Today is Palm Sunday - the day Jesus arrived to a triumphant reception in the holy city of Jerusalem.
Branches from palm trees were laid on the ground before him and hence the name. The day is marked in churches across the world on the Sunday before Easter Day. It’s also known as Passion Sunday and in some traditions, Fig Sunday.
The fig association has a number of theories - some say Jesus sustained himself on the way to Jerusalem by eating these lush fruits, while others say he cursed the fig tree on the way. A Bible story tells of Zaccheus climbing a fig tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passed by. Whatever the origin, there are many recipes using them to celebrate the day. In the North of England a figgy pudding, similar to Christmas pudding, is made with dried fruit, suet and eggs.
In Wales, Palm Sunday is known as Flower Sunday in reference to the blossoms that bloom on the tree at this time of year. You can get imported fresh figs at this time of year and they’re perfect on their own or with sharp cheese and a drizzle of honey. When I was growing up figs meant fig roll biscuits. They were a staple, along with ginger nuts, when I went to my grandparent’s house outside Cookstown. Crispy biscuit surrounding a sweet, chewy filling. I actually felt very grown up eating them.
My first recipe takes inspiration from this combination in a simpler version. Buttery shortcake layered with orange and vanilla infused figs – a crumbly, zingy take on the old classic.
Another food associated with the Easter period is lamb. Lots of us eat lamb at this time of year and then forget about it. The fact is cheaper cuts of lamb are tasty and make delicious dishes. One of the best known, and nearly forgotten, is moussaka. This iconic Greek food had a surge of popularity that peetered by the wayside as we discovered new and exciting ingredients from further afield. It’s a delicious layered dish of slowly cooked lamb redolent of cinnamon and mint, interwoven with aubergines, potatoes and a creamy sauce, bubbling with gratinated cheese. Why did we ever stop making it?!
Aubergines are a contentious thing. They need to be cooked properly - fried until golden and soft. All too often, in the wrong hands, they turn out grey with a little crunch - horrid. I’ve included a recipe for this seventies favourite that celebrates our wonderful lamb - too good to dismiss the rest of the year!