GREEK EASTER BREADS

Easter preparations begin on Holy Thursday when the traditional eggs are dyed red and  sweet Easter bread may be baked.

Lampropsomo (=bright bread) or lamprokouloura (=bright circular bread) is rich in eggs and butter (foods forbidden during Lent) and is  often decorated on top with spring flowers, leaves, crosses and snakes made of dough. A red egg, symbol or rebirth, renewal and blood of Christ is usually -but not always- part of the decoration. Avgokouloura (circular bread with an egg), avkoula (large egg), kokona (lady), koutsouna (doll),

krios (ram),

kalathaki (basket),

Jesus’ foot ,

breads made into snail or snake shapes,

8-shaped breads:

the names of Easter breads vary according to the region and their shape. Many food words in modern Greek can be traced to other languages. Turkish is frequently a source because of the 400 years of Ottoman domination.  Thus tsoureki (Turk. çörek), another well known Easter bread, comes by this route.

It  has the flavours of mastic or mahlep or both, depending on the  regional preferences. Once made only at Easter, tsoureki is now mass -produced and found everywhere in the country, all year long.

A VERY EASY TSOUREKI RECIPE

2 k. flour

200 gr yeast

240 gr lightly warm water

550 gr sugar (or less)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp mahlep, toasted and ground

lemon zest

1 tsp mastic powder

10 eggs lightly beaten + 1 egg

140 gr milk

100 gr orange juice

500 gr butter or 250 gr butter + 250 gr extra virgin olive oil

1 hard boiled egg, dyed red

Dissolve yeast in the water and add about 1/2 cup flour. Mix thoroughly, cover with a cloth and set in a warm place to rise for 20 minutes. Add the ingredients in the order they are listed and on a floured surface or in a mixer, knead the dough for 2-3 minutes. Form ropes, each about 25 cm long and twist gently. Braid sets of 3 ropes and place them on greased baking sheets or baking pans and allow to doubled. Brush  with beaten egg. Place the boiled, dyed eggs. Bake tsourekia in preheated oven (175 C) for 30 minutes or until golden brown. ________________________________________________________________________________ On holy Saturday, Easter breads and red eggs are placed in baskets and then they are taken to church to be blessed. Some of them will be given as gift  to  godparents from children. In earlier times the newly married women also offered Easter bread to their parents in law. _____________________________________________________________________________ Since Easter Monday is associated with funerary customs,  it is common for people to visit the cemeteries and place red eggs, Easter breads and cookies on the graves. The departed can thus share in  family joys. ______________________________________________________________________________

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AN ACT OF GRATITUDE: BAKE A CAKE.

One must sacrifice to the gods for three purposes: to give honor, to show gratitude, or because of one’s need of good things. (Theophrastus, On Piety, frag. 12, Potscher, 42-4). And in return, the ancient gods were pleased with the expressions of human gratitude (sacrifices, libations, offerings, dances etc.) to them.

This complex of ideas ‘ man asks, gods give, man gets and shows gratitude, gods are pleased’  is expressed in ancient  greek with the term charis (χάρις). Charis means favor, a favor which is expected to be repaid. The idea of charis plays a particularly important role in Orhodox Christianity as well.  That’s why the ‘oral’ statement becomes more prominent when there is an exchange between God or  Saint and the offerer.

The photos are from St. Fanourios’ celebration (Kalamaki, Hania/Crete). As his name implies,  Saint Fanourios reveals lost things, people, animals, even solutions to problems if one invokes his name (Fanourios < ancient greek verb Faino = reveal).  The promised offering in return for Saint’s help is a sweet pie, a fanouropita. Sweet breads and cakes are  important part of many Christian traditions and their origins are traced back in time.  In ancient Greece they were a very common form of offering ; many different kinds of them are mentioned in ancient  literature.

According to St. Fanourios’ custom, the pies are brought to the church (especially those dedicated to the Saint) where they are blessed by the priest.

st-fanourios-trays

 After Mass, they are offered to the faithful.

offering-st-fanourios-pie

pieces-of-stfanourios-pie

Today, as in ancient times, these sweet offerings are not only objects which are given as gifts to the Saint but also unify the community, bringing it together for a solemn and also festive occasion.

(Not much is known about Saint’s  life, except that his icon was discovered in Rhodes, around 1500 AD. The torture scenes on the icon shows Fanourios being stoned, in prison, being slashed, standing in front a Roman magistrate, tied to a frame,  thrown to wild animals, crushed by a boulder, holding hot coals etc.  According to one tradition that is not formally hold by the Church, the pies are also offered to grant rest to the soul of  the saint’s immoral mother. St. Fanourios is commemorated on August 27th, the day his icon was found.)

FANOUROPITA

1 cup olive oil

1 cup sugar

2 cups orange juice

1/2 cup cognac

1 tbs lemon zest

1/2 cup  black raisins

1/2 cup  blonde raisins

1 1/2 cup  walnuts roughly chopped.

1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp ground clove

4 cups flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 3 tsp baking powder

Beat the olive oil with the sugar until creamy. Add the baking powder dissolved in the cognac and the baking soda dissolved in the orange juice. Add the raisins and the walnuts, the cinnamon, the clove and the zest, beating all the time.

Add the flour slowly, beating until you have a thick batter.

Pour the batter into an oiled baking pan and bake in a moderate oven for  +- 50 minutes. (recipe: Smaragda Desipri, 1920 -2005)