Herbal Easter baskets, especially when prepared with local, organic ingredients, make great hostess gifts for anyone of any faith.
Or, you could start a new tradition and prepare one for your own family to enjoy. They’re right in line with the popular “buy fresh, buy local” movement, they support small farmers and businesses, and best of all they’re delicious!
The inspiration for these baskets came from the time I spent attending an Orthodox church. Known for its incense, detailed artwork, and harmonious chanting, the church was particularly magical at Easter time. Traditional “Paska” (Easter) baskets were packed full of goodies that we weren’t allowed to eat during Lent and every family brought one to church on Easter to be blessed.
The baskets usually contained meats, cheeses, butter, hard boiled eggs, bread, wine, salt, a bitter herb (usually horseradish), and candy.
Each item has symbolic significance. The bitter herb is a reminder of the bitter sufferings of Christ. Sometimes the horseradish is colored with red with beets, symbolizing the Blood of Christ. Salt symbolizes that we are “the salt of the earth.” The egg represents the tomb that Jesus rose from. A beautiful hand embroidered cloth covered each basket. These cloths are works of art, passed on from generation to generation, prized for their detail and beauty.
I’ve adapted this Paska custom into something I call “herbal Easter baskets.” I like to use fair trade bolga baskets to hold everything.
Items for the basket:
- Free Range, organic meats.
- Goat Cheese with Herbs de Provence: You could make your own homemade cheese. Cheese is surprisingly easy to make. Or, if you’re not that adventurous, try to find some locally made.
- Buy some artisian breads or try my favorite recipe, Braided Rosemary Cheddar Bread, below.
- Local free range eggs dyed with herbs.
- Herbed butter: For added charm mold it into the shape of a lamb or chick.
- Homemade horseradish: This one can double as medicine; its Rosemary Gladstar’s favorite remedy for head colds!
- Salt: Choose coarse unrefined sea salt or luxurious pink Himalayan salts. Pour into a decorative jar and attach a wooden scoop with a pretty bow. (Also a “medicine” of sorts, salts make a wonderful bath for sore feet. You may want to include an extra jar for the cook’s tired tootsies.)
- Wine from a local winery
- Small pots of fresh culinary herbs or packets of herb seeds
- Fair Trade organic chocolate
- Environmentally friendly, pretty cloth napkins can be placed in the basket in lieu of the hand embroidered cloth cover.
Herbs de Provence blend
Whether you make your own cheese or buy some, this herb blend will make any cheese look too pretty to eat. Simply mix the following herbs and then roll your cheese in the mixture. You may need to double the recipe depending on how much cheese you have.
- 2 Tbs. dried Thyme
- 2 tsp. each of dried Basil, Savory, and Rosemary
A frugal luxury, herb butters are easy to make and so delicious. In my area there are lots of Amish farmers that sell freshly made butter.
To one stick of butter add fresh herbs such as chives, garlic, and basil to taste. Infuse over low heat for 5-15 minutes. (For a less rich butter add only 1/2 stick of butter and an equal amount of olive oil.) Pour into a mold or container and chill in the refrigerator. Allow to sit for several days; the flavor will get better as the herbs begin to “meld.”
Rosemary says that this is the best medicine for a stuffed up head. The trick is that the person who is sick is the one who needs to grate the horseradish. According to her, the grating (and thus the fumes), are the best part of the medicine.
Grate fresh horseradish root and cover with white wine vinegar and honey to taste. For a stronger flavor allow the grated root to sit for a few minutes before adding the vinegar and honey. The longer the root is exposed to air before adding the vinegar, the hotter it will be.
Rosemary Cheddar Bread
- 3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 6 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed
- 2 packages (1/4 ounce
- ) active dry yeast
- 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
- ¾ cup butter
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 5 eggs
- 3-1/2 to 4 cups whole wheat flour,
- 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
- First, in a large mixing bowl, combine all-purpose flour, rosemary, and yeast. In a saucepan, heat buttermilk, butter, sugar and salt to 120°-130°; add to flour mixture. Blend on low speed until moistened. Add eggs; beat on low for 30 seconds. Beat on high for 3 minutes. Stir in enough whole wheat flour to make a soft dough.
- Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top.
- Cover and let rise in a warm place until nearly doubled, about 1 hour.
- Punch dough down; divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll each into a 12-in. x 9-in. rectangle. Cut each into three 12-in. x 3-in. strips. Combine cheese with 2 tablespoons of remaining whole wheat flour; sprinkle ⅓ cup down center of each strip. Bring long edges together over cheese and pinch to seal. Place three strips seam side down on greased baking sheets. Braid strips together; secure ends. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Bake at 375° for 20-25 minutes or until golden. Be sure to immediately remove from baking sheets to wire racks; cool.
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