Choose Cumbria
Simnel Cake

Go traditional during Easter

Published on: Thursday 24th March 2016

As families gear up for the Easter weekend, there is no doubt that a great deal of the emphasis is on food.

Easter eggs tend to line the shelves of most family homes and Easter Sunday is often the chance for a classic roast dinner. With the exception of Christmas time, Easter is the religious holiday which really unites the family.

First and foremost, however, Easter is a religious holiday and the most traditional thing to eat on Good Friday is a hot cross bun.

The tradition to sell them on Good Friday seems to have come about in Tudor times under the rule of Queen Elizabeth. Today they are still distributed by local churches as a symbol of religious tradition. Churches Together in Ulverston still distributes hot cross buns on Good Friday.

The Minister for Ulverston Methodist Church, the Reverend Graham Ransom, said: "The bun bears the mark of the cross, which signifies the cross that Jesus carried and was crucified upon.

“As the heart of the community we still distribute them here and in the Coniston area. We often wrap the buns in a napkin that explains the symbolism, but they are also just a nice thing to give away over the weekend. They are tasty and they bear the most meaningful symbol of Easter."

The buns that have been supplied over the years are made by Thomas's Bakery, which has branches in Barrow, Dalton and Ulverston.

The proprietor of Thomas's, Brian O'Loughlin, is originally from County Wicklow in the Republic of Ireland.

He said: "Easter tradition is very important to me. We always make hot cross buns and simnel cake for the Easter week. We started selling our hot cross buns after Ash Wednesday this year but the peak time for selling them is after Palm Sunday.

The four days before Good Friday we usually sell out of hot cross buns, which shows how they are still a popular tradition.

"I learned to make hot cross buns at the National Bakery School in London and my teacher there told me that if my buns were the best in Britain, they'd likely be the best in the world.

"I use a much higher fruit to flour ratio than most other bakers and my buns are more like a brioche dough.

"We do sell a lot of chocolate cupcakes with Easter nests and chicks on top of them but, as I say, traditional products like simnel cake are always in high demand at this special time of year."

Simnel cake is a heavy, moist fruitcake that is decorated with 11 or 12 marzipan balls to represent the apostles. The number of balls different bakers add often depends on whether they count Judas among the apostles.

While these traditional Easter sweet treats join Lindt bunnies and Creme Eggs for an overload of sugar, there is also much emphasis put on the Easter roast dinner.

The most traditional meat to roast at Easter is lamb and in the Lake District we have a fine selection of local produce. The lamb is a symbol of Easter because it was a lamb that was sacrificed at the first Jewish Passover, but also because Jesus is often referred to as "the lamb of God".

A local Lake District lamb specialist is Yew Tree Farm, which featured as the home of Beatrix Potter in film Miss Potter. The farm comprises of 700 acres of fell and field in the Yewdale Valley near Coniston and is home to a flock of Herdwick ewes among other livestock.

Jon Watson, farmer and proprietor of Heritage Meats, which are produced at the farm, said: "We see a huge surge in demand for lamb at this time of year. It will always be the most popular meat for Easter, I think because it is associated with new beginnings and the spring.

"What we stock is Herdwick hogget. Herdwick sheep are native to the Lake District and a hogget is a lamb that is between one and two years old.

You get a lot of farms that take the lambs to slaughter much earlier but we prefer to give them a longer life with freedom to roam the fells. This means they have a better quality of life but they also gain a better flavour.

"Farms that produce younger lambs usually have faster growing breeds, but our lamb is popular all over the country because of its rich flavour."

Also specialising in Easter roasts are Higginsons of Grange, who have just won a Lifetime Achievement award with Cumbria Life magazine.

Stuart Higginson, who set up the butchers 30 years ago with his wife Pauline, said: "If you want to try something a little different this year, we are doing an 'Easter chuckling'. This consists of a free range duckling, wrapped in chicken fillets and Cumberland forcemeat.

“We then lace the chucklings with orange zest and orange Cointreau, they are divine. We have been doing them for a few years now at Higginsons, everyone who tries them gets them again. They are the future!"

Easter events for families to enjoy

Friday: Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt At Buttermere Valley.

Friday - Monday: Various craft and outdoor activities for all the family at Holker Hall and Gardens.

Friday: The Enchanted Princess Eggstravaganza, The Nines, Barrow.

Friday: Easter Eggsplorers At Brockhole, Lake District Visitor Centre.

Friday - April 10: The Origins Of The Tale Of Peter Rabbit at Allan Bank, Grasmere.

Friday - April 10: Teddies Go Free At Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway.

Friday - Monday: Mr McGregor's Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt at Allan Bank.

Sunday: Mini Egg Hunt At The World Of Beatrix Potter, Bowness.

Sunday: Furness Abbey Fellowship Easter Eggstravaganza, Abbey Mill, Barrow.

Sunday: Cadbury's Easter Egg Hunt at Fell Foot.

Sunday: Egg rolling at Hoad in Ulverston.

Subscribe to our newsletter: get a glimpse of what it's really like to live and work in Cumbria.