Doesn’t everyone chase boiled eggs down a hill to pay tribute to the resurrection? | Grace Dent

The wheels fell off my plans for this year’s Lent abstinence within three days. Or, more accurately, when The Parkers Arms’ “at home” quince pudding with custard was left at my front door. My choice was between giving up sugar for 40 days in a bid to re-learn the concept of sacrifice and self-discipline, or letting this structurally perfect, moist, delicate, syrupy masterpiece go to waste. “What would Jesus want?” I wondered while snaffling the entire tray like a Hungry Hippo.

Soon after, I ate a piece of handmade, extra-thick millionaire’s shortbread at Tebay on the M6, which is less a service station than a delightful artisan farmshop and organic beeswax moisturiser boutique with added petrol pumps. I love Tebay because it is so wilfully bizarre. You cannot buy anything as gauche as a Krispy Kreme donut, but you can get a ukulele and an Easy Ukulele Party Classics songbook.

Supporting Tebay Services at a time when few people are travelling also felt very holy on my part. “Remind me again what Lent is?” asked my partner Charles, who is Jewish, as I shook the bag to dislodge all the particles of chocolate stuck inside, then straightened the edges to pour that delicious bounty down my gullet.

“Lent,” I began confidently, “is a period of abstinence to commemorate Jesus spending 40 days and 40 nights in the, um, wilderness.” My last Lent refresher course was at Sunday school in 1977, where my parents sent me so they could glean two hours of glorious silence in which to read the Sunday Post and eat toast.

“Why was he in the wilderness?” asked Charles, having never read as far as the New Testament.

“He went to the wilderness to prepare for, er, something,” I replied, “so Christians give up things like sugar or meat, or rollerblading. Although that was in Father Ted, so it’s not really a thing.”

Neither my partner nor I is staunchly religious, yet there is enough floating about in our noggins from our respective childhoods to influence how, when and what we eat. For him, that means never pork and fasting on certain holidays. I’ve even made raspberry jam hamantaschen for Purim. But it wasn’t until I lived in an inter-faith household that I realised just how weird my side could sound, or how much I liked my own framework of eccentric dos and don’ts. Whether or not you believe in God, they just seem to make the year feel more neat, and give you a little path back to a place that was once safe.

“This Easter, I’m making Pace eggs,” I announced recently. (With another matriarch now gone from my family, I feel pressure to step up to the plate.) “I’m dying boiled eggs in their shells, using onion skins, to make natural fractal patterns. Then we can roll them down a hill on Easter Sunday.” Admittedly, this felt a lot more sane inside my head, because now it sounded as if we were extras in The Wicker Man. Didn’t everyone’s household chase boiled eggs down a steep bank to pay tribute to the resurrection? What about eating pigeon peas with malt vinegar and butter on the fifth Sunday in Lent (leading to some frankly unholy gastrointestinal explosions)? Does this not all make perfect sense?

Of course, the lead-up to Easter runs parallel with the lead-up to Passover, which has its own restrictions, recipes, and things to be gathered and done. I will never be Jewish, but I have felt the high tension of trying to locate the last box of Rakusen’s “Kosher for Passover” matzo crackers within the M25 on the Thursday before Pesach. Believe me, when I saw that solo box on the ransacked shelf in Buckhurst Hill Waitrose, it felt like a religious experience. Less so when I tried to turn them into matzo cracker lasagne – they do not substitute for pasta; do not believe the hype. Within this lifetime, I hope to get to the bottom of why Charles can but can’t eat kidney beans during Pesach, even if a rabbinical assembly in 2014 said it’s OK, probably.

“Jesus went to the wilderness to fast and prepare for ministry,” I said, checking Google while picking caramel out of my fillings, “which is why I’ve given up sweet things.” If it turns out there really is a heaven, I hope God isn’t into details.


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