Easter Food: Why and Why Not?

On Sunday I attended an excellent performance of Bach's St John Passion at St Giles Cathedral, the choir in extra fine form. It was sung in the original German. Fortunately the programme included a translation. With Easter approaching, I got to thinking about its traditional food and the symbolism. If you were brought up in the Christian tradition, much of it is fairly obvious, but I did learn one or two things. Perhaps you will too.


Why? The most obvious association is Agnus Dei, The Lamb of God, so prevalent in Christian prayer. From sacrificial lamb, I suppose. I had forgotten, however, that the Crucifixion took place just as final preparations were being made for the Jewish festival of the Passover. That's why Pilate allowed Nicodemus to take Christ's body away, as opposed to it being left on the cross. And the traditional Passover meal? Lamb.

Why not? Because we should be supporting Scottish farmers. Here the lambing season just starts around Easter time. While some lambs are born down south in time to be ready for Easter, it is likely you'll be buying New Zealand stuff. Feast on Scottish lamb in August.

Boiled Eggs

Why? I read some waffle about symbols of birth and spring. Well, when I were a lad, by sending them down a hill (where mine never rolled but got caught up in a tuft of grass or a gorse bush, so you got fed up and chucked it the rest of the way) you were rolling away the stone from Jesus's tomb. I was never sure why you painted them. I now read that red was the traditional colour, for the blood of Christ.

Why Not? Because when they broke you ended up with bits of grass and dirt in your egg. And no one ever brought any salt.

Chocolate eggs

Why? Because, around 1875, an entrepreneurial confectioner by the name of Cadbury started to make them. At first he used plain chocolate. A few years later Cadbury's Dairy Milk was invented, and they took off. And, being a bit of a pleb, I quite like Cadbury's Dairy Milk. (Yes, I know it's not proper chocolate. Don't write in.)

Why Not? Calories? Oh, sod it, it's only once a year. Because you usually eat too much and end up feeling sick? Yep, that's a better reason.

Simnel Cake

Why? It's a rich fruit cake, topped with marzipan, and 11 marzipan balls, representing the apostles minus Judas. It's traditionally served for tea on Easter Sunday.

Why Not? Because marzipan is disgusting. If it was just on the top you could cut it off and throw it away; however, Simnel cake also has a layer of the stuff in the middle. Bleugh!

Chocolate Easter Bunny

Why? Very big in the USA, this derives from the German Easter Hare. The hare featured prominently in pagan ceremonies in spring, and the church tried to stamp these out. By 1600, the hare started to bring eggs to children. Perhaps bunnies were cuter and fluffier, so they took over.

Why not? As you're already feeling sick after your surfeit of Dairy Milk, don't you think you've had enough?

Hot Cross Buns

Why? The symbol of the cross is pretty obvious, but there is more. John's Gospel describes Jesus's body being embalmed in about a hundredweight of spice, and that's probably why spice is included in the recipe for the buns. Fortunately we use mixed spice, not the inedible combo of myrrh and aloe which John describes.

Why Not? Why not, indeed? That's just given me an idea for another column coming soon.


In virtually all European languages, the word for Easter is a derivation of the word for Passover. Thus we have the Latin Pascha, the French Pâques and the Italian Pasqua. Further afield you can have påske (Denmark and Norway), påsk (Sweden), or páskar  (Iceland). So why do we have Easter? Laughably simple. The Venerable Bede tells us that in eighth century England, the month of April was called Eosturmonath, or Eostre Month, after the goddess Eostre. So ye ken noo.

PS 1 Thanks to Wendy Barrrie, who suggested hogget or mutton instead of lamb.

PS 2 I do appreciate that not everyone shares my dislike of marzipan. If you would like to make your own, the lovely Janet Hood has posted a recipe in the Comments section.


  1. Mrs Trellis, North Wales. on 5th April 2023 at 7:53 pm

    I’d just like to point out that your extreme view of marzipan may not be at all representative of the wider community. I know many people who will peel the marzipan from a cake, throw away the cake and feast on the ‘pan. I suggest your view is prejudiced, anti-pan, and unworthy of you and your usually refined sensibilities. The fact that I share totally your revulsion of this nasty pungent stuff of even nastier texture is neither here nor there.

  2. Wendy Barrie on 5th April 2023 at 9:10 pm

    Fun article, thanks. Mutton or hogget for us.

    • Tom Johnston on 5th April 2023 at 9:40 pm

      Love mutton, but not easy to find. I don’t think I ate lamb till I was in my 20s. My Dad was literally sickened by the smell of old ewe when he was in the forces during the war, so we never had it at home.

  3. Janet hood on 6th April 2023 at 6:25 am

    I hate bought marzipan or almond essence but occasionally have had home made marzipan – tried Mary Berry recipe for cake and used rose oil instead of almond essence – tip from a friend – it was lovely I think orange oil or essence might be even better
    Mary Berry recipe
    Basic ingredients for homemade marzipan recipe
    1 3/4 cups (200g) ground almonds (almond meal)
    1 cup (200g) Granulated Sugar (caster sugar)
    1/4 cup (60mL); honey
    2 Tbsp (30mL); water
    1 tsp (5mL); pure almond extract
    CHOCOLATE DIPPED MARZIPAN:1 recipe (225 g), homemade marzipan 1 1/2 Cups (270 g),
    dark or milk chocolate chips icing Sugar, for dusting while rolling
    How to make homemade marzipan recipe
    In a food processor, place the almonds. After this, In a small saucepan, heat the honey, sugar, and water until the mixture boils and is completely dissolved.
    This should be poured into the food processor. Blend until the marzipan is smooth. When the marzipan is still warm, form it into a log. Wrap in plastic wrap.
    After this, Allow it to cool at room temperature and then wrap in plastic wrap until you’re ready to use. Marzipan can be kept in a well-wrapped container for up to one month or frozen for up to three months

  4. Wendy Barrie on 6th April 2023 at 11:33 am

    Re mutton you’ll find it on http://www.scottishfoodguide.com

    Re marzipan, I agree with Janet that homemade tastes very different. The stuff we are used to here is oppressively sweet – probably as sugar is cheaper than almonds. In Scandinavia marzipan is much nuttier so you can change proportions when making your own.

  5. Yer youngest on 7th April 2023 at 5:57 pm

    Good to know, Dad. I’ll have your marzipan then (because it is amazing). All the more for me – thanks for the recipe, Janet!
    I always understood that Eostre was the goddess of fertility so the tradition of eggs was directly co-opted from those logical pagans.

    • Tom Johnston on 7th April 2023 at 6:14 pm

      I always had my doubts as to whether we shared the same DNA!

  6. Marion Donaldson on 8th April 2023 at 7:49 pm

    Tom, fun reading the extra Easter tidbits. Our daughter in law’s parents were born in England. She talked about egg rolling so for three years the youngest grandson and I dyed eggs and off the crew went. Rolling was as you said not so good so the game was chuck and break. Some eggs took more than one throw. Seagulls cleaned up. We have a granddaughter in Iceland for a semester of university. I will pass along the information about the origin of Happy Easter there. Our daughter Janet makes wonderful Hot Cross buns. I don’t think I ever mastered anything with yeast. We’re down 9 for Easter this year… but we just have to be pick up and show up, well either wine and chocolate Hope you have a Happy 🐣

    • Tom Johnston on 10th April 2023 at 9:53 am

      Great to hear from you, Marion. Happy Easter.

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