by Kate Heyhoe
Spring celebrations... lambs, hams, and luscious new vegetables. Whether you're entertaining for Easter, Passover, or just because of Mother Earth's rebirth, make a clean break from cold-weather stews and winter blues with a lively, colorful feast. Around the globe, cultures celebrate the arrival of spring with lavish meals that are as rich in symbolism as they are in flavor.
Arguably the most universal food of spring celebrations is lamb, young and tender in the spring. Lamb is a symbol of Jesus as the lamb of God at Easter; at Passover, lamb shanks symbolize the sacrifices of Jewish slaves. Throughout Europe, leg of lamb or sometimes lamb shoulder serves as the main dish of the Easter or Passover table.
Lamb, of course, also graces Moslem tables throughout the Middle East and India year round, but especially in the spring. Two months after the fasting of Ramadan ends, a great feast is held to inaugurate the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Occurring in April or May, this holiday (known as Aid al-Kabir or Eid al-Adha in Arabic) also commemorates Abraham, considered in the Islam faith to be the first Moslem. Abraham is revered for sacrificing a lamb, after first offering to sacrifice his son. Today, those who can afford it also sacrifice a lamb, roasting it on a spit and then offering more than half of it to the poor.
Breads also take on symbolic roles in spring feasts, often formed into crosses (or decorated with a cross, as in English hot-cross buns), fishes, braids, or a cloverleaf to represent the Holy Trinity. Greek Easter bread marries hefty amounts of butter and eggs, foods forbidden during Lent, into a rich, shiny loaf. Flower buds and leaves are sculpted into the loaves, which usually also hold red dyed eggs, symbols of the blood and rebirth of Christ. Whole eggs also appear nested in traditional breads in Italian, Portuguese, German and almost all Christian communities. In Jewish communities, a roasted egg is one of the five ritual foods of the revered Seder plate, the egg representing an animal sacrificed to God.
Lamb, of course, isn't the only main dish to grace the spring table. Hams, turkeys and Cornish hens often headline Easter menus. In fact, in the United States, you're more likely to see a ham grace the Easter table than a lamb. According to the National Pork Producers Council, this tradition probably hails from the fact that hog killing was usually done in the fall, when cooler weather rolls in. The hams were then cured and hung to smoke and age over the winter, and the first festive or holiday time for enjoying last fall's hams was Easter.
Aside from the symbolic foods of the Seder plates, Passover feasts may feature everything from chicken to chopped liver, including veal breast, pot roast, or matzo meat pies. Coastal communities usually enjoy whole fish, and smoked or cured salmon may be as much a side dish as it is an entrée.
Unlike the winter feasts of Christmas, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, spring celebrations really stand out for their vegetables— crisp, sweet, and tender. Autumn's cornucopia gives way to both pencil-thin and plump asparagus (pick your preference), sweet peas, artichokes, summer squashes, peppery radishes, new potatoes, tart rhubarb, and a gardener's delight of perfect, delicate greens. Fresh herbs, so plentiful in the spring, easily elevate even the most mundane dishes to extraordinary.
If you're looking to be as fresh as spring with your spring table, consider the following menus. They've got a little something for everyone: a Mediterranean mix, an Easter menu for a crowd, a home-style Passover celebration, a spectacular Vegetarian meal, and even a slightly more exotic Indian feast.
Right now, there's no better time to indulge in eating. Break out the pots and pans, cruise the farmers' markets, and capture the essence of spring in every bite you take, and every dish you make.
In a word: Celebrate! Mother Nature's party has already begun.
P.S. Visit our Easter & Passover Holiday Special for dozens more recipes, and tune in next week for Spring Centerpiece Sides: Phyllo Baskets, Veggie Matchsticks, and Glorious Gratins.
A Home-style Jewish Passover
Exotic Buffet For A Crowd
Indian Spiced Spring Banquet
A Vegetarian Table
Cornish Hens with Citrus Accents
Kate's Global Kitchen for April, 2000:
4/01/00 Food Jokes and Joke Foods
4/08/00 Easter and Passover Menus: From Nice to Greece
4/15/00 Spring Centerpiece Sides: Phyllo Baskets, Veggie Matchsticks, and Glorious Gratins
4/22/00 Easter Lore & Post-Easter Eggs
4/29/00 Wake-Up: It's Daylight Savings Time! World Power Breakfasts
This page created April 2000
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