Easter is arguably one of the two biggest culinary feasts the year for most Poles, many other Roman Catholics, and billions of Christians around the world. For some reason my memories of Easter celebrations go back much farther than Christmas, even though as a child I usually associated Christmas with getting and giving gifts. But for some reason the sense of excitement and anticipation was greater at Easter – perhaps because I enjoyed the traditional food so much.
|Photo by Matthew Aron Roth|
Before the meal we always exchanged wedges of hardboiled egg and extended Easter wishes to each other – the same as we do at Christmas with a blessed wafer. The meal was quite traditional and seldom wavered from previous years. Except for the clear Barszcz sipped from china cups, the rest of dinner was served at room temperature – after church, about 1 PM. There was a ham, several varieties of kielbasa, Fish in Aspic (our aspic was a broth in which floated tiny bits of celery, onion and carrot for flavor, to which gelatin was added and poured over the fish, and then chilled until the gelatin set up).
We always had Polish Vegetable Salad which was faithfully made by my Dad every year. And on the side we always had a pale yellow, sour cream and mustard sauce to kick up the meats, plus Cwikla - a relish made of chopped beets and prepared horseradish, which definitely kicked everything up in a big way! Some years, when my Mom wasn’t looking, I would add an extra spoon full of horseradish, but somehow I always got caught because my eyes watered from the “kick”. One thing about the ham…we always got our ham from the Polish market and I particularly remember that it was a lot leaner and had a milder flavor than American brands. It was absolutely not salty in the least. My Mom always said that Polish pigs were fed potatoes which gave them that milder flavor. I don’t know how true that was but it certainly sounded plausible.
Desserts included one or two Mazurkas, a Baba, and occasionally a Polish Cheese Cake. Our book contains recipes for most of the traditional foods, tested and adjusted for modern kitchen techniques. If you get a copy you’ll be all set for next year.
Here is a Baba recipe that we particularly like because of the rum that flavors the icing.
1/3 cup margarine, melted
¾ cup sugar
1½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons milk
1 grated orange rind
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
¼ cup orange juice (no pulp)
¼ cup white rum
Batter – Place all the ingredients in a bowl and beat with a mixer for 5 minutes at medium speed. Bake in a well-buttered 8-inch fluted ring pan at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
Icing – Add the sugar to the water in a heavy pan and cook until it becomes a heavy syrup. Add the orange juice and rum.
Remove the warm cake from the pan onto a serving plate and immediately pout the icing slowly over the top, letting it drip down the sides at will. Cool thoroughly before cutting.