Authentic Polish Easter Recipes and the Origin of the Easter Basket
Easter: The Biggest Feast Day of the Year in Poland
Some of my friends of Polish descent shared with me that Easter is the biggest feast day or holiday of the religious calendar in Poland. One even told me that it was even bigger than Christmas, because on Easter Sunday, they also celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.
Below I've shared recipes for traditional Polish noodles (haluski); a dish with cucumbers, dill, and sour cream (mizeria); and white borscht (zur), as well as some information on Polish Easter traditions and the symbolism of the Polish Easter basket.
I hope you enjoy learning about these wonderful traditions!
Traditional Polish Noodles (Haluski)
- One bag of medium-sized egg noodles, or your own homemade
- One stick of butter (4 oz)
- 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced fine
- 1 large sweet onion, chopped coarse
- 1 large head of cabbage, shredded
- Caraway seed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Sauté the raw noodles in melted butter in a hot frying pan until light brown and remove pan from heat.
- In a pot, place garlic and onions and stir over medium heat; add the shredded cabbage and continue to stir.
- As the onion and cabbage wilt, add 1 tbsp of caraway seed and salt and pepper; stir.
- Remove pot from heat and drain cabbage water from the noodles.
- Pour the cabbage mixture over the noodles in the frying pan and return the pan to medium heat and stir to heat throughout.
- Add 2 cups sour cream, stir slightly and serve.
- Serve with a dark bread, such as dark rye or pumpernickel, and butter.
For a nice variation, you can take one pound of Polish sausage, slice it into pieces, and add to the pot with the garlic and onions to heat through before adding the cabbage. This is also delicious. Or, you can cook larger pieces of the sausage separately and serve alongside the cabbage dish.
Cucumbers, Sour Cream & Dill (Mizeria)
A good friend in Mid-Michigan taught me how to make this dish, telling me each time that it was Polish. As it turns out, other Polish friends confirmed that fact. I love cucumbers prepared in this way.
- 2-3 cucumbers sliced thin, peeled, not peeled, or stripe-peeled
- Black or white pepper
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tablespoon dill
- Wash, then peel and slice 2 or 3 of cucumbers rather thinly. Some cooks leave the peel on about half of the slices, so you can cut the cucumber in half crosswise and peel only one half of it, if you wish.
- Sprinkle the slices with salt in a bowl and set aside to stand for 10 minutes in order to extract some of the liquid from the vegetable. Some people let the slices sit covered in a bowl overnight and then pour off the water.
- Add black pepper to taste, if you like pepper. White pepper is sometimes substituted.
For 2-3 cucumbers, mix 1 cup sour cream with the juice of 1 lemon, 1 tsp of sugar, and a tablespoon of dill.
- Mix the sour cream mixture with the cucumber slices and store in a cool place 30 minutes to meld flavors and serve.
White Borscht Zur
This is a Polish recipe based on a sour white borscht (cabbage soup also called tschi). Red borscht is cabbage soup that has beets added to it. This is borscht without beets. In this recipe, if you want a more sour taste, use more Zur-starter mixture in the soup.
- Boiling water
- Whole wheat flour
- Lukewarm water
- A large glass jar – like a pickle jar – and some cheesecloth or gauze
- Vegetable stock
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
- 4 potatoes – peeled and cubed in bite-sized cubes
- Salt and white pepper to taste
- For the Zur starter: In a large bowl, scald the whole wheat flour with the boiling water by pouring in a bit at a time and stirring until you have a THIN dough. Do not let it become very thick.
- Set the dough aside to cool to room temperature.
- Add 3.5 cups (28 ounces) of lukewarm water into the dough and then add the top crust from a whole wheat bread slice into it.
- Take the whole bowl and pour its contents into a glass jar. Cover and tie the jar top with cheesecloth or gauze and leave it in a warm place for 3 days (similar to the technique for sourdough).
- For the soup: Heat 3.5 cups of vegetable stock over medium heat in a soup pot and then pour in 1.5 cups of Zur and stir through. Do not strain this soup, but leave it thick.
- Next, add the crushed garlic clove and potatoes and simmer.
- As the potatoes become soft, season the soup to taste and serve with dark bread.
Easter Weekend Day-by-Day
Plus the origin of the Easter basket
Easter is the biggest holiday of the year in Poland.
One of my friends described a three- to four-day feast and celebration in which the participants were very happy and looking forward to a successful new year after Easter Sunday. It sounded to me like New Year's and an entrance to Heaven all at once, with plenty of good traditional, home-crafted food.
They also celebrate with Easter Eggs (which are called pysanky in Polish), so they rather combine two aspects of the holiday season without realizing it — Easter (with the pysanky) and the Resurrection.
Below you'll find more details about this Polish holiday day-by-day.
A special tradition is saved for the night of Good Friday. Hard-boiled eggs are colored and hand decorated intricately to make a large number of Polish Easter Eggs or pysanky (also spelled "pisanki" and "pisankii" in English).
This creative egg art custom is widespread throughout Eastern Europe and Ukraine (писанка and plural, писанки), and each country’s Easter Eggs has traditional patterns emblazoned upon them with coloring, hot wax, a special pen, and a steady hand.
Families love to do this activity together and honor it as an expression of newness and rebirth in the cycle of life on Earth. There is also a great Easter Egg Soup recipe to use up the extra eggs in a practical and delicious way. Food anthropologists and museum curators can detect what country the painted egg is from by pattern and the techniques used in creating it.
Saturday Before Easter
In my church, the Saturday before Easter was a day for nothing special, except for the years in which portions of the congregation and/or staff would hold a 24-hour prayer vigil at the church for Resurrection Day and for the armed service people in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In Poland, however, it's on Saturday that large baskets cherished by the families would be loaded with the ingredients to be used at Sunday Dinner. These baskets were filled with the beautiful, hand-decorated pysanky, fresh beets, butter, horseradish, breads, babkas that were already baked, Polish Easter cheese, other vegetables, hams, lamb meat, fowl, veal, salt and other spices and herbs, and Polish sausage.
Whatever was to be prepared was placed into these Easter baskets to be taken to the local churches for the priests to bless. This may be where the tradition of the Easter Basket full of candy eggs and jelly beans originated.
This is the biggest feast day of the year for my friends who are Polish.
Dinner is to begin first with blessed pysanky (see the Easter eggs in the photo above) as members of the dining table share special greetings for success, good health, and joy in the coming year. This is done before sitting down to the table. After the sharing of the pysanky, the Sunday dinner table is set with the very best that the household has to offer in the way of family heirloom tablecloths, runners, napkins, candlesticks, and other fare.
Dinner itself is a return to meat after the fast from meats in favor of fish for the 40 days of Lent. Many kinds of meats are served at Easter Dinner, especially ham or pork, though there is often no fish. Many cabbage dishes might be included. For dessert, my friends serve hot cross buns, babka, poppy seed rolls, kolache (a pastry roll with poppy seeds and raisins), and other pastries. The leftovers from the meal are to be used in a traditional Hunter’s Stew.
Monday After Easter or Wet Monday
I have heard people speaking of Easter Monday, but without any special events attached. However, the Polish have a tradition that is a little like some Carnival traditions in South America.
My Polish friends call the Monday after Easter Smigus-Dyngus (of which I have heard but never understood). It is meant as a totally fun day after the Resurrection of Christ the Sunday before. People sprinkle water over one another for good luck and happiness in the coming year until the next Easter Week celebrations of the church. It must be a little like baptism – a baptism of fun and joy.
The Polish Easter Basket for Blessings
The Symbolism of the Items in a Polish Easter Basket
The Bread of Life
A reminder of the good will of Christ that we should have towards all things; It's often in the shape of a lamb or cross
The Passion of the Christ; this food is also used as bitter herbs on the Passover Seder plate for a Jewish holiday overlapping the Easter season
These are ornately painted eggs, often decorated with symbols of Resurrection. They symbolize the rebirth of man
Ham or Lamb
Joy and abundance — Christ was the Sacrificial Lamb for humanity
Overabundance of God's mercy
Prosperity and justice
Homemade Polish Cheese
The Lighted Candle
The Light of the World, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Individuals can spread His light
Ribbons and Greenery
Spring, renewal, and the Resurrection
Covering Linens for the Basket
Like the covering of Christ's shroud in the tomb leant by Joseph of Arimethea
More From Eastern European Traditions
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© 2009 Patty Inglish