Holy Week, the seven days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, is the most reverential time of the Christian calendar. For Catholics around the world, this week inspires worship, prayer and spiritual cleansing. Thus Catholics are ready to welcome the Risen Christ with chants of “Alleluia!” and “Christ is risen! Indeed, he is Risen!” The glories of Easter Sunday!
Food and faith are so intertwined that Catholics celebrate their faith by consuming the Body and Blood of Jesus under the appearances of bread and wine. This is particularly present at Easter, Father William Schierer, parochial vicar of St. Timothy Catholic Church, Chantilly, Virginia, told the Register, pointing to the strong link between Easter food and the Catholic faith. “Jesus, the Lamb of God prophetically spoken of by Abraham and prefigured by the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, gave the traditional Passover supper new meaning when, in the Upper Room, he took the bread and gave it to his disciples as his flesh,” he said. “When the hour of this meal comes, Christ’s passion has begun. His passion brings us the hope of our sharing in the eternal Banquet of the Lamb in heaven spoken of in Revelation.”
And most Catholics in every country celebrate the joys of Easter with family feasts. In many homes, cooks may offer traditional dishes — Italians, salted pretzels and roast leg of lamb; Russians, pahka; Greeks, an Easter cake with almonds and oranges; El Salvadorans, a lunch of dry salted cod and bread pudding; Mexicans, a special Easter cheese; Americans, baked ham; South Koreans, a breakfast featuring colored eggs; the British, hot cross buns; Polish, kielbasa, ham, pierogis and lamb cake. The delicious traditions abound!
Deacon Paul Ochenkowski, of St. Veronica Catholic Church in Chantilly, Virginia, told the Register about his family Easter memories: “A Polish Easter Sunday tradition we observed when I was growing up in the 1950s came from my maternal grandmother. She was born in the United States in 1906, just three years after her parents had arrived in America. She raised her own horseradish in her garden, and a couple of days before Easter, she would dig up the very fresh horseradish roots. She would wash them, peel them and grate them, using an old-fashioned four-sided steel hand grater. She would mix the grated horseradish with a small amount of white vinegar and a tiny amount of salt. The stuff was lethally hot. To cut the strength a bit, she would always make a second batch, with a boiled beet or two grated and mixed into the horseradish.
“The horseradish was served at dinner on Easter Sunday. We would start off dinner with hard-boiled eggs passed around the table. We would peel the eggs and after cutting off a small flat spot on one end, apply horseradish and eat the egg, one bite at a time, with a new application of horseradish over and over as we ate the egg down and it got smaller and smaller. The hotness of the horseradish was impressive and could certainly help you in finding just how deep into your head your sinuses went! As a child of 8 or 9, I absolutely enjoyed the horseradish and preferred the full-strength white horseradish rather than the milder purple version. My grandmother would laugh, as the heat would go up my nose and my eyes would water, as I said how much I enjoyed it. She said it reminded her of her father, who liked the hottest horseradish he could get and apparently reacted in much the same way. She told me that when her father would feel the burn of the horseradish, he would say, ‘It burns the bad out of you.’ As I have grown older, I have come to realize that that remark is actually very profound, given the events that the Easter Triduum marks: the intense heat of the horseradish ‘burning the bad out’ of us as a symbol of the redemption Christ won for us with his death and resurrection.”
Easter Soup (Wielkanocny)
The soup recipe and the Polish Easter Bread (Babka) appear in this cookbook Favorite Recipes, published in 2018 by The Polish Cultural Club of Greater Hartford, Inc. The soup was credited to a Mary Mataski. (Book on loan from Cecilia Glembocki. Raymond and Cecile Glembocki have both served as past presidents of the Friends of John Paul II Foundation, Inc., in Washington, D.C.)
1 smoked kielbasa (1 ½ lbs.), cooked and sliced, liquid reserved
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 pt. (16 oz.) sour cream
- 1 T. salt
- 1/4 T. black or white pepper (or to taste)
- ¼ cup white vinegr
- 2 oz. white horseradish
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ c. fresh Polish sausage
- ¼ c. cooked ham, cubed
- 6 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
Put smoked kielbasa in a soup pot with 6 quarts water; cook 30 minutes. Remove kielbasa (reserving liquid), slice and set aside. In separate bowl, mix flour with sour cream, salt, pepper, vinegar and horseradish. Add bay leaf to reserved cooked kielbasa liquid. Mix a small amount of hot liquid into sour cream mixture, then pour this into hot liquid in soup pot, slowly so that it will not curdle. Stir well. Add remaining ingredients: reserved smoked kielbasa slices, fresh Polish sausage slices, sliced hard-boiled eggs and cubed ham. Heat and serve.
Easter Lemon Babka
(Recipe credit, PCCGH)
- 3 c. all-purpose flour
- ½ c. sugar
- 1 pkg. active dry yeast
- ½ tsp. salt
- ¾ c. milk
- ½ c. butter
- ¼ c. water
- 3 egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1 cup raisins
In a large bowl, combine 1 ½ cups of the flour, sugar, undissolved yeast and salt. Heat milk, butter and water until very warm (120° to 130°); the butter does not need to melt completely. Gradually add this mixture to the dry ingredients and beat with an electric mixer at medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally. Add the egg yolks and ½ cup flour, beating for 2 minutes and scraping the bowl occasionally. With a spoon, stir in the remaining flour. Cover bowl; let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Stir batter down; mix in raisins. Turn into a greased 3-quart tube or fluted pan. Cover; let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Bake in a 350° oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until done. Remove from pan to a wire rack. Brash warm babka with lemon glaze.
- ¼ c. sugar
- ¼ c. water
- 2 T. lemon juice
In a saucepan, combine the sugar, water and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring for 5 minutes or until syrupy.
Orthodox Romanians start preparing the traditional Easter food days before Easter Sunday. These include painted eggs, assorted lamb dishes, from soups to roast, and desserts, such as pasca. But lamb is actually the star on the Romanian Easter feast.
Romanian Easter Lamb Soup
Typically, lamb necks are used, but cooks can also select lamb chops.
(Recipe credit, Katharine Mardirosian, owner of 100 Bowls of Soup, in Herndon, Virgina)
- 2 pounds spring lamb
- 2 ½ quarts filtered water
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 whole cloves garlic
- 1 large onion, peeled and diced
- 2 carrots, sliced
- 2 stalks celery, sliced
- 1 large potato, peeled and cubed
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons sour cream or crème fraiche
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Lovage or parsley finely chopped as garnish
Make a simple lamb broth. Cut the lamb into smaller chunks and place in a 6-quart pot. Cover with the filtered water, and add the apple cider vinegar and any leftover vegetable peelings from the carrots, onions, celery, herb stems and garlic.
Bring to a gentle boil. Skim off any scum that comes to the surface. Reduce the heat, cover, and cook for 1 ½ to 2 hours or until the meat falls off the bones. Strain the broth into a clean pot. Separate the meat from the bones, and discard the bones.
Bring the lamb broth to a gentle boil. Add the sliced carrots, onion and celery, and cook for 10 minutes. Add the potato and meat into the broth and continue cooking until the potato is tender, another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat.
Prepare the egg-and-sour cream mixture: beat the eggs in a small bowl with a whisk. Add the sour cream and mix well. Continue whisking while gradually adding a few tablespoons of the hot broth. Add two or three more ladles of broth; then pour back into the soup pot. Add the lemon juice, taste, and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve and garnish with a handful of fresh lovage or parsley.
Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham
Serving baked ham has become an American Easter tradition for decades, starting back in the early farming days before refrigeration: Pigs were slaughtered in the fall for winter consumption. What was not eaten was cured by a process that took months, readying the meat for spring or Easter dinner consumption.
“This recipe was handed down to me by my momma, Margaret Lawrence. She learned how to make stuffed ham from her aunt-in-laws, Eulalia Lawrence and Kathleen Lawrence, who were both from St. Mary’s County, Maryland. This is a recipe that originated in England and was brought over with the first colonists that came to St. Clement’s Island, in southern Maryland,” says Ann Schierer, who serves this ham every Easter to family and friends “The recipe uses a corned ham, which is made by the similar process used to make corned beef. All my ancestors on my dad’s father’s side of the family made stuffed ham every Easter. They grew the kale themselves and pigs, too. Nowadays, stuffed ham is made for any special occasion! People eat it with eggs for breakfast, in sandwiches for lunch and as a main entree for dinner.” Her recipe is provided below.
One 16-pound ham, boned and tied with strong cord
Greens for stuffing:
- Three one-pound bags frozen chopped kale
- 1 head cabbage, chopped
- 4 bunched green onions, chopped small
- 4 sprigs mint leaves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoon celery seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper
- ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
Parboil the ham for 1 to 1 ½ hour. Take the ham out of the water and make deep slits over the top with a sharp knife.
Parboil the greens for the stuffing and add the seasoning and stock water from the ham. Stuff the ham with the greens using your fingers and thumbs to push them down into the slits in the ham. When finished, put the ham back into the water and cook until done, about 20 minutes per pound. Remove from the water and let it cool completely before slicing. The ham may be served warm or cold.
Roast Leg of Lamb
Germans offer many traditional Easter dishes, including fish on Good Friday and pancakes on Easter Saturday. On Easter itself, the Sunday brunch often includes braided bread and colored hard-boiled eggs. Dinner usually stars roast lamb or veal and may end with the Easter lamb cake for dessert. Possibly the tradition of eating lamb on Easter began because Christians have always referred to Jesus as the Lamb of God.
“Towns in Bavaria decorate their market square fountains with hundreds to thousands of painted hollow eggs. It’s a tradition that goes back to the early 20th century. Water from the freshly cleaned ‘Easter Fountain’ was believed to be especially pure and to contain healing blessings. If you look up ‘Bavarian Easter Fountains’ [online], you’ll see stunning images of very elaborately decorated fountains and wells. The painted eggs are voluntary contributions by schools, clubs, church groups and charitable organizations of the town,” says Franziska Ross, a German native, who contributed this roast leg of lamb recipe.
Serves 6 to 8
- 1 leg of lamb, weighing at least 4 pounds
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- ¼ to ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium onions, peeled, quartered, and cut in half again, layers separated
- 3 to 4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 8 slices thick cut bacon, cut crosswise into ½-inch strips
- 4 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 bunch parsley, chopped
- 4 to 6 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped from the stems
- 1/8 teaspoon ground thyme
- Ground paprika to taste
- 3- to 5-pound bag small round potatoes, mixed colors, washed and dried
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch pieces
- ½ to 1 cup beef broth
- ½ cup red wine (optional)
Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Rub the lamb all over generously with salt and pepper. Wrap in foil, and set aside to keep cool.
In a large deep-dish roasting pan, combine the olive oil with the onions, celery, bell pepper, bacon, garlic, and herbs. Toss to mix well and to coat the vegetables with the oil. Place the vegetables in the oven for 10 minutes, then remove. Stir in the potatoes and carrots. Slowly pour in ½ cup broth. Rub the leg of lamb all over with olive oil, and dust with ground paprika. Place the lamb on top of the vegetables, and set the roasting pan in the oven.
Roast for 20 minutes, and remove from the oven. Spoon liquid from the bottom of the pan over the lamb. Replace the pan in the oven and roast for 20 minutes more, or until the skin is brown and crispy.
Remove from the oven, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, and add the remaining broth and red wine, as needed. Loosely cover the entire pan with foil. Return the pan to the oven, and cook for 30 minutes more. Check with a meat thermometer for doneness. Remove from the oven, and let the lamb rest for 10 minutes before slicing. The meat should still be deep pink inside. Serve with the vegetables and top with pan drippings and chopped parsley.
Also spelled “pascha” or “pasha,” this Russian Easter dessert originated in Eastern Orthodox countries and was prepared during Holy Week. Families then carried this dessert for a priest’s blessing at the Easter vigil Mass. The white cheese ingredients represent the purity of Christ; the dome shape symbolizes the church and the tomb of Christ; and traditional Russian cooks decorate the top with symbols that mean “Christ is risen.”
Numerous recipes for this dessert classic may call for cream cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, and/or heavy cream in some combination. Many different molds for this cylindrical dessert are available, but you can also use a new two-quart clay flower pot double-lined with moist cheesecloth — as this recipe from a Polish friend long ago calls for. Cooks can enhance this simple recipe by adding brandy, assorted candied or dried fruits, chopped nuts and orange zest. Plan to make this at least two days before Easter so it remains chilled in the refrigerator.
Serves 6 to 8
- Four 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
- 3 egg yolks
- 3 teaspoons vanilla extract, or more to taste
- 3/4 cup sliced almonds
- Candied fruit and lemon peel, to taste
- Whole hulled strawberries as garnish
- 1 two-quart clay flower pot or other paska container
Combine the cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl, and with an electric beater blend them until smooth and well combined. Add the confectioner’s sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla, and blend again. Fold in the almonds and candied fruit and lemon peel. Set aside.
Line a moistened flower pot with double layers of moistened cheesecloth. Scoop in the mixture, cover with plastic wrap, and place a weight on top. Refrigerate for 48 hours.
To serve, gently extract the firm pashka from the flower pot or mold, and unwrap it. Place it on a serving dish, and garnish the dish and pashka with the strawberries.
Alexandra Greeley is the co-author of Cooking With the Saints (Sophia Institute Press, 2019).