I’ve been thinking about Easter a lot this week, and what makes it special for me. Many things: being able to spend it with my husband and daughter, which, given his profession, was not always possible (if you don’t know, my husband is a soldier and spent a significant amount of time away from home). This year, I’m double lucky, he’s home AND we get to spend it with my cousin and her family, who live just a short drive away, in our nation’s capital. I won’t see my parents for Easter this year, or my brother, his wife and their brand new baby, but I’m taking what I can get.
Ever since I moved to the US and started becoming more and more emerged into the local culture, spending most of my time amongst Americans, I had to come up with ways to keep myself connected to my family, specially around the holidays. It wasn’t always easy, and I did spend a few of them crying, even though the ham was delicious, and turkey moist. It was just not “chicken jello” or “white borsch” that I was used to eating and how in the world can one (read: a Pole) spend a holiday without the traditions of always eating those dishes? Impossible! Cooking Polish food was pretty much one thing I could do to make me feel I’m not that far away from home. I learned my lesson pretty quickly and never again did I go without at least one “special” dish. My new family now had to deal with eating the “chicken jello”, “pasztet” and other weird and so unusual for them foods.
Now, after 16 years, Easter celebrations in my home are as they were when I was still living in Poland. They start on Saturday by us preparing Easter baskets, called Święconka. Often this basket includes a decorated egg, pieces of bread and sausage, babka, salt and pepper, a lamb made of sugar symbolizing the Resurrection and celebration of life. Święconka, decorated with starched white linens and greens of boxwood will be taken to church for a blessing. In Poland Churches set up blessings every 15 minutes and are ready to receive hundreds and hundreds of baskets on Holy Saturday. Children enjoy this part the most, but they will have to refrain from sneaking anything out of baskets until Sunday morning, since catholics practice lent until then.
Holy Saturday is also a day for decorating eggs (pisanki) and adding finishing touches to Easter dishes. We would always boil our eggs in onion peels. The egg shells would turn dark reddish-brown from the golden onion peels. We would then use a knife or a needle to scrape the coloring off. I was never good at it. But my aunt Mary is super talented and did awesome designs (similar to those pictured). The designs can be very elaborate and take immaculate precision and time to create. Pisanki would decorate our Easter table along with decorative palms made for Palm Sunday.
When my brother and I were kids, mom would hide a basket with a few goodies in it (from the Easter Bunny) on Saturday night. We would wake up early and search the house for it, running from room to room.
Easter Sunday breakfast starts with sharing of an egg from the blessed basket, Święconka. Everyone gets a small piece and we wish each other all the best, and thank God for all His blessings. Food is served and eggs are the star of the day. We also play this “egg war” game in my family. Everyone gets a boiled egg and we bump ends against another’s egg to see who’s egg is the strongest. Whoever is left with an unbroken egg wins! Well, you don’t really WIN anything, but bragging rights and some satisfaction.
Many attend church and take long walks, visit friends or family gathering around the table again and again and enjoying the delights of this special holiday.
Easter Monday is considered a holiday still, and is called Pouring Monday – Lany Poniedziałek or Śmingus Dyngus. Tradition says that boys would throw buckets of water at girls to show their fondness towards them. Now, we just throw water at everyone. I go to bed with a full glass of water on my nightstand, so I can be ready when my daughter sneaks in with hers to get me wet. Ideally, you’re the first one to wake, so you can get everyone while they’re still in bed. We’re not gentle either. And with weather normally not being generous, all this is done inside. In the city, it borders on hooliganism, as youngsters trow buckets of water out the windows on pedestrians below. Although greatly frowned upon, it still happens. Good luck staying dry.
I’m sharing the foods I will be eating this year (well, every year) below, as I now realize I’m in the business of making people happy through food, sharing great food, talking about great food and remembering where I came from. Hopefully, this will bring you a bit closer to where you came from also, and you too will decide to share some of that with our loved ones.
A savory broth made of soured rye flour, served with a boiled egg and fresh (white) sausage.
Pork sausage cooked in water, served with horseradish and beets.
A variety of hard-boiled stuffed eggs.
Tartar sauce served over hard-boiled eggs.
Delicious medley of vegetables and fruit.
Chicken meat suspended in savory gelatin, garnished with lemon juice, vinegar or horseradish.
Minced chicken baked with herbs and spices.
Another variety of chicken pate, this one is heavy on wild mushrooms. Very tasty.
Savory and sweet cold cut.
Spicy horseradish and shredded beets used to garnish meats or eggs.
and for dessert:
Sweet crumbly bottom topped with sweet and lemony fig jam and sliced almonds.
Mazurek made with caramelly dolce de leche and chocolate, topped with sliced almonds.
Traditional Polish Easter dessert, soft and moist vanilla bunt cake.
Traditional Polish Easter vanilla and chocolate bunt cake.
I wish you many blessings this Easter and I hope you adopt one of my traditions into your Easter celebration. Smacznego!