Memories of a Polish Easter
To have been born in a wonderful, loving Polish family was a blessing. Mine was a loving, caring family that served great food and had lots of fun. I will always treasure my memories of Easter celebrations at my grandparents' home - especially their hospitality.
On Thursday every year, my Polish grandmother would start baking for Easter Sunday. It began with the national specialty of Poland - babka. Babka is made of rich yeast dough enhanced with raisins, and flavored with grated lemon and orange rind. Polish families guard their babka recipes like jewels, passing them on as heirlooms from one generation to the next.
Babka means grandmother in polish, and my grandmother always told me that a housewife's reputation as a cook rests on the successful rising of her babka. The dough must be kneaded by hand for at least 40 minutes before it is left to rise. When I make mine at Easter time, I still use the same old blue tin cup that my Grandmother used when she did all of her baking, hoping that my babka will be as outstanding as hers.
Next in line was the Easter cheese. With this cheese the cheesecake was prepared. Then my grandmother would bake poppy seed or nut bread. I especially loved them when she would put prune butter or cheese in the bread.
On Good Friday night, the hard-boiled eggs were colored and decorated with traditional designs. Although today's artistry doesn't compare to the skill with which eggs were decorated in years past, this custom holds steadfast.
On Saturday, baskets were filled with salt, hard-boiled eggs, butter, horseradish, rye bread, babka, Easter cheese, and kielbasa (Polish sausage). (We were a very lucky Polish family; my father was the town's sausage maker!) The baskets were taken to the church for the priest to bless. I still have the basket that my Grandmother would fill with all the wonderful Easter food.
Easter dinner began with the sharing of the blessed hard-boiled eggs, accompanied by an exchange of greetings of good health and happiness. Afterwards, everyone sat down to the table, which was set with the best linens.
Dinner was made up of baked ham, sausage, roast veal, roast pork, roast turkey or goose, as well as stuffed cabbage. There was also Easter soup, hard-cooked eggs, sauces, and relishes. Everpresent was the traditional Easter relish of beets and horseradish, (cwikla).
Following dinner came the pastries and sweets - the babka, the nut or poppy seed breads, and the cheesecake with raisins. There was also the honey-flavored spiced voldka (krupnik).
There was always much leftover food from the Easter meal. However, this was easily taken care of on Easter Monday! The leftovers turned into marvelous "hunter's stew", also known as bigos.
With the passing of time, many of these old traditions have been forgotten. But Polish hospitality is a virtue which has survived. It is reborn with each new generation, and in different forms, but has never changed in essence.
So if you are ever the lucky one who gets invited to my home for a meal - you had better show up! You will never walk away from my table hungry, or leave my home feeling like a stranger. I share with you here my family's recipes for a perfectly Polish Easter, and hope you enjoy them with your own family throughout the seasons of the year.
— Judy McCann