Authentic Polish Easter Recipes - Origin of the Easter Basket
Biggest Feast Day of the Year
I have worked with friends of Polish descent that shared with me that Easter is the biggest feast day or holiday of the religious calender in Poland. One became very excited and told me that it was even bigger than Christmas, because on Easter Sunday, they celebrated the Resurrection of Christ, They also celebrated with Easter Eggs, so they rather combined two aspects of the holiday season without realizing it -- Oester & Easter (with the pysanky) and the Resurrection.
My friend describes 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. One set of recipes I received from friends is located at Polish Spring & Easter Recipes. Another set of these recipes is shared below.
The Origin of the Easter Basket
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. This custom is widespread throughout Eastern Europe and Ukraine, each country’s Easter Eggs having traditional patterns emblazoned upon them with colorings, 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. A great recipe for Easter Egg Soup to use up the extra eggs in a practical and delicious way is available at the link above. Food anthropologists and museum curators can detect what country is the original of the pysanky observed often by the pattern and techniques used in creating them.
Easter Saturday – In my church, the Saturday 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 services people in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In Poland, 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 already baked, Polish Easter cheese (see the link above for a recipe), 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.
Polish Easter Sunday
This is the biggest feast day of all the year for my particular friends who are Polish.
Dinner is to begin first with blessed pysanky (Easter Eggs - see 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 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, but often ham or pork, and 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 traditional Hunter’s Stew.
Easter Monday 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 guidebaba’s description of Holai Hai, the throwing of colored water on one another in the spring.
The Easter Monday Polish tradition is that friends call the day 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 Easter Basket
- Babka - The Bread of Life, decorated with a cross or a fish (a symbol for Christianity).
- Butter - Often in the shape of a lamb or cross.
- Horseradish - The Passion of Christ. This food is also used as bitter herbs on the Passover Seder plate for a Jewish holiday overlapping the Easter season.
- Pysanky - These are ornately painted eggs, often decorated with symbols of Resurrection.
- Polish Sausage - God's favor.
- Ham or Lamb - Joy and abundance. Christ was the Sacrificial Lamb for humanity.
- Smoked Bacon - Overabundance of God's mercy.
- Salt - Prosperity and justice.
- Homemade Polish Cheese - Moderation.
- 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 and later, for the dinner table - Like the covering of Christ's shroud in the tomb leant by Joseph of Arimethea.
Traditional Polish Noodles
- One bag of medium sized egg noodles, or your own homemade
- One stick of a 4-stick package of butter
- 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 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
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,
- 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 tschii). 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
- 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 whole wheat flour with the boiling water by pouring in a bit and 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.
More From Eastern European Traditions
- Polish Traditions: Spring and Easter Recipes
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- Russian Kulich and Red Easter Eggs
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© 2009 Patty Inglish