Quarantine Culinary Connections Through Cultural Expressions
Easter is a thing. In Greece it’s a big thing. I can’t describe it in any other way; but as the most important religious holiday of the year. Christmas has nothing on Easter. Christmas is an American construct, Greek Easter is a religious and pagan ritual. Most Greeks just stick to the copious food and wine of the obligatory break to the 40 day long lent, that follows the days of distance from meat (aka Apokries) between February and April. Easter is a time of celebration and rejoicing following a time of renewal, rest, and (νηστεία- lent) that certainly dates back to the ancient Hellenic rituals cleaning before the coming of spring. It is a culmination of a journey from one pagan/christian holiday to another.
Easter is a huge thing in the Greek community of any major American City. Among Greeks Easter or Pascha is a unifier. We all celebrate it in small and big ways. I’ve never intentionally set foot in a church, I’m not religious and I’m largely a vegetarian and hardly drink but like so many others absolutely love Easter. Greek Easter is defined by three things meat wine and red eggs; plus a dash of spirit (yes the holy one). During this time of quarantine and self isolation, I wanted to find a way to bring the tradition of Easter Sunday lunch which turns into dinner, story telling, music playing and drinking into this time of quarantine and isolation. This year has been incredibly different, difficult and eye opening.
Easter is a time of gathering. Not just to “receive the holy light”, not only to gather in a church and listen to the midnight sermon, not just to eat the thick, hot aromatic leek, liver and entrails soup (served at the stroke of midnight on Sunday, but to be together with dear friends and lovers, family and people you care about. It’s about community, conversation, deep embraces and kisses on the cheek with the slight aftertaste of wine, salt and lamb grease. Easter is about flavors, music, and a promise of a bountiful summer. This year despite that aching feeling of isolation and lack of human interaction; didn’t feel any different. These things can still be shared, despite the distance.
I woke up this past Sunday morning with a strange joy I’ve not felt in a long time, because of Easter. Yes I the atheist vegetarian needed, wanted this connection with ritual, tradition and belief, plus lamb and potatoes in the oven (aka Αρνί με πατάτες στο φούρνο). This dish is synonymous, in its many different renditions with traditional Easter Day fare. Lamb on a spit or in the oven if you live in a city, is Easter on a plate. This time of quarantine has given me a chance to explore things that I’ve needed and wanted to understand better for myself, through the lens of forced separation from my community.
Easter is about family. The one you are born into and the one that you acquire along the way. We gather and share in this tradition, with those we love and cherish the most.
Easter is inclusive. Regardless of religion or belief, people gather to be together and share food and copious wine (I must stress this) with anyone who wants to be included.
Easter is about being close, about sharing stories into the late afternoon, before you take one last swig of wine, watching the sun quickly vanish into the horizon. While savoring the last morsel of potato covered in lamb grease that you will probably heat up again next week, you lick your fingers and taste just one last rush of thyme, rosemary and garlic; you promise yourself that next year, your embraces will linger a little longer, your stories will be that much more rich and the tradition regardless of our belief is there to bring us just a little closer.
More tomorrow from the quarantine diaries.