Mary Berry’s Easter Feast – BBC 2

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Word PressJust think how much better a place the world would be if the only thing anyone did in the name of religion was to eat. This was such a lovely, happy, gentle take on Easter, with Mary Berry preparing an “Easter Feast” including both traditional British dishes and food from a variety of other cultures now represented in the UK. We also saw her enjoying an Easter egg hunt with her young grandchildren, and most National Trust properties and a lot of other venues are putting on Easter egg hunts over the long weekend.

Food symbolism is fascinating, and there’s a lot of that associated with Easter. It was quite moving, with the second programme of the two being broadcast, by an unfortunate coincidence, on the day of the horrific atrocities in Brussels, to see the preparation of the Italian “Colomba di Pasqua” cake, baked in (as the name suggests!) the shape of a dove, a symbol of peace. The Greek dishes were particularly interesting because they were so heavily imbued with symbolism, as so much associated with Greek Orthodoxy is. Nice to see Russian Easter bread included as well, although of course it’s several weeks yet until Easter will be marked in Russia.

Food from lots of other traditions too.   This was about Easter – well, it would be, seeing as it was called “Mary Berry’s Easter Feast” 😉 – but you could make similar programmes about major festivals in other religions, because most of them have particular foods associated with them. These days, with imports and preservatives, the idea of seasonal foods doesn’t apply much any more, because you can get things in the supermarkets all year round, but there’s still something special about eating particular foods at the “right” time of year, whether it’s something associated with a religious occasion (pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, mince pies at Christmas, etc) or whether it’s parkin on Bonfire Night or strawberries and cream during Wimbledon.

Likewise, you can get food from all over the world in the supermarkets these days, but there’s still something special about eating food in the “right” places. Sachertorte at a Kaffeehaus in Vienna, beignets in New Orleans, a croissant and a pain au chocolat for breakfast in France, ice cream in Italy, smaretter in Denmark, blinis in Russia, falafels and pitta bread in the Middle East … all right, all right, no wonder my life has been one long battle with my weight! Even within the UK, there’s something very nice about eating Kendal Mint Cake in the Lake District, bara brith in Wales, oatcakes in Scotland, and so on!

Oh, and, speaking about both Easter and regional foods, I’ve always found it very strange that you never seem to be able to find Bury simnel cakes (big fruity bun type things, as opposed to the usual simnel cakes with marzipan, which are Shrewsbury simnel cakes) in the Bury area. The only places I’ve ever seen them are branches of Bettys, which is a bit mad considering that Bettys is such a Yorkshire icon and Bury simnels come from Lancashire! However, I was in Ramsbottom – just north of Bury, and a place with very strong Eastertide traditions, one of two places in Lancashire (the other being Preston) closely associated with egg rolling – at the weekend, for the annual Chocolate Festival J, and I’ve been advised that the Red Hall (the place you pass on the right as you head up the A56 towards Ramsbottom, just before Park Farms) serves Bury simnels as part of its Lancashire afternoon tea. So now I can stop worrying about it! I don’t particularly want to eat a load of Bury simnel cakes: it’s just always annoyed me that they never seem to be available in the Bury area! And, whilst I’m on the subject of Bury, I note that the Bury Pace Eggers put on a number of performances over the weekend. Pace egging pretty much died out after the First World War, but it’s been revived in East Lancashire and West Yorkshire, and it’s nice to see an old tradition kept going.

I’ve now got totally off the point :-).   Back to Mary Berry and her food! This was a feast for Easter Day, so the tradition of eating fish on Good Friday – watch out for the queues outside Armstrong’s in Prestwich, the best fish and chip shop in Manchester, in three days’ time! – didn’t come into it, but lamb, hot cross buns, simnel cake and, of course, Easter eggs, all did, along with a range of food from different cultures and traditions, and it was all really interesting, and just so nice.

In the Middle Ages, Easter was a time of year often associated with the persecution of non-Christian minorities.  Thankfully, those days have long gone, but yesterday we saw yet more examples of the evil that people carry out in the supposed name of religion.  These two-part series was a gentle, pleasant and very interesting build-up to the springtime festival that combines symbols of Christian, Jewish and pagan traditions.  As I said at the beginning, just think how much better a place the world would be if the only thing anyone did in the name of religion was to eat!

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