Theology of an Easter Tree

You may wonder at the words above belonging together. In my experience ‘Easter Tree’ alone tends to be met with blank looks, never mind a theology thereof.

I grew up with the tradition of an Easter tree because my parents discovered it in Switzerland when visiting my uncle who was working there at the time, before I was born.

It’s basically a vase of spring twigs, decorated with wooden eggs, chicks and other Easter decorations. I put mine together on Tuesday upon returning to Chichester after the Easter weekend:

I’m not aware of the origins of this tradition, or whether there is any particular theology behind it, though I daresay the world wide web offers a few possible answers. As with its cousin the Christmas tree, this may be more a secular than a religious tradition, but similarly, there is plenty of potential to read theological meaning into it — most obviously that the spring twigs unfurling and the eggs hung upon it resonate with the Easter promise of new life.

I feel this more strongly still with my tree this year. On my ramble around Chichester in search of suitable twigs (not the easiest task with Easter being so early this year), I came upon a bough of a willow tree blown down in Storm Katie over the Easter weekend. I would never have got away with using the unruly willow branches at the family home (Mum thinks tulips are messy) but rescuing a few twigs for my Easter tree seemed to resonate with the Easter narrative (at least temporarily). New life from death!

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Spring foraging

About this time last year I wrote a post about wild garlic pesto, a wonderful and cheap way to liven up pasta. I’ve just made three jars for this year from a patch of ramsons I came across whilst on holiday in Anglesey – it made for a nice finale to the trip to go for a short stroll on the final morning to pick the leaves and to make up the pesto when I got home. Now to let the flavours mature a bit before sampling the result!

Meanwhile, the general busyness of life has got in the way of my writing a post about another foraged delicacy which I made for Easter Sunday — nettle soup. I used the River Cottage’s recipe as the basis for my soup, adding a bit of celery to make up for not having a great vegetable stock and just the tiniest amount of chilli powder and nutmeg for seasoning.

Before I made the soup my mum chided that it was going to be like Stone Soup. This was a reference to a story we had as children in I think a ladybird book. In any case, as my memory goes, it’s about a vagrant who meets an old lady in the countryside and offers her to cook her his magic ‘stone soup’ if she gives him a place to sleep for the night. All he needs, he says, is a pan of water and his stone. She agrees, and they go back to her house. He begins to prepare the soup with the stone and the water, then says ‘of course, it would be better if we had a little onion’ and the woman brings him some onion. Then he says ‘it’s even better with some bacon’, and so on. In this way, he tricks the woman into producing all manner of ingredients for his ‘stone soup’. So, Mum was suggesting that the soup would only taste of the other ingredients; she agreed upon tasting it that this was unfair on the nettles. Not only do they produce the most marvellous green colour (see picture), they do have a subtle and quite distinctive flavour.

The River Cottage recipe tells you to top the soup with creme fraiche, olive oil and Tabasco. ‘So that people think they’re being stung!’ said Dad. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall doesn’t say as much but it is indeed like getting a little sting when you hit a drop of Tabasco in a spoonful of soup, making the hot pepper sauce a fun as well tasty and pretty addition.

It’s a pretty labour-intensive soup to make — you have to go out armed with rubber gloves, reach beyond the dog pee risk zone in the nettle patch and then wash the nettle tops carefully — but it’s certainly worth making once in a while.

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Just a quick update

Today is the start of the Easter break, but my next few weeks are set to be busy rather than relaxing.

Besides trying to keep on track with my research plan for the chapter I’m working on at the moment (which is on Blake’s depictions of Christ’s public ministry), I am preparing for two conferences at which I am speaking in April (details on my academia page). This also means I’ll be travelling around a bit, which is exciting — home to Canterbury for Easter (Mum says we should go and check out “the new boy”), then to Leeds and Cambridge for the conferences.

This week I’ve been tied in knots by Mary Magdalene — even putting aside debates about the appropriate spelling (regrettably, Blake himself spells it without the second “e”) and pronunciation of her name (I favour “mag-da-len” and “maudlin” only for the College), there is the confusion between various women in the Gospels who have been conflated into the personality of Mary M and assumed to be “adulterous.” As an alumna of Magdalene, it’s a minor bugbear of mine that various figures are conflated and confused with Mary M; Blake seems to do this to an extent but there are a couple of inconsistencies to cause me problems.

In other news, I have added a new section to my site, “Ephemera”, which will be a place for me to deposit various eclectic items. The inaugural item is Wasteland, which is a reflection on Margate, Turner and T S Eliot, which came out of my time working with a film installation of the same title by Mark Wallinger at Turner Contemporary.