeps hunt and painted beer cans. Very creative.

4:46 PM  
Blogger librarypat said...

Here in NE TN, they have a yearly egg fight. It has taken place for many years in this one "Holler" originally between 2 families I think. The contest is to see who has the eggs with the hardest shell. Contestants bring one dozen hard boiled eggs. To compete, they tap the ends together. When the shell cracks, that egg is disqualified. It takes place every Easter weekend and people come from all over to compete.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Yet another wildly informative and wickedly funny post, Janet. I rather like hot cross buns ... my only problem with them is that they only tend to be available during Passover! :)

1:15 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Wonderful post, Janet! Like Christmas in my family, Easter gets celebrated in a distinctly secular, cultural sort of way. We used to have some wonderful egg hunts (I remember a plastic egg with a toy in it hidden in part of the pool filter). I also remember a very fun Easter with family friends where after the adults had hidden the eggs for the kids, the kids hid them for the adults. The adults decided to team up men against women. The one boy told the dads where the eggs were hidden, but the moms still found more, to the distinct delight of the girls. Now that there aren't any young children, we don't have egg hunts, but I do love hot cross buns.

12:03 AM  

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