Easter is one of my favourite holidays; steeped in tradition and a week’s worth of baking and cooking makes it the perfect special occasion. I have been baking with my mother for as long as I can remember. This year, with my mom spending Easter in Greece with her siblings, I was the head chef in charge of executing all of our family recipes! I had enthusiastic helpers which made the experience that much more fun. I’m happy to report we pulled it off thanks to my mother’s cook-book and a lifetime of practice.
The Easter Egg Hunt!
We do an Easter Egg hunt each year. My husband David has a special relationship with the Easter Bunny and he helps organize it for our household. It’s usually interactive. Sometimes the hunters have to solve clues, answer trivia questions, perform a song, build a competitive paper airplane or have a dance-off! This year Elowyn was old enough to participate; she sang a few lyrics of her favourite Moana song “Moana, waaaay waaaaay” and enjoyed finding the chocolate eggs. She would pause and start to eat them each time she found a new one. Maybe next year she’ll actually put some chocolate in her basket..
Does egg painting have a place in Greek Easter? Of course! A very important place in fact. This year we did it twice. Once earlier in the week using the traditional dip method with imported Greek dyes. We needed the eggs done before the baking because we put coloured eggs in the Easter Koulouri (sweet bread).
The Toronto Fitchicks also got together to dye some eggs using a fun foam tie-dye method.
The PAAS Colour Whip foam is non-toxic; It’s made from sugar and soy-protein. Easy to use, it created a unique base for our customizations. We added an assortment of embellishments: painted designs, stickers, and glitter. The foam dyed eggs were a big hit with my family who appreciated that none of the dye got onto the egg itself-this was not the case with the heavy duty Greek dye that stained the egg through the shell.
Traditional Greek Easter Baked Goods
Koulouria (Sweet Bread)
Apparently as a toddler I loved stealing pieces of the sweet bread dough as it was rising in its pan. One year, I became even more bold and stole the entire raw koulouri! I hid in my mom’s bedroom closet to eat it.. She knew better though, a quiet house meant I was up to no good! I remember hearing her come into the bedroom and me trying to take as many little bites as quickly as I could before I was caught in the act! Making koulouria is a whole day affair as the dough needs to be left to rise after kneading it and our family recipe makes eight large koulouria that each take an hour to bake. It’s definitely worth the effort, the result is a delicious light and fluffy sweet bread flavoured with orange zest, mastiha and mahlepi.
What is mastiha? It’s a natural resin released from the trunk of the mastiha tree, native to the Greek island of Chios. It emerges as a sticky fluid that hardens into irregular shaped crystals in about two weeks time. Since ancient times mastiha has been revered for its medicinal properties and its unique aromatic flavour.
Tsourekakia (Butter Cookies)
Tsourekakia are Greek butter cookies flavoured with vanilla and orange zest. Last year when we baked these cookies we discovered Elowyn was allergic to eggs! She was too young to actually eat the crispy cookie but my mom gave her one to chew on.. A few minutes later, the egg-wash on the cookie caused a red rash on Elowyn’s face and chest. 9-1-1 was called, and it made for a memorable baking session with both the fire fighters and paramedics assessing Elowyn and my mom offering them the allergy causing tsourekakia on their way out. Luckily this year we had no such reaction! Elowyn can enjoy egg in baked goods now and she loves all of the Easter treats.
Kalitsounia (Sweet Cheese Tarts)
A traditional pastry from the island of Crete (where both of my parents were born). These highly addictive sweet cheese tarts have a shell flavoured with cognac and a ricotta filling featuring fresh mint and cinnamon.
Fun fact: every time I started to eat a kalitsouni Elowyn somehow knew about it and was swiftly by my side claiming at least half of my kalitsouni for her own.
It’s safe to say this was by far her favourite Easter treat!
We gathered at St John’s Greek Orthodox Church to receive the Holy Light after Midnight Mass. Elowyn was given a beautiful hand-made lambatha (candle) from her Godmother. She stayed awake for the entire adventure including the feast that followed.
Significance of Cracking Red Eggs after Midnight Mass
Easter eggs are dyed red to represent the blood of Christ. The hard shell represents the sealed Tomb of Christ and the cracking symbolizes his resurrection from the dead. After Midnight Mass we select an egg and face-off to see whose egg will come out victorious when cracked against its competitor eggs. Whoever picks the strongest egg that defeats the most opponents is said to have good luck in the coming year.
Magiritsa is a traditional Greek soup eaten on Holy Saturday after Midnight Mass. My family prepares the soup with chunks of lamb and chopped romaine lettuce in a lemony egg broth.
Roasting an entire lamb on a spit is perhaps my favourite Easter tradition. There’s nothing quite like the taste of a perfectly cooked lamb over a charcoal fire. It’s simply basted with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and oregano.
That’s a wrap on Easter 2018! Already looking forward to next year (=