2008 Easter edition
By Robert Strybel, "The Polish Answer Man"
2008 Easter edition
Swiecone: Easter breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner…..
THE POLISH CHEF By Robert Strybel
ul. Kaniowska 24, 01-529
Swiecone (hallowfare, blessed stuff) is what the food blessed in Church on Holy Saturday is called. It is enjoyed after Mass on Easter Sunday and throughout the rest of the day as well. In Polonia, the meal has been variously referred to as Polish Easter breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. But whatever it’s called, the feasting always begins with the:
SHARING OF BLESSED EGGS (dzielenie sie jajkiem): After grace has been said, but before the Easter meal begins, all present share wedges of blessed hard-cooked eggs. Either the host goes around with a plate of quartered eggs, sprinkled with blessed salt & pepper, which each guest impales on a fork. Or, the plate can be passed round the table from guest to guest. All wait with their fork-impaled egg wedge in hand until everyone has their portion and then–amid mutual wishes of “Wesolego Alleluja”, “Wesolych Swiat” and “Wszystkiego najlepszego” (all the best)–everybody consumes their egg wedge at roughly the same time.
WHITE EASTER BARZSCZ (bialy barszcz wielkanocny): In pot combine 1 lb fresh (uncooked) kielbasa, 1 quartered onion, 1 bay leaf and water to cover. Cook at a gentle rolling boiling 1 hr. Remove sausage. Strain liquid. If it is on the greasy side, cool to room temp and refrigerate overnight, so congealed fat can easily be removed and discarded. Heat liquid, add 1-2 c (home-made [see below] or store-bought) ryemeal sour (or to taste), add enough water to make 7-8 c and bring to boil. Remove pot from flame. Fork-blend 1 heaping T flour with 1 c sour cream until smooth. Add about 1 c hot soup to flour-cream mixture, a spoonful at a time, whisking vigorously and stir into soup. Simmer several min longer. Provide: sliced hard-cooked eggs, diced ham, cubed farmer cheese and prepared horseradish for guests to add to their soup. Serve with rye bread.
ZUREK WIELKANOCNY (Easter ryemeal soup): This is similar to the white barszcz (above) but is uncreamed. Cook 1 lb pork ribs with soup vegetables (1 carrot, 1 parsley root, 1 stalk celery & 1 onion), a bayleaf, 2 t salt and several peppercorns in 6 c water until tender. Remover meat from bones and use in bigos (below). To 4 c strained stock add 2 c ryemeal sour, stir in a slightly heaped T flour and simmer 5 min. Add 1 c diced cooked ham and skinned smoked kielbasa, 1 bud crushed garlic and a heaping T prepared horseradish, 1 T marjoram and salt & pepper to taste. Let stand covered 5 min for flavors to blend. Pour over quartered hard-cooked eggs in bowls. Like bialy barszcz, zurek can also be made with the water in which fresh kielbasa was boiled.
RYEMEAL SOUR (zakwas na zur): In qt jar place 2 slices or several crusts of rye bread, 2 heaping T rolled oats, 1-2 buds garlic, sliced, and 1 bayleaf, drench with 3 c warm, pre-boiled water and let stand in warm place 3 days or until pleasantly tart. Strain mixture and use in bialy barszcz and zurek above. Note: Bottled zurek (ryemeal sour) is available at Polish delis. In a pinch, the above soups may be soured with citric acid crystals or vinegar, but be sure to add more water to make up for the missing liquid rye sour.
HARD-COOKED EGGS (jaja na twardo): Place as many room-temp eggs as needed (allowing 1-2 per person) in pot and fill with cold water to cover by at least 1”. Add a T or so salt. Remove and discard any egg which does not touch the bottom of water-filled pot. It is floats up, it is not very fresh. Bring water to boil and immediately reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook 10-12 min (depending on size of eggs). Cool immediately in cold water. Remove shells when cool. Serve whole or halved, drenched with sauce or plain with sauces, horseradish and cwikla provided on the side
CREAMY HORSERADISH SAUCE (sos chrzanowy ze Smietana): Combine 1 c sour cream with 1 heaping T prepared horseradish. Season to taste with salt, sugar and lemon juice or vinegar. Variation: Fork-blend 1/2 c prepared horseradish with 1/2 c heavy cream. Season to taste with salt, sugar and lemon juice or vinegar.
POLISH EASTER SAUCE (sos do Swieconego): 1) combine 1 c sour cream with 3 ground hard-cooked eggs, 3T chives and 1 T dill–both chopped fine, 1-3 T horseradish, juice of 1/2 a lemon and salt and a bit of sugar to taste. Mix well and serve with hard-cooked eggs and cold meats. 2) Fork-blend 1/2 c dairy sour cream with 1/2 c mayonnaise, add 1 - 2 chopped hard-cooked eggs and 1/2 - 3/4 c mixed finely chopped dill pickle, green onion, pickled mushroom and radish. Stir in 1 heaping t to 1 T prepared horseradish and season to taste with salt, sugar and lemon juice or vinegar. Great with hard-cooked eggs, cold meats, jellied pig’s feet, pickled herring, etc.
BEET & HORSERADISH RELISH (cwikla z chrzanem): The easiest way to prepare this Polish Easter classic is to drain a can of beets or pickled beets (reserving liquid for some other use). Dice, grate coarsely or slice thin (preferably on slicer blade of hand-held grater). Stir in about 1 heaping T prepared horseradish per 1 c beets, toss to blend and refrigerate covered until needed. Optional: The cwikla may be seasoned with salt & pepper, a little caraway seed, lemon juice or vinegar and a pinch or 2 sugar. Variation: For a mellower, rounded taste, stir in some apple sauce.
MIXED VEGETABLE SALAD (salatka jarzynowa): In salad bowl combine 3-4 c cold, cooked, diced potatoes, 2 12-14 oz cans drained peas & carrots, 2 cans drained navy beans, 4 diced dill pickles, 1 bunch chopped green onions, 1 bunch diced radishes, 2 - 3 peeled, cored, diced apples and 4 - 6 diced hard-cooked eggs. Toss ingredients gently, season with salt & pepper and garnish with 3 T chopped fresh parsley. Lace with just enough sauce to thinly coat ingredients. For 1 c, fork-blend 1/2 sour cream, 1/2 c mayonnaise and 1 slightly heaped t sharp brown mustard. Season to taste with a little salt, pepper, sugar and lemon juice or vinegar.
fine, and 1-2 peeled cooking apples, diced fine Toss ingredients and lace with mayonnaise.
JELLIED PIG’S FEET (galareta z nozek wieprzowych): Singe 6 split pig’s feet (pork trotters) over flame to remove any remaining bristle. Wash well, place in pot, cover with cold water and bring to boil. Simmer several min, then pour off water. Add fresh cold water to cover (2-1/2 qts, more or less) and 1 T salt, bring to boil once again and reduce heat. Skim off any scum that collects on surface. Cook on low heat 1 hr. Add 8 peppercorns, 1 bay leaf and 1 portion soup greens and cook another hr or until meat falls away from bone. When meat is nearly ready, add 2 - 3 buds crushed garlic. Remove pork feet. Drain stock, discarding vegetables and spices, but retaining carrot. Remove meat from bones, discard bones, dice meat and transfer meat to glass or crockery pans with sliced carrot and drench with stock Chill in fridge until set. Before turning out, scrape off and discard the congealed fat from top. Provide cruets of vinegar, lemon juice, a 50-50 vinegar-lemon juice mixture, prepared horseradish or Easter sauce on the side.
HERRING IN EASTER SAUCE (Sledzie w sosie wielkanocnym): Drain a jar of marinated herring, discarding onions and spices. Plunge into pot of cold water briefly and drain well. Arrange on platter and drench with Polish Easter sauce (above).
HOME-MADE KIELBASA (kielbasa domowa): Dice or grind coarsely 4.5 lbs pork butts into 1/2” cubes. Sprinkle 1 lb raw hamburger or ground round with 2.5 T salt, 3/4 t freshly ground black pepper, 2 t marjoram and 3-4 buds finely minced garlic. Work seasoning into ground meat, then combine with pork. Work by hand, gradually adding 1/2 - 3/4 c cold water until fully absorbed. Refrigerate in a 1-1/2 inch layer in a wide pan covered over night. Stuff hog casings with mixture, twisting into 12” - 13” links and tying them with white twine. Cook as below.
BOILED FRESH KIELBASA (biala kielbasa gotowana): Place 3 lbs fresh kielbasa in pot of cold water which should cover it by at least 1”. Add 1 bay leaf and 1 large quartered onion and cook on low to a gentle boil. Simmer on low covered 30-40 min from the time boiling starts. Let stand in hot liquid another 10 min before serving. Pork must be fully cooked so make sure it is no longer pink inside.
BAKED FRESH KIELBASA (biala kielbasa pieczona): Arrange 3 lbs fresh kielbasa in a single layer in baking pan. Add cold water to just cover sausage and bake in 350° oven until the water disappears. Turn sausage on the other side when half the water has evaporated.
OLD POLISH BAKED KIELBASA (kielbasa po staropolsku): Place 3 lbs fresh kielbasa in single layer in baking pan. Drench with 2 c beer and enough water to barely cover the sausage. Bake in pre-heated 375° oven 30 min. Smother with 4 thinly sliced onions, sprinkle with caraway seeds and bake another 30 min. Cut into 4 to 5-inch portions and serve.
KIELBASA & SAUERKRAUT (kielbasa z kapusta): Drain 2 qts sauerkraut and rinse in cold water. Drain again, press out moisture, chop coarsely, place in pot, scald with boiling water to cover, add 1 bay leaf, 1 mushroom bouillon cube and cook uncovered 60 min. Drain and transfer to baking pan. Place 2-3 lbs fresh or smoked kielbasa in the sauerkraut and bake covered in 350° oven 90 min or so. Dissolve 1 -2 T flour in 1 c pan liquid and stir into sauerkraut. Leave in oven 30 min after switching off heat. Cut sausage into 2” or 3” and serve mixed mix with the sauerkraut.
POLISH HUNTER’S STEW (bigos): Soak 1-2 oz dried boletus mushrooms in hot water 1 hr and cook until tender. Chop and return to liquid. Drain well 1 liter sauerkraut (preferably imported from
RYE-BREAD-BAKED HAM (szynka pieczona w ciescie): This is an Old Polish recipe that keeps the ham tender and juicy. Soak a 4.5 - 5 lb traditionally cured and smoked ham in cold water 12 hrs, changing water twice. Scald with boiling water and dry. Separately combine 3 c rye flour with 1 egg white and just enough water to get a pierogi-dough consistency. Work to blend ingredients and roll out and divide into 2 dough sheets. Tightly cover the ham with dough pinching edges together to seal. Place on floured baking sheet and pop into preheated 400° oven. After 10 min reduce heat to 350° and bake 20 min per lb. After baking. remove and discard bread crust, slice and serve ham.
OLD POLISH ROAST CHICKEN (kaplon po staropolsku): Rub and pat dry 3-4 lb broiler or roaster (chicken) insides and out with salt & pepper and let stand covered at room temp 1 hr. Wash Meanwhile, place up 2-3 c crumbled stale chalka (braided egg-bread), babka, or plain coffee cake in bowl. (The exact amount depends on the size of your fowl, but the general rule of thumb is to allow 3/4 c stuffing per lb of chicken’s raw weight.) Drench with milk to cover. When soggy, add 2 lightly beaten raw egg yolks, 1/3 c raisins (rinsed and drained), 2-3 raw chicken livers, ground, and 2 T soft butter and mix well with hand. Mixture should be moist and soggy, but if it appears too wet, stir in 1 T or so bread crumbs. Fold in 2 egg whites beaten until stiff. Season with salt & pepper to taste and several gratings of nutmeg. Fill chicken with dressing, sew up openings and fasten wings and legs close to body with skewers or by tying. Rub all over with 2 T butter or oil, place on rack in roasting pan and sear in 450° oven 15 min. Add 1 c boiling water to pan, reduce heat to 350° and bake about 2 hr or until tender, basting occasionally (every 10-15 min) with pan drippings. Provide lingonberry (“borowki do miesa”) or cranberry sauce (“zurawina”) – available at Polish delis.
ROAST DUCK WITH PRUNES (kaczka pieczona ze sliwkami): Preheat oven to 475°. Rub a well-rinsed, dried 4-5 lb duck with salt, pepper, marjoram and 2 buds mashed garlic. Place on rack in covered roasting pan and let stand at room temp 1 hr. Fill cavity with peeled apple quarters– as many as will fit – and sew up. Return to pan and pop into oven. After 15 min reduce heat to 350°. Sprinkle duck with about 1/2 c water and then baste occasionally with pan drippings. After 1 hr add 1 c pitted prunes to drippings and bake another 45 - 60 min or until fork-tender. Lingonberry or cranberry sauce nicely complement roast duck.
ROAST PORK LOIN (schab pieczony): Mince and mash 2-3 cloves garlic into a paste with 1 t salt and rub into 3 lb boneless pork loin. Place in roasting pan, cover and let stand at room temp 2 hrs. Remove loin, dust with flour (through sieve) and brown in hot fat on all sides to seal in juices. Place in loin in roaster fat side up on rack and sprinkle with caraway seeds, pepper and marjoram. Roast uncovered at 450° 15 min, then reduce heat to 350°. Add 1 c water to pan and baste occasionally with drippings that form. Roast about 90 min or until liquid that comes out of meat when pricked is white, not pinkish. Remove from oven and cool to room temp. Refrigerate over night and slice cold.
SMALL EASTER BABKA (mala babka wielkanocna): Dissolve 1 packet active dry yeast in 1/2 warm coffee cream. Stir in 2-1/2 T sugar and 1 cup flour mix well and let stand in warm place until doubled. Stir in 3 T sugar, 1 c flour, 3 beaten eggs, 1 t grated lemon zest, 1/2 vanilla extract and 1 T melted butter. Work ingredients into a dough by hand and knead until smooth and elastic (8-10 min) or have a dough-hook mixer do the job. Knead 1/4 c raisins into dough. Transfer to greased, floured fluted babka, brioche or Bundt pan, which should be no more than 1/3 full, cover with tea towel and let stand in warm place until doubled in bulk. Bake in preheated 350° oven about 40 min. When cool remove from pan and glaze with icing made by fork-blend 1/2 confectioner’s sugar with 1 T lemon juice or Amaretto (almond liqueur).
EASTER BABKA (babka wielkanocna): In large bowl, cream 3/4 c soft butter and 1/2 c sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add 10 egg yolks, one at a time, beating until pale and fluffy. Dissolve 2 packets dry yeast in 1/4 c warm water and combine with egg mixture. Beat in 1c room-temp milk, 1 t grated lemon zest, 1 t grated orange zest, 1 t vanilla extract and 1 t salt. Gradually beat in 5-1/2 c flour until a soft dough forms. Turn out on lightly floured bread-board and knead, until smooth and elastic (app. 8-10 min). Work in 1 c raisins. Transfer dough to greased bowl, grease top and let stand in warm place until doubled in bulk (app. 1 hr). Punch down, divide in half. Place in 2 greased and floured babka (Bundt or brioche) pans, let rise until doubled. Bake in preheated 350° F oven 30 min, or until nicely browned. Test for doneness with wooden pick. When cooled, drizzle with glaze: combine 2 c confectioner’s sugar, 1 t lemon juice and a little hot water to get a pourable consistency.
BABKA, BAKING-POWDER-RAISED (babka na proszku): Cream 1 c + 1 T butter or margarine with 1-1/4 c sugar. Continue beating while gradually adding 4 eggs, alternately with 1-1/2 c flour mixed with 3 t baking powder. Add a pinch of salt, 1/2 c raisins and several drops of flavoring extract of choice: rum, almond, vanilla or lemon. (Variation: 1/4 - 1/2 t cinnamon may be used in place of flavoring extracts.) Mix well, transfer dough to greased, flour-sprinkled babka pan and bake at 350° about 1 hr. Glaze with icing as above or dust with confectioner’s sugar.
POLISH LOG CAKE (sekacz, dziad): Beat 1 slightly heaped c unsalted butter with 1-1/8 c sugar until fluffy (app. 5 min). Add 7 egg yolks 1 at a time, beating until fully absorbed before adding the next, and beat until fluffy and lemony. Stir in 2 t vanilla extract. Separately, combine 1-1/8 c instant flour, 3/4 c potato starch and 2 t baking powder and stir into egg mixture. Beat 7 egg whites until they peak and carefully fold into batter. Heat overhead broiler in oven. Grease a tube pan and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Ladle some batter into the pan to cover bottom and place under broiler 2 min or until golden brown. Ladle in another portion of batter and repeat process. Keep repeating until all batter is used up. Check for doneness with wooden pick. If it does not come out clean, bake in hot oven a while longer.
CHEESECAKE (sernik): Sift 1-1/2 c flour onto board and cut in 1/4 lb cold butter. Beat 4 eggs with 4 T confectioner’s sugar and add to flour mixture. Sprinkle with 2 T milk and 2 t baking powder, quickly work ingredients into a dough and chill in fridge 30 min. Meanwhile grind or process 1-1/2 lbs farmer cheese and blend together with 2 med cold, well-mashed potatoes. Cream 3/4 c butter with 1 c confectioner’s sugar. Add 1 t vanilla extract, continue beating, gradually adding 5 egg yolks and cheese mixture a little at a time. When fully blended, sprinkle with 3 T potato starch, add 1 c plumped raisins and 2 T finely chopped candied orange rind. Mix ingredients and fold in 3 stiffly beaten eggs whites. Roll out 2/3 of the dough 1/4 inch thick to fit lightly greased pan. Top with cheese filling and smooth the top. Roll remaining dough into pencil-thick strands and form latticework on top of cheese. Brush top with beaten egg and bake in preheated 350° oven about 50 min.
EGG-YOLK MAZURKA (mazurek z gotowanych zoltek): Cook 6 egg yolks in a little boiling water to cover until fully cooked (about 12 min) and cool in cold running water. When cool, mash very fine or force through sieve. Combine with 1 confectioner’s sugar, 1 c blanched ground almonds and scant 1/2 c flour, mixing well until mixture is uniform. Fold in 6 beaten egg whites. Transfer to baking pan lined with baking paper and bake about 20 min in pre-heated 360° oven. Cut cake in 1/2, spread one half with powidla (Polish plum butter) or thick apricot jam and cover with the other cake half, pressing down gently. When cool, spread with home-made or store-bought white or chocolate icing of choice.
ALMOND MAZURKA (mazurek migdalowy): Cream 3-1/2 sticks unsalted butter with 2/3 c confectioner's sugar until fluffy. Gradually stir in 2-1/3 c flour, 4 cold, ground, hard-cooked egg yolks (cooked chopped whites can be added to the salad above), 1 c ground, blanched almonds, 1 beaten raw egg and 1/8 t salt. Work ingredients into a dough by hand and chill in refrigerator 30 min. Only lightly floured board roll out into a rectangle no more than 3/4 inch high. Use flat of knife to even out the sides. Transfer to lightly greased cookie sheet and bake in preheated 375° 40-45 min. or until a nice golden hue is obtained. When cooled slightly, glaze top and sides with home-made or store-bought chocolate icing. Optional: decorate top with almond halves.
MAZURKA, WAFER-TYPE (mazurek na waflu): Get 4 plain, large, square or rectangular wafers at a pastry-supply, gourmet, specialty or European import shop. Place 1 wafer on cutting board, spread thinly with apricot or cherry jam, cover with another wafer, press down gently and spread with canned chocolate of white frosting, cover with another wafer, spread it with jam and cover with a 4th wafer. Cover with clean dish towel, weight down with a heavy book and refrigerate over night. Just before serving spread top and sides with frosting and sprinkle top generously with ground walnuts. Cut into squares and serve. Note: This mazurka can also be prepared with large sheets of oplatek (white Christmas wafer).
EASTER CHEESE DESSERT (pascha): Sieve 2-1/4 lbs full-cream (not low-fat!) farmer cheese. Separately cream 5 egg yolks with 1-1/4 c sugar, stir in 1 c coffee cream. Stirring constantly, heat mixture nearly to boiling point, but do not boil. Remove from flame, stir in the cheese, 1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter, 3/4 c plumped raisins, 1/2 c chopped blanched almonds, 1 t grated orange rind and 1 t vanilla. Mix well and place mixture on cheese cloth. Tie cheese cloth into a ball and hang it up to drip-dry, twisting ball to extract moisture. When no more moisture can be extracted, refrigerate in cheese cloth over night. Remove cheese cloth and decorate pascha with chopped candied orange rind, slivered almonds and raisins.
Alphabetical Easter Edition
D i d Y o u K n o w T h a t . . . . ?
(Compiled by Robert Strybel, Polish/Polonian Affairs Writer)
Little lexicon of Polish Easter treats
Compiled by Robert Strybel, The Polish Chef
Polish Easter greetings
Compiled by Robert Strybel, Polish/Polonian Affairs writer
* All the greetings marked with an asterisk (*) can be followed by “zyczy” (if one person or a family is doing the wishing) or “zycza” (if more than one are involved).
EXAMPLE: Wesolego Alleluja or Radosnych i pogodnych Swiat Wielkanocnych zyczy Wujek Adam or Rodzina Kowalskich (Wishing you a Happy Easter or Joyous and pleasant Easter Holidays – Uncle Adam or the Kowalskis); Wesolych Swiat Wielkanocnych zycza Marysia i Janek or kochajace dzieci. (Wishing you Happy Easter Holidays – Mary and Johnny or Your Loving Children.)l
** All the asterisked greetings may be prefaced with “Najserdeczniejsze zyczenia” and followed by the name of the sender after: zasyla (singular) or zasylaja (plural).
EXAMPLE: Najserdeczniejsze zyczenia Wesolych Swiat Wielkanocnych oraz obfitych lask Bozych zasylaja Babcia i Dziadzius z Helenka. (Heartfelt wishes for a Happy Easter and God’s abundant blessings from Granny, Grandpa and Helen.)
Food blessing – the Poles’ most popular Easter custom
By Robert Strybel, Polish/Polonian Affairs Writer
The Polish Holy Saturday food-blessing custom is one of the Polish people’s two most popular traditions holiday, the other being the sharing of oplatek on Christmas Eve. Despite the catastrophes, tragedies and changes
Needless to say, the food-blessing custom known as Swiecenie pokarmow has been taken by Polish émigrés to the far corners of the globe. Since it is both symbolic, colorful and generally appealing, it has also caught on with people non-Polish background who have been exposed to it.
Easter fare is usually brought to church in a wicker basket. In rural areas, larger baskets are common. In cities, smaller baskets with only a small sampling of the food are more typical. The Swieconka (as the Easter food basket is known) is lined with a linen napkin whose ends should extend beyond the basket’s rim, so the Easter food can be covered while the basket is being carried to and from church. Here is what a typical Swieconka contains:
The priest’s Easter-food blessing goes something like this:
Panie Jezu Chryste, Ty w dzien przed meka i Smiercia kazales uczniom przygotowac paschalna wieczerze, prosimy Cie, daj nam z wiara przezywac Twoja obecnosc miedzy nami podczas Swiatecznego posilku, abysy mogli sie radowac z udzialu w Twoim Zmartwychwstaniu.
Chlebie Zywy, poblogoslaw ten chleb i wszelkie swiateczne pieczywo na pamiatke chleba, ktorym nakarmiles lud na pustkowiu. Baranku Bozy, poblogoslaw to mieso, wedliny i wszelkie pokarmy, ktore spozywac bedziemy na pamiatke Baranka Paschalnego. Pobogoslaw takze nasza sol, aby chronila nas od zepsucia.
Chryste, Zycie i Zmartwychwstanie nasze, poblogoslaw te jajka, znak nowego zycia, abysmy doszli do wiecznej uczty Twojej tam, gdzie Ty zyjesz i krolujesz na wieki wiekow. Amen.
(Lord Jesus Christ, who the day before your passion and death, told your disciples to prepare the paschal supper, we implore You to let us in faith experience your presence amongst us during the festive repast that we might rejoice at taking part in Your Resurrection.
Living Bread, bless this bread and all holiday baked goods in memory of the bread with which You fed the people in the desert. Lamb of God, bless this meat and all the food we shall consume in memory of the Paschal Lamb. Bless also our salt that it may protect us from corruption.
Lord Jesus Christ, our life and Resurrection, bless these eggs, the sign of new life, so that we may attain Your eternal feast there, where you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.)
The priest now sprinkles the food with holy water, while the faithful make the Sign of the Cross when their baskets get sprinkled. The ceremony ends with the priest extending cordial Easter wishes to his parishioners.
Yesteryear’s Polish Easter
By Robert Strybel, Polish/Polonian Affairs Writer
Many Polish Americans still take their food baskets to be blessed in church on Holy Saturday, share blessed-egg wedges at Easter brunch and enjoy the ham, kielbasa and horseradish as well as the babkas and mazurkas of yesteryear. Some even attend the sunrise Mass of Resurrection (Rezurekcja) at a Polish parish and sing “Wesoly nam dzien dzis nastal”. In general, however, there is a vast difference between the Easter observed in today’s
The vast majority of our peasant ancestors lived in rural hamlets and tried to eke out a meager existence from their small plots of land. The Polish peasant was tied to the soil and to his Catholic faith, and the two were inextricably intertwined. His work was defined by the changing seasons, and his religion fit into the overall scheme of things with its cyclical feasts and rituals.
Proverbs said to predict the weather–something all-important to an agrarian society–reflected the interconnection between religious feasts and the coming harvest. “Gdy w Popielec pogoda sluzy, sucha wiosne wrozy” (When Ash Wednesday’s weather is fair, of a dry spring beware), one proverb advised. Another went: “Kto w Wielki Piatek sieje, ten sie w zniwa smieje” (Who on Good Friday goes out to sow, at harvest time will smile and glow).
One might think that Good Friday was too somber a day for field work, but in fact farm work, Easter cooking and house-cleaning went on undisturbed until . Only then did householders begin preparing for the solemn Good Friday services commemorating the Passion and Death of Jesus at their parish church. There they would hear the familiar, but always moving account of Christ’s ordeal, sing haunting Lenten hymns such as “Ludu moj ludu” and go to confession if they hadn’t already done so. Body, home and soul had to be fresh, clean and tidy for the Great Feast.
As Lent gradually drew to a close, both the spiritual experience and physical preparations grew more intense. Frequent church attendance and severe fasting were widespread, and the most devout traveled to pilgrimage centers known for their realistic Passion Plays. These were regarded as mystical experiences, not entertainment. There was also back-breaking spring cleaning, done only with scrub-brushes and twig brooms, as well as butchering, cooking and baking, the hand-crafting of Palm Sunday “palms”, the painting of Easter eggs and the preparation of fresh paper cut-outs and mobiles to decorate the home.
Tableaux of Christ’s Tomb were set up in churches. A figure of a lifeless, reposing Christ was placed in something meant to resemble a grotto or tomb, surrounded by votive lamps, flowers and greenery. Special honor guards took turns watching over the Holy Sepulcher, where the faithful came to pray on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Both Holy Thursday and Good Friday were a time to color Easter eggs, an activity once reserved exclusively for teenage girls and young married women.
The best-known and most popular Holy Saturday custom was and remains the blessing of Easter food known as Swiecone (the blessed stuff). The typical Swieconka (Easter basket) contained a sampling of the food that would be consumed after Easter Sunday Mass at a festive family breakfast. Many youngsters could not wait to sink their teeth into that mouth-watering Easter fare but the Lenten fast would last until after Easter Morning Mass. They also staged a mock funeral for a pot of the sour gruel or zur and herring bones to express their distaste at these monotonous Lenten staples. Popular folk ditties indicated how greatly people looked forward to the rich Easter foods they would soon enjoy. One went: “Jedzie Jezus jedzie, weŸmie zur i Sledzie, kielbase nam zostawi i poblogoslawi.” (Jesus is a-coming, He’ll take the zur and herring; sausage he will leave us His blessing give us).
That long-awaited Easter morning finally arrived and the celebration began Rezurekcja, the special sunrise Mass of Resurrection, which usually began around . It was said that any able-bodied individual who failed to attend did not deserve to partake of the festive Easter breakfast. First a procession encircled the outside of the church three times before the actual Mass got under way. Little girls strewed flower petals before the approaching Blessed Sacrament, borne by the priest processing beneath a canopy. Altar boys jangled bells and perfumed the early-morning air with that other-worldly scent of incense, as the faithful followed in behind singing their hearts out: “Nie zna Smierci Pan zywota” and “Otrzyjcie juz lzy, placzacy”. Church bells, which had fallen silent on Holy Thursday, now rang out joyously, and the sounds gunshots and detonations could be heard in the neighborhood – a commemoration of the rumbling believed the have accompanied the opening of Christ’s tomb.
Their souls were now in a state of sanctifying grace, but their bodies were starved after six weeks of rigorous fasting, so after Mass the faithful headed home in eager anticipation of all those delicious Easter treats. The breakfast began with grace and the sharing of wedges of blessed Easter eggs, accompanied by mutual well-wishing. There was a tart ryemeal soup known as zurek, hard-cooked eggs aplenty, and a variety of roasts, hams, loins, sausages, bacon, head cheese, black pudding (kaszanka or kiszka) and jellied pig’s trotters and various nalewki (home-made cordials) to add zest to the feast. Following in behind were those superb babkas, placeks, mazurkas and cheesecakes.
Youngsters amused themselves with a game called walatka. A participant held an Easter egg and tapped it against that of a rival to see whose would be the first to crack. The one whose egg remained intact won and got the defeated player’s egg as his prize. Another contest was the egg roll: Easter eggs were placed at the top of an inclined plank or a small hill and released. The one whose egg rolled the farthest was the winner.
Easter did not end the following Monday which was and continues to be a national holiday. That was the day boys were on the prowl for unsuspecting girls whom they would splash with as much water as possible. Every kind of bucket, jug, watering can or squirting device went into play. This was Lany Poniedzialek (Wet Monday) when the Smigus-dyngus custom was practiced.
Easter Monday was also the day Easter caroler-masqueraders would start their house-to-house trick-or-treating. A stingy householder who did not cough up some treats or a few coins could expect to be doused with a bucket of water as he stood at the front door. In different parts of
To a large extent, the difference between Easter then and now is a question of active or passive participation: Are religious celebrations personally experienced or simply glimpsed on TV? Is it a home-made or a store-bought Easter? In the olden days, people not only prepared all the food themselves from scratch, but also hand-crafted decorations to adorn the home and various ritual artifacts without which the Easter season was unthinkable.
Yes, our ancestors knew how to work, raise tight-knit families, worship God and amuse themselves. They sang, joked, enjoyed the various antics of Easter trick-or-treaters and knew how to practice what is now often called “the lost art of socializing”. They may have been poorer in material terms, but spiritually and culturally weren’t they richer? Even without Home Theater, Play Station 38 and all the other hi-tech gadgetry today’s generation surrounds itself whenever it seeks entertainment or fulfillment! Maybe, just maybe we have lost something by falling into the commercial trap: “Just reach for your credit card, and we’ll do the rest!” Maybe today’s store-bought Easter is not all it’s made out to be!