My seasons are the seasons of church, although I am not religious, as a rule: my seasons are the seasons of school, which are the seasons of the Church of England, which are (when you get right down to it) farming seasons, land-seasons. September harvest, and new pencils; Christmas, when all’s said and done; Easter is lambing-time; June is the end of term, and the fields are all waiting to be shorn back.
We did not, when I was small, go to church, or anything like it, but we were not a family of unbelievers: we were a family that believed in stories. We believed- the four of us children- in tradition, and in doing things the same way every year. I think most children are like this. There’s a pattern to life when you are small, and this was mine: fish-and-chips after swimming, stockings at Christmas, bringing the sheep in to lamb, bicycles and picnics in July, the seaside, exam-time, snowdrops, primroses, bluebells, roses, apples. And Easter: three weeks off, and in the middle of it Easter Sunday itself. We were not a church-family, but we took Easter seriously.
We had a box of blown eggs, painted and inked and dyed, and we threaded them through with cotton and hung them on the Easter tree, a tall blossoming branch of hawthorn or cherry or some other tree that came easily to hand. To blow the eggs you prick them top and tail with a darning needle, making one hole a little fatter, and then you huff the insides through into a bowl. Then you paint the smooth shell, and hang it up, and with the insides you make scrambled egg.
Scrambled egg is integral to Easter: enormous platters of gold, framed all round with sausages done in the oven so they stay fat, and with salt and pepper and butter and cream. Today is not a day to leave off the cream. Perhaps cheese too. Yes- scrambled egg, and pigs-in-blankets, and fresh bread, and hot cross buns, and big jugs of orange juice, and a big teapot under a quilted cosy with a picture of Margate printed on it and stained all over with twenty years of English Breakfast. We had this breakfast with our friends: the children, eight or ten of us, would go hunting for eggs in the barn and the tall grass, and the grown-ups would be busy in the kitchen, and we would come back in with baskets full of eggs that we would have to wait to eat. It was hard to mind waiting when there was breakfast in between.
I think in a way I have been trying to replicate those Easter breakfasts all my life: a long table, heavy with good food, and everyone I loved in the world sitting around it.
It feels important, this year, to make our own Easter breakfast: I am almost finished with my degree, and so with my seasons. From this year on September is just another month, not the year-beginning; no more June-July-August of total freedom; no more exams, or essays, or new pencils. And it’s a long time since I’ve had a lamb to call my own. I am glad to be done with my degree: I go into this new world with fear, but also great joy. Which seems to me to be the appropriate response to something new and strange (whether that’s Jesus getting up, or a whole new way of life).
So. It feels important this year, to in our small London way, follow an old tradition. Sausages. Scrambled eggs. Hot cross buns. A big mug of tea, and some juice. Fresh bread. And so much love.
Happy Easter, you wonderful people. No, scratch that: happy spring. Spring! I saw primroses and violets and woodpeckers yesterday in Mile End. Totally delightful. Go out with joy, as we used to sing at school. Go out with joy, and be led forth with peace, and the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you, and all the trees of the field sha-all clap, shall clap their hands!
Even if you aren’t religious (which I am not even a little bit), there’s something rather wonderful about a morning so joyful that all the hills will sing, and the trees will applaud. Don’t you think?
Easter Breakfast Bread
Makes one goodish loaf.
Tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
350ml milk; tablespoon of lemon juice.
The bakeries are mostly closed today (although, joy of joys: our baker is Jewish, and reopens for business at lunchtime!) so you might need to make your own bread. This is absolutely the simplest, fastest bread recipe I have ever come across. You have everything you need in your house right now, probably.
Heat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius, and put in the oven a casserole dish, the kind with a lid. Like a Le Creuset, if you have one. I don’t- I have a Sainsbury’s Own Brand, and it is less handsome but just as good. But that kind of dish. It must have a lid, and both bits must go in the oven and be brought up to temperature. You’re making a mini-oven, essentially.
Take 450g (16oz) of flour (any combination, really: I’m rather fond of half-rye, half-spelt); add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, a teaspoon of caster sugar, and a pinch of salt. Stir this round properly.
When your oven is absolutely at temperature, add in 350ml buttermilk. You probably do not have buttermilk in: what you need to do is sour normal milk with a squeeze of lemon, like this. Generous tablespoon of lemon juice; 350 ml milk. It is so easy. So easy.
Anyway, working fast, bring the flour and the milk together to make a dough. You have to work fast because the soda and the soured milk are reacting together, which is what makes it rise. I think, anyway. So. Make the dough into a sort of round, flattish loaf-shape.
Bring your casserole dish out of the oven. Dust the inside liberally with flour. Pop your shaped dough inside, put the lid back on, and put the whole thing in the oven for 25-35 minutes.
You’ll know it’s done because 1. It will smell like bread and 2. It will sound hollow on the bottom when you knock it with your knuckles. This is the most satisfying, simple recipe you will ever make. Everyone will be incredibly impressed by it. And you.
(This is very good with marmalade.)
I thought it would also be useful to do a quick round-up of other things you might want for breakfast, to make while the bread is cooking:
Four fat chorizo sausages, the proper kind, the kind that come from Spain in funny packaging and are tied together with string. Pan-fry for about ten minutes; normally I’d do sausages in the oven, but the bread is in there. If you aren’t making bread: twenty-five minutes at 180 degrees. But, as the Tall Man says, you need to use your own brain with sausages.
Allow two eggs and a knob of butter a person. A big teaspoon of black pepper, and a substantial pinch of proper sea salt. Allow Burford Browns, if in the city, or the freshest laid, if in the real world.
Melt the butter over a low heat. Crack and beat together the eggs with the pepper and salt. A splash of cream if you’re feeling mad decadent. Parmesan, even! Beat together; tip into the saucepan with the melted butter. Stir vigorously with a rubber spatula, until it is slightly less-done than you like it (it will keep cooking while you serve it). Perfect.
Hot Cross Buns
I did not make my own hot cross buns. I probably never will. But this recipe is a really good one: a really solid read.
In the Brownie Handbook, it says “allow a teaspoon of tea per person, plus one for the pot”. Once-boiled water. It also says that milk goes in after. Which is an area of etiquette too vastly debated for me to even think about. Still, if Debrett’s and the Brownie Handbook both say tea-in-first, who am I to argue?
But of course.