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Which came first -the bunny or the egg?

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As Americans, we are incapable of celebrating a holiday, no matter what our religious or ethnic affiliations, without a feast to mark its beginning, middle or end. Easter is certainly no exception to that. Foods with Easter symbolism are many and varied, but certain themes are universal.Originally Easter was called Pascha after the Hebrew word for Passover. In English it was replaced by Easter, a word believed to have evolved from Eostre, the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility and springtime. In Teutonic mythology, Eostre's pet bird laid eggs in baskets and hid them. On a whim, Eostre transformed her pet bird into a rabbit, who continued to lay eggs. Welcome Peter Cottontail! Rabbits themselves were a pagan symbol of fertility, hence the phrase "multiply like rabbits," and were often kept in homes. The first edible Easter bunnies were made in Germany during the early 1800s and were made of pastry and sugar.Of all the symbols associated with Easter, the egg, the symbol of fertility and new life, is the most widely embraced. The symbolism predates Christianity, but the Christians adopted it to represent Jesus' resurrection. Ancient Romans and Greeks utilized eggs in festivals celebrating resurrected gods. The egg also features prominently in the Jewish rituals of Passover and has a place on the seder table as an essential symbol of springtime and rebirth.It was not until the 18th century in France that someone came up with the brilliant idea to empty out a fresh eggshell and fill it with chocolate. Then came molds, decorations and many delicious traditions. In France, when children hear the bells on Easter morning they set out into the yard to hunt for Easter eggs É or for chocolate chickens hiding in the shrubbery.Queens happens to be home to one of the Easter Bunny's primo burrows. Madeleine Chocolates in Rockaway Beach has been a leading manufacturer of chocolate novelties, including Easter treats, for over half a century. They are mostly a wholesale operation with a vast distribution, but they maintain a small retail outlet at 305 Beach 95th St.Easter breads are part of the Easter celebrations of many European cultures. It wouldn't be Easter in Greece without Tsoureki Paschalino. This delicious sweet dessert bread can include a light citrus flavor, can be topped with nuts, and can include the traditional red egg cooked with the bread. Look for this treat at Artopolis Bakery, 2318 31st Street, Astoria.For Neapolitans, Pizza Rustica is the thing. It is a savory double-crusted pie filled with all manner of Italian cured meats and cheeses bound together by eggs like a quiche. You can pick one up at Metro Meats, 102-23 Metropolitan Ave. in Forest Hills, 718-793-5430. They also have some other goodies like Sicilian cookies with a dyed egg in the center. They are an old-school Italian butcher, and as such, an excellent source for your roast as well.Lamb also has significance in the Easter celebration. The lamb was adopted from the Paschal lamb sacrificed at Jewish Passover, and for Christians it came to signify Christ's death on the cross. In Sicily, Agnellini Pasquali, Sicilian Easter marzipan lambs, compete with eggs and bunnies as the sweet of choice. However you celebrate Easter, we hope it's a harbinger of spring and all the good things to come with the changing season.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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