1 April 2013

Easter for Expats

Easter or Paas is a big celebration in our family, in many ways we prefer it to Christmas.  It is a much gentler celebration and less commercialised although I noticed that in recent years the Netherlands has gone ‘Easter Twig’ crazy and this seems to be catching on in the UK as well. 

While we were in the UK we would always go to my Husband’s family for Easter weekend.  They have a smallholding in the North of England where they grow their own beef and lamb.  The children enjoy spending time with their grandparents and cousins and ‘helping’ feed the animals.  They particularly love seeing the new born calves and lambs.  England is usually very beautiful at Eastertide with daffodils and crocuses covering the fields.

Lamb, of course, is the traditional English Easter dish but I am not so keen on it so, in deference to me, the family would usually celebrate with a beef roast.  After returning from the Easter Sunday church service the children get to eat just a little bit of their Easter Egg and then we enjoy lunch as a family.  Often my Sister in Law and her children will visit as well so the dining table gets wonderfully crowded and my Mother in Law very busy.

The North of England has a peculiar Easter Tradition which the family call Jarping Eggs.  Before Easter the eggs are hard boiled in water that has coffee grounds or onion skins in.  This colours the eggs a deep red/brown.  The family each select an egg and, taking turns, hold them by the rounded end and bang the pointed ends together.  The winner is the person whose egg smashes the shell of the other.  This is actually quite a common tradition around the world but it reaches new heights in County Durham where the world championships are held.  We have never gone to see the championship, just enjoying a gentle competition between members of the family.  Easter Lunch is such a large affair that we usually have a high tea instead of supper and this is the perfect time to jarp as the eggs can then be used on sandwiches. 

Eggs for Jarping
Jarping Eggs coloured with Onion
Here in Astana we have not been able to go to an Easter service but we try to talk to the children about the background of the day so that they keep the roots of the celebration in mind.  We cannot get Easter Eggs but as have always tried to limit the number of Easter Eggs the children get (or we are stuck with eggs on the sideboard for weeks) it is not a big loss.  I can take or leave the large eggs that have become de-rigeur in the UK although I do miss Cadbury Creme Eggs, a deliciously disgusting confection of 'chocolate' and fondant.  I still prefer the Dutch Easter Eggs which are small, single bite eggs, often with different flavours and I try to bring some of these back with me.  My mother would always have these in a huge bowl on the coffee table but our children are too young and our dog too greedy to make this a realistic possibility, I keep them locked away and bring the bowl out only when an adult is around to supervise consumption.  I make some coloured eggs to jarp and then steal the contents to turn into egg mayonnaise or, if I am feeling particularly active I will make Gevulde Eieren by halving the egg, removing the yolk and mixing it up with mayonnaise and mustard before returning it to the white, these are delicious sprinkled with paprika.  A family meal and a walk with the dog complete our somewhat ersatz Easter tradition.

I have fallen completely in love with the UK traditional Easter food of Hot Cross Buns.  They are current buns marked with a paste cross to signify the time of year.  They are easily found in all British supermarkets but almost impossible to get elsewhere so they have to be made from scratch.  They are not difficult but they are time-consuming. 

Hot Cross Buns in the Oven
Hot cross buns in the oven

Hot Cross Buns Baked and Glazed
Freshly Baked and Glazed
I like to use Nigella Lawson’s recipe but I find that she is a little parsimonious on the spice and fruit.  I double the fruit (this year I added candied peel and dried cranberries to the mix).  I like to use Dutch koekkruiden (spice mix) in place of the spices recommended in the recipe.  This can be bought from every supermarket in the Netherlands but again is impossible to find elsewhere.  I make it by mixing Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Allspice, Ground Cloves, Ground Nutmeg, Ground Ginger, ground Cardamom and ground Star Anise, if I can get it I add some Mace.  I tend not to mix the spice in any set quantities – the smell tells me if I am on the right track.  I use two tea spoons of this mix in place of the spices Nigella recommends.  I usually try to let everyone in the family stir the mix and I like to make 11 in a batch – one for each of the apostles (less Judas).

Orthodox Easter is not a Public Holiday but is celebrated by the Orthodox Christians in Astana.  It is not for some weeks and when that comes round we will probably have friends round to enjoy a second ‘Easter’ lunch.

Click on the picture for more posts on the challenges of expat cooking.

Ersatz Expat

Click on the picture for more posts on the challenges of expat life.

Ersatz Expat

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