Orthodox Traditions and traditions
Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church
Rt. Reverend Archpriest Alexander Androsov, Rector
How to Put Together a Traditional Pascha (Easter) Basket
| Following The Resurrection Matins and Liturgy it is traditional among Slavic peoples to have their "Easter baskets" blessed. The gathered faithful place their baskets in a designated place in the parish hall and place lighted candles in the baskets. After the crowd has quieted down, the priest will begin the opening chant: "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." The congregation replies with Amen!", and the foods are blessed, in three different groups with three different blessings. The bread products are blessed first, then the dairy products, and finally the meat products.|
| There are traditional foods among every Slavic group: Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Ruthenian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Montenegrin, etc. Following is a list of foods commonly included in the basket. It is not necessary to include every item, nor are Pascha baskets restricted to the items listed below. The general rule is place in the basket foods from which one has abstained during the recent Great Lent and Holy Week.|
PASCHA/KULICH: Pascha and Kulich normally refer to the same thing. However, there are ethnic groups where Pascha and Kulich are quite different foods. In fact, among those groups, the Pascha becomes the bread and the Kulich becomes what will appear below as Sirets or Hrutka. Here, it will be used to refer to bread, a sweet yeast bread rich in eggs, butter and other condiments. This bread is symbolic of Christ Himself, He Who is our Bread of life. It is usually baked as a round loaf with a golden crust decorated with some symbol indicative of Christ, such as a braided cross, a lamb or something similar. Sometimes a cross of dough is placed on top, and the entire loaf rimmed with a braided plait of dough giving it a crowned effect. Sometimes the abbreviation XB is used (in Cyrillic writing - XB does NOT equal "ex bee" but "cha veh," the initials for "Christos Voskrese!" - "Christ is Risen!").
CHEESE (Hrutka or Sirets): A custard-type cheese shaped into a ball which has a rather bland but sweet taste, and is intended to indicate the moderation that Christians should have in all things. Also, creamed cheese is sometimes placed in a small dish and decorated with initials or patterns by placing peppercorns or cloves in appropriate patterns.
HAM (Shoon'-ka): The flesh meat popular among Slavs as the main dish for several reasons: a) the richness of its meat is symbolic of the great joy and abundance of Easter and b) of the richness of the joy in Christ we ought to have, and c) our freedom from the Old Law, now that all things have been made clean in Christ (as indicated to the apostle Saint Peter in the dream on the rooftop at Joppa [Acts 10:9-16]). Being freed from the Old Law and from the curse of death, which is the wage of sin, all things are now permissible to eat - and ham, the most forbidden of all the "unclean" foods is now symbolic of our total redemption. Many of the faithful will include meats like roasted veal, roast beef, and other foods prepared well ahead of time - foods which can be enjoyed without a lot of last-minute preparation. Those who have been preparing all week are already exhausted, but, being filled with joy at Our Lord's Resurrection from the dead, are looking forward to sitting down to a celebratory feast.
BUTTER (Mas'-lo): The butter is usually shaped into a figure of a lamb or of a three-barred cross and decorated in much the same fashion as the sirets (cheese) above. Butter is to remind us of the goodness of Christ that we are to demonstrate to all men by our lives in Him.
SAUSAGE (Kohl-ba'-ssi): A spicy, garlicky sausage of pork, veal, beef and other products. This is indicativeof God's favor and generosity to us sinners.
BACON (Sla-ni'-na): A piece of uncooked bacon cured with spices. This symbolizes of the lavishness and overabundance of God's mercy toward sinners.
SALT (Sol): A condiment necessary for flavor reminding Christians of our duties toward others to "flavor" the world.
EGGS (Py-san'-ky): These are highly decorated eggs with symbols and markings made with colored dyes and beeswax. Covered with extremely complicated and intricate designs, some of these eggs take a full week to complete. The word "pysanky" derives from the verb "pysat'," meaning "to write." A pysanka, then, is an egg which has been written (drawn) upon. Eggs represent the new life and Resurrection. There are some fascinating pious legends concerning the origin of these pysanky.
HORSERADISH (Hrin): Horseradish is commonly mixed with grated red beets to give this a rich, "blood red"hue. This is symbolic of the Christ's Passion which is still in the minds of the faithful, but which is now sweetened with some sugar because of the Resurrection. A bittersweet red-colored mixture which reminds us of the blood and suffering of Christ, at which great price was purchased the astonishing gift of our Redemption
WINE: In some places, it is also customary to include a bottle of wine. Poorer areas of Eastern Europe tended to ignore this element of the basket (e.g. Southern Poland, Northern Czechoslovakia, Northeastern Hungary), but American descendants are beginning to include them once again.
All the food articles are placed in a wicker basket, and a ribbon or bow is tied to the handle. A decorated candle is placed in the basket at the time of the basket blessing. A linen cover, normally quite intricately embroidered with various Resurrection themes and symbols of Christ, or simply an intricate multicolored border and the words "CHRISTOS VOSKRESE" or "CHRIST IS RISEN," is placed over the food when it is brought to the church.
It is customary to break one's Easter fast with foods blessed at this time and only then proceeding to the foods now ready on groaning tables, foods which have been in process of preparation for the past few days.
RECIPES FOR YOUR BASKET
Kulich (Sweet Bread with Raisins and Almonds)
Proof the yeast in a large bowl with 1 tsp. of the granulated sugar in 1/4 cup lukewarm water for 10 minutes, or until the mixture is foamy. While the yeast is proofing, scald the milk in a small saucepan over moderate heat, stir in the rum and saffron, and let the mixture cool to lukewarm. Add the milk mixture to the yeast mixture with the remaining half cup of granulated sugar and one cup of the flour. Blend the sponge well and let it rise in a warm place, covered with plastic wrap, for at least one hour. Stir in the butter, the whole eggs, the egg yolks, salt, raisins, almonds, and the 2 cups of the remaining flour, or enough flour to form a dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it, kneading in enough of the rest of the flour to keep it from sticking, for eight to ten minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic and has developed a sheen.
Place the dough into a buttered bowl, turn the dough to coat it all over with the butter, and let it rise, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours, or until it's doubled in bulk.
While the dough is rising, butter the inside of a 2-pound coffee can and line the sides with a sheet of wax (or parchment) paper. Cut a circle of wax (or parchment) paper and place it in the bottom of the can. Cut the paper which extends beyond the can into strips and fold them over the outside of the can. Punch down the dough and knead it 3 or 4 times, and place it in the can. Let the dough rise, covered with a kitchen towel, instead of the plastic wrap, in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour, or until it has risen to the top of the can. Bake the kulich in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake for another 30 to 35 minutes or until it sounds hollow with a thunk when tapped. Turn the kulich out carefully onto a rack, and let it cool upright, not on its side. The kulich may be prepared a day in advance and kept tightly wrapped and chilled. Holy Friday or Holy Saturday are the traditional days to prepare kulich. Kulich isn't eaten until immediately after the Resurrection service when it, along with the pascha and other foods, are the first eaten from the newly-blessed foods in the baskets.
MAKING THE GLAZE: Whisk together the sifted confectioner's sugar, lemon juice, almond extract, and 2 teaspoons of water (or enough to make a pourable glaze) in a bowl. Set the kulich on a plate and drizzle the glaze over it, letting the glaze drip down the sides. Let the kulich stand until the glaze has hardened and then transfer it to a serving plate.
Pascha (Russian Easter Cheese)
Beat the whole eggs and the yolk together with the sugar in a bowl until the mixture is thick and pale yellow in color. Scald and add the cream in a thin stream, beating constantly, and transfer the custard to a heavy saucepan. Cook the custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until it's thickened (175 degrees or so on a candy thermometer). Do not let this boil! Strain the custard through a fine sieve or cheesecloth into a metal bowl set in a larger bowl of ice and cold water, and let the custard cool, stirring occasionally.
While the custard is cooling, in another bowl cream the butter, gradually add the cheese, beating constantly, then beat the mixture at moderate speed for five more minutes. Beat in the custard, vanilla, orange zest, almonds, and 1/4 cup of the currants.