Thursday, April 4, 2019

Easter Traditions - Polish Style

Witamy, Wesołych Świąt Wielkanocnych

Greetings and Happy Easter! 

Easter will come upon us very soon. Since Poland is mostly Catholic, Easter is as important as Christmas on the religious calendar. 

We’re in the middle of Lent right now, which began on Ash Wednesday.  It is an opportunity to empty the larder of all fats and sweets and a typical Lenten meal in Polish rural villages might be un-peeled potatoes with herring.

This year, Palm Sunday is on the 14th.   Back in the day, one week before Palm Sunday, practicing housewives in the villages would stop baking bread because of a legend that the bread they bake almost every day during the rest of the year will be spoiled.  They would resume baking during Holy Week. In some villages they didn’t begin to bake until Good Friday but in other religiously strict villages it was not permitted to bake anything at all that day. If any housewife violated this ban, the entire village would be in danger of a long drought, which could be repelled only by throwing the pots and the guilty housewife into the pond! 

On Holy Saturday, priests in Polish churches all over the world, would bless baskets of food brought by parishioners which were filled with breads, cakes, decorated eggs, horseradish, sausages, ham, salt, pepper, and tiny sugar lambs.  

On Easter Sunday, we eat!  The feast is actually a mid-day meal served at room temperature because no food smoking or cooking was permitted.   After morning church, the beautifully laid dining table is covered with colored eggs, cold meats, salads, coils of sausages, ham, and more. 

A few of the traditions we followed when Peter was growing up have since become “Americanized” but we still exchange pieces of hardboiled egg and exchange Easter wishes to each other – the same as we do at Christmas with a blessed wafer.  Our menu hasn’t changed much from the early years.  Things get serious shortly after coming home from church and we're all hungry.  After sharing the egg, we sit down and start with the clear Barszcz (beet consommé) which is served hot  "on the side" in elegant china cups.

There are always several varieties of kielbasa (always from a Polish deli) and a ham. Peter’s Mom used get her ham from a Polish deli on the assumption that Polish hams were always less salty, but these days we don’t have a Polish deli near-by, so we get a beautiful spiral sliced ham from the grocery store. Next to the ham and kielbasa, we always have a pale yellow, sour cream & mustard sauce (to kick up the meats), plus Cwikla - a relish made of chopped beets and prepared horseradish, which definitely kicks everything up in a big way and makes our tongues sing! 

Also on the table there is always a big bowl of Polish Vegetable Salad which is so easy to make and served at most of our holiday feasts.  A bag of frozen vegetables, diced potatoes, diced dill pickle, and a special dressing made from mayo, sour cream, mustard and fresh chopped dil -- all dressed on top with more dill, egg slices and maybe a few radish slices for color. Soo good!  

Desserts include one or two Mazurkas, a Baba, and occasionally a Polish cheese cake.  Our books contain the heritage recipes for all of these traditional Easter dishes, each tested and adjusted for modern kitchen techniques.  

Here is a Baba recipe that Peter likes a lot because of the rum that flavors the glaze. 

1/3 cup margarine, melted
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons milk
1 grated orange rind
½ cup raisins (optional)

1 cup sugar
½ cup water
¼ cup orange juice (no pulp)
¼ cup white rum
2 tablespoons candied orange rind, chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon orange zest (optional)

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 F° for 45 minutes. 

Glaze – Add the sugar to the water in a heavy pan and cook until it becomes a heavy syrup.  Add the orange juice and rum and stir well.
Remove the warm cake from the pan onto a serving plate and immediately pour the glaze slowly over the top, letting it drip down the sides slightly.  For a splash of color, sprinkle with bits of candied orange rind or orange zest.  Cool thoroughly before slicing. 


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