Breaking the fast

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Ahead of her upcoming demo, Paula McIntyre explores the food traditions of Palm Sunday

On the Sunday before his crucifixion, Jesus arrived in the city of Jerusalem to a triumphal reception from his many followers. They spread branches from palm trees on the road as he approached, to pave his way. On Sunday 9th April, churches across the world observe Palm Sunday. Also known as Passion Sunday, it’s the last Sunday of Lent and palm branches are woven into crosses to distribute to congregations.

Like Easter Sunday, there are many food traditions associated with this sacred day. One of the best known is the eating of pax cakes. Their name derives from the Latin word for peace. In 1570 a local Hereford landowner, Lady Scudamore, distributed these cakes after the morning service on Palm Sunday to signify reconciliation and goodwill.

In the 19th century, farmers provided local ale and cider to accompany the confections. The custom lapsed in the early 20th century, but has since been revived. Vicars hand out the cakes after the service with the blessing, “Peace and goodwill”. Recipes vary—some are similar to griddle pancakes, others use almonds and egg whites. In all cases, a stamp in the shape of a lamb would have been applied to represent the Lamb of God.

A mark of penance
Peas or carlins were eaten in the north of England and Scotland. In England, Palm Sunday became known as Carlin Sunday and in Scotland it was called Car Sunday. Recipes varied between regions, but pea soup or pease porridge were both popular ways of using the pulse. This custom is said to stem from pilgrims having a hard pea in their shoe as a mark of penance during lent—eating a pea-based dish marked the end of this torture!

In Greece, the Lenten fast is broken on Palm Sunday with the eating of salt cod known as bakallaros, while in Italy fresh pasta is eaten with sugo, breadcrumbs and nuts.

Figs also have a rich association with this day. There are several theories behind this. Jesus is said to have cursed the fig tree on his way to Jerusalem. Another suggests figs sustained him on his journey to the holy city and a Bible story tells of Zaccheus climbing a fig tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus among the throng.

Figgy pudding
In Wales it’s known as Flowering Sunday, with reference to the time of year the fig tree blossoms. In various parts of England, it’s known simply as Fig Sunday, celebrated with a fig pie or figgy pudding. Both are made along the lines of Christmas pudding, with a dried variation of the fruit combined with suet, egg and spice and steamed.

Fresh figs are available now and while a perfectly ripe fig is delicious just sliced, anointing them with a drizzle of honey, a shaving of good parmesan and a splash of rich balsamic vinegar will elevate them to something heavenly.

The foods associated with Palm Sunday lack the decadence of the end of Lenten feasting on Easter Sunday, when rich lamb roasts and chocolate eggs abound. However, they’re steeped in history and resonate with poignant traditions that should be treasured.

Join Paula for tips, tastings and recipes on Friday 7th April in the Market Hall, 12:30-2pm