It is no unnatural instinct which prompts the decoration of churches with flowers at Easter; and it is a pity that so pleasing and in itself innocent a custom should be regarded among Church people as the badge of a party. It would probably, however, be easy to show that the custom of church decoration at Easter is no innovation, as some have supposed, but rather a restoration of a custom which was once general and has never really become extinct. Thus, at Berkeley, a village near Frome, the church has always been decked with Yew on Easter Day.
But it is rather with the popular than the ecclesiastical history of Easter flowers that we have now to do, although the one and the other are in the present instance “somewhat mixed.” We devoted some space last year (Sept. 19) to a notice of “Easter Mangiants,” as Polygonum Bistorta is called in the North of England; and some notes upon “Tansy pudding,” an Easter dish of repute in former days, will be found in the same paper. In addition to what was there published regarding the Bistorta and its curious name, the following note, from the Beauties of England and Wales, may be given. Speaking of Westmoreland the writer says :—” Till about the middle of the last century garden vegetables, except Onions and a few savoury herbs, were little known, but a mess made of the tender leaves of a fine Bistorta (called here Easter Ment-gions, i.e., sprouts of the Easter month) and groats, mixed with a small portion of young Nettles, leaves of the giant Bellflower, and a few blades of Chives, all boiled together in a linen bag with the meat, was accounted a delicacy to eat with veal in the spring.”
Another plant which commemorates Easter in its name is the Pasque-flower (Anemone Pulsatilla), pasque or pask being an old word for Easter, which is the equivalent of the Jewish Passover; indeed, the word which is rendered “passover” in the authorised translation of the Bible, stands as “pasch” in the Douay version. This name was bestowed upon the Anemone by Gerarde, who says he was “mooved” so to name it because it “flowers for the most part about Easter.” This was before the revision of the Calendar, and all Easters are not as cold and winterly as the present one bids fair to be.
In The Festival, published in 1511, we are told that “it is the maner at this [Easter] daye to do the fyre out of the hall, and the blacke wynter brondes, and all thynges that is foul with fume and smoke shall be done awaye, and then the fyre shall be gayly arrayed with fayre flowers, and strewd with grene tyssles all aboute;” and it is still the custom in some homes to leave off fires on Easter Sunday. In Ireland Easter bouquets are carried about, formed, when the weather will permit, of a round ball of Primroses, with an Anemone or other flower in the centre. Similar bouquets are made in Warwickshire, save that the “Palm” or Willow there enters into their composition.
In France the Daisy is the Easter flower, being known as Paquerette, or Paquette. In Upper Bavaria the peasants make garlands on Easter Day of the sweet-scented Colt’s-foot (Nardosmia fragrans) and such other flowers as they can find, and cast them into the fire; this is doubtless the modern form of some pre-Christian ceremony. The great Stitchwort (Stellaria Holostea) is known in some parts of England by the pretty name of Easter Bell.
A curious superstition with regard to planting flower seeds, especially of Stocks, about this time of year prevails, not only in some parts of England, but also in France. In Bohn’s edition of Brand we read that in Gloucester it is, or was, believed that if sown on Palm Sunday the blossoms would “be sure to come double.” A similar belief attaches in some places to the sowing of Stock seed on Good Friday; while in some parts of France it is customary for the women to take to church on that day in their pockets seeds of Stocks mixed with earth, which they shake up during the singing of the “Stabat Mater,” believing that by this means double flowers will be ensured! D. M.
Gardeners’ Chronicle, Horticultural Trade Journal, Part 1, 1875
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The nettles in the “mess” described in the second paragraph were a known specific for consumption. Here are two receipts for “Tansie Pudding,” as mentioned above.
Another dish which owed its name and peculiarity to a plant was the Tansy cake, which was apparently popular in former days, though it would assuredly be voted unpalatable in our own. Tansy cakes or Tansy puddings were made of the young leaves of the Tansy chopped up with eggs, and were usually eaten in Lent, in memory, it has been supposed, of the bitter herbs which were eaten by the Jews with the Paschal lamb. Threlkeld, in 1727, speaks of their use at Easter: he says, “From the tender leaves, or their juice, with eggs, are made cakes called a Tansy, at the Paschal season; but whether it is so advantageous to the stomach as to drive away all the blasts of wind contracted by the idle conceit of eating fish and pulse for forty days in Lent, as some say, is what I much doubt of; for I have seen several who have broken an hale constitution by that presumptuous fasting, that neither Tansy nor Steel could ever repair it.” Should our friends…desire to experience for themselves what a Tansy is like, the following recipe from the Closet of Rarities (l706) may be useful to them:—
“A curious Tansie; the new way.—Take about a dozen new-laid eggs, beat them up with 3 pints of cream, strain them thro’ a coarse linen cloth, and put in of the strained juices of Endive, Spinage, Sorrel, and Tansie, of each three spoonfuls; half a grated Nutmeg, 4 ounces of fine sugar, a little salt, and rose-water; put it, with a slight laying of butter under it, into a shallow pewter dish, and bake it in a moderately heated oven; scrape over it loaf-sugar, sprinkle rose-water, and serve it up.”
Here is a more ancient form, which was published in 1676:—
“How to Make a very good Tansie—Take fifteen eggs, and six of the whites, beat them very well; then put in some sugar, and a little sack; beat them again, and put about pint or a little more of cream; then beat them again; then put in the juice of Spinage, or of Primrose leaves, to make it green. Then put in some more sugar, if it be not sweet enough; then beat it again a little, and so let it stand till you fry it, when the first course is in. Then fry it with a little sweet butter. It must be stirred and fryed very tender. When it is fryed enough, then put it in a dish, and strew some sugar upon it and serve it in.”
Gardeners Chronicle & New Horticulturist, 19 September 1874
By way of her own contribution to Easter flower lore, Mrs Daffodil once heard an elderly woman say, axiomatically: “It must snow three times on the crocus before Easter.” Mrs Daffodil hopes that all of her readers (who are not allergic) have lovely flowers blossoming in their gardens to welcome the spring.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.