Easter (not) Bunny (Renee G)

Easter is the time of year that embraces discussions about religion, and because we are not a very religious family, the discussions can often go in unusual directions bringing together a bunch of disparate ideas.

Our school provides an hour of religious instruction every week, and due to the massive diversity at our school, several religions are covered. Initially I signed No1 up to ‘reflection’ when he started school, which was the non-religious option. But when No2 started the next year, he decided that it was boring because “we just sit around and do peace.” So now we are rotating through each religion, spending half a year in each one. The idea is that by learning all the different religions the children will have better understandings of different cultures and that will give them confidence when they meet new people.

During Easter a few years ago, when No1 was six and learning Catholic and No2 was five and doing Hindu, the topic of creation came up.

No1 said “Mama, how was the first person made?”
I said “Well, there are several different theories.” And I was about to launch into them starting with the current science, when No1 replied “I think God made them. But who made God?”

Good question. “Who do you think made God?”
No2’s idea was pretty simple “God made himself”, but No1 nailed it. “Nah, God’s Mum made him, because everyone is made by their mum.”

According to debate.org; 33% of voters think that Easter should ONLY be celebrated by Christians, which is a pretty uncharitable way to vote. But it leads to another question about Easter. Why do we celebrate a Christian festival with a bunny that doesn’t appear in the Bible?

The research is pretty vague about the origins of the Easter bunny, with most resources pointing to the Germans who had an annual ‘welcome spring’ festival that celebrated the fertility goddess Ostara and which was first mentioned in literature by the monk Venerable Bede in the 8th Century. Most European countries had a similar festival, such as Astarte (ancient Greece), Ishtar (Assyria), Kali (India), Ashtoreth (Israel), Eostre (Anglo-Saxon) and the ancient Egyptians and Babylonian cultures were painting eggs to bring in the spring more than 2,000 years before Christianity took off. In addition, the Jews celebrate the Passover festival at the same time. Many of these festivals were governed by the patterns of the moon, hence why Easter also follows the lunar cycle.

Nothing much else exists in literature about Ostara/Easter until the Brothers Grimm wrote about her in 1835, saying “The heathen Easter had much in common with May-feast and the reception of spring, particularly in matter of bonfires. Then, through long ages there seem to have lingered among the people Easter-games so-called, which the church itself had to tolerate : I allude especially to the custom of Easter eggs, and to the Easter tale which preachers told from the pulpit for the people’s amusement, connecting it with Christian reminiscences.”

The German Ostara was a bird that was turned into a rabbit, but kept the ability to lay eggs. A neat trick, but it seems that no-one can really agree on the origins of this as there just isn’t any written evidence anywhere. People point to rabbits being really fertile, and eggs being a sign of new life, both of which make some sense for an ancient pagan spring festival. The early Christians were excellent at marketing and they adopted the Easter festival to align with their resurrection story. The whole shibang has morphed into the current commercial chocolate fuelled haze.

Among all that chocolate, you will need a hearty meal to soak up all the sugar and reset your digestive system. To keep with the Easter theme, let’s eat the Easter bunny.

The hunt for a rabbit was quite difficult, and I visited every local butcher with only one saying that had a rabbit. “But it has been frozen for a long time”. Yeah, I think I’ll pass on that one. However, rabbit is a meat similar to chicken but slightly gamier, so I’ve done the simple family version and used the easier to find chicken. Ostara the bird, before her transformation to a hare, rather than afterwards.

Chicken stew with salad
Chicken stew with salad

Chicken-rabbit stew

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: med
  • Print

Ingredients
  • 4 chicken marylands
  • 250g of speck (or bacon)
  • 2 cans tomatoes
  • 1 handful rosemary
  • 1 onion
  • 3 bits of garlic
  • A few fennel seeds (optional)
  • Cup of white wine
  • handful of flour
  • splash of olive oil
  • polenta
  • salad

5.30pm – Pre-heat oven to 180OC.

How to prepare

Dust each piece of chicken with flour. Splash the olive oil into a hot frying pan, then lie the chicken pieces in the pan. I had to do mine in a couple of batches. The skin on the chicken will render out the fat, and go nice and golden and crispy. After a few minutes when the skin is brown, remove from the pan and put into a baking dish.

How to cook

Finely slice the speck (or bacon), onion and garlic. Also throw in a few fennel seeds if you have them to give this a bit of extra punch. Place them into the fat in the frying pan, and cook on a low heat until the onions go soft and gooey. Add the cup of white wine, then the cans of chopped tomatoes. Roughly chop the rosemary and sprinkle it on top. Cook this all through until it is mixed nicely, then pour over the chicken in the baking dish.

Place the baking dish in the oven at 180oC for 1 1/4 hours. Serve with polenta and salad. Polenta is easy, just mix it up like on the packet (1 cup of polenta with 1 litre of boiling water).

Chicken stew before baking
Chicken stew before baking

How to serve

Serve with polenta and salad. Polenta is easy, just mix it up like on the packet (1 cup of polenta with 1 litre of boiling water and a pinch of salt).

7.00pm – Easter hen for dinner was really good. You could sprinkle a bit of fresh parsley on top to add to the presentation and final flavour. We might be non-religious, but I do think that the best foods are those that are grown with respect. If we care for our animals while they grow, they will taste better on the plate, and reward us for our care. Luckily in Australia, the purchasing choices are easy as chickens are grown under strict conditions that maximise their welfare and can’t be given hormones to speed up their growth during production.

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