Happy Easter! I've been cooking up a storm for the past few days in anticipation and preparation for my family's annual Russian Orthodox Easter feast. Whatever your heritage, if you are of the Christian faith and the family cook, you are well aware of the organizational skills it takes to 'pull off' this yearly extravaganza. If your heritage dictates that you serve the same traditional ethnic food each year, from time-honored recipes handed down from generation to generation, you didn't learn how to do this by osmosis. Somewhere along the line you took it upon yourself to learn how to do it, or, while you were growing up, your grandmother and/or your mother took it upon themselves to lovingly insist you learn. In my case, I preferred being in the kitchen to being on the playground, so, perhaps I did learn a great deal via osmosis!
In an Eastern European family, brightly-colored Easter baskets containing marshmallow chickens, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies and plasic eggs containing coins are reserved for the children!
A simple wicker basket, covered with a pristine, plain white cloth (representing the shroud of Jesus) and a candle, containing the family's 'celebration of food', are carried to church, by the family cook, on Holy Saturday afternoon or evening, to be blessed during a special service by the parish priest. Each basket contains a similar but varying list of prepared, cold foods, which vary from family to family, but they break down into three basic categories: bread, meat and dairy (foods which the very religious people abstained from from during the recent Great Lent and/or the entire Holy Week prior to Easter).
Paska (or Pascha)/Kulich. A homemade, slightly-sweetened yeast bread enriched with milk butter and eggs. It is golden in color, usually round in shape and sometimes contains raisins. It is always decorated with the sign of the cross and the fanciest "bread art", the family baker has learned. It represents "He (Christ) Who is the Bread of Life", and, a braided plait of dough around the perimeter represents a crown. (BYI: There is no competition, but, this is a matter of great pride to the family baker.)
Ham, Sausages (& sometimes Bacon). Ham, because it keeps well cold, is the main dish at the Eastern European Easter table. It, along with bacon, represents joy and abundance. Smoked sausages, like kielbasi (a spicy, garlicky sausage of pork, veal and/or beef), represent the rope or chain of death that Christ broke and rose triumphant over.
Hrutka (or Sirets) & Cheese. Hrutka is a sweetened, custard-like egg-cheese that is shaped into a ball and sliced. It's lightly sweetened with sugar, flavored with a hint of vanilla, and, some versions contain a few peppercorns. It represents moderation in life, and, nowadays, other mild-flavored cheeses are often substituted or included.
Eggs, Pickled Eggs & Beet Horseradish: Eggs represent new life and The Resurrection. They are, of course, hard-cooked. Pickled eggs are hard-cooked eggs preserved in a briny solution of beet juice and sugar to give them a pink-red color which represents Christ's Passion.
Horseradish gets mixed with the slightly-sweet pickled red beets to give it a bittersweet taste and blood-red color, which represents the blood and suffering of Christ.
This Easter tradition, the foods, and even the names of the foods varies among every Slavic group, depending on the region one is from, a family's preferences, and, their financial means, although conspicuous displays of wealth are discouraged. This post explains the traditions I grew up with in Eastern PA, explained in the most respectful way I can relay them.
Pysanky. These are extremely complicated eggs containing symbols and colors which all have meaning. I made these. The one in the center represents our yellow sun shining upon green pastures. The word "pysanky" derives from the verb "pysat" meaning "to write". They are made by using a special styliss (pen) which gets dipped into melted bees wax. After each application of wax, the egg is dipped into a vibrant color of dye. When the wax is removed the glorious egg is revealed!
The cold food from the basket is sliced and served for the breaking of the fast, breakfast, anytime after the sunrise service on Easter Sunday morning!!!
(All of my recipes for Russian Orthodox Easter can be found in Category 12.)
Whatever your beliefs, enjoy your day today!
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)