28 March 2013

Dyngus Day Fun

The celebration of Dyngus Day is a  very ancient Polish custom is preformed on Easter Monday.  The first known writings on dyngus date back to the Middle Ages.  Some tie this celebration to the 966 AD baptizing of Prince Mieszko and his court on Easter Monday.  This custom is well documented in the Poznan region of PolandIt is a celebration of the end of Lent, a rejoicing about the end of the Lenten restrictions.
Men would pour water on the heads of an unsuspecting female friend or lover.  Dyngus began about 5 in the morning.  The house where the unsuspecting female lived would be secretly invaded, sometimes with the collusion of the males of that household, and the females of the house were doused liberally with water while some were still in bed! 

Even though there was much screaming and shouting by the girls, Dyngus was and still is considered a popularity contest.  The more times in a day that a girl had to change her dress, the more popular she was!  Reilly, the celebration is a strange type of courtship ritual!  It was well known that the girl who was not dumped with water would not be married in the next year.
When our ancestors came to the United States, switches from willows were used on the girls’ legs instead of or in addition to water, but the basic idea of the custom remains the same. 

My mom, Loretta Szostek Kolodzinski, told me of celebrating Dyngus Day when she was a child in Chicago.  There would be a knock on the door and her sister, Phyllis, and her would run yelling and squeaking into the bedroom.  They would crawl under the bed for protection but it would not last.  Their father, Stanley Szostek, would show the boys the bedroom, lift the dust ruffle and point to his daughters hiding under the bed.
Even though this custom seems one sided, the women and girls had their days.  From Easter Tuesday until Pentecost, this period of time was called the Green holidays, the women doused the men!

Dyngus Day is celebrated today in many locations in the USA, mostly where there are large Polish communities such as Buffalo, NY (the consider themselves the capital of Dyngus Day in America!), South Bend, IN, Chicago, IL, Elizabeth, NJ, Bristol, CT, and Pittsburgh, PA. 

26 March 2013

Polish Easter Eggs

Eggs have been decorated for centuries.  The early Christians of Mesopotamia were already coloring eggs by staining them.  It was in 1610 A.D. that the Christian Church officially adopted the custom.  What did they do prior to the availability of food coloring? 

In today's world Easter eggs are largely decorated by children with the help of a parent.  We purchased "fizzy" coloring which is a tablet that is placed in cold water.  We add the boiled egg and after a while take it out and the shell is colored.  Prior to this there were tablets which were place in extremely hot water with a teaspoon of vinegar.  Again we added the boiled egg, waited a bit and soon had a beautifully colored egg.  When I was a child we just used bottled food coloring, a messy alternative but we obtained the same results.

 Prior to the food coloring we know today, eggs were colored with natural dyes.  Red wine results in a violet blue egg, blueberries a blue one of course.  Would you like a green egg?  Try boiled spinach leaves.  Yellow?  Boiled orange ore lemon peels should do the trick.  Boiled yellow onion skins will  give you a shade of orange or peach.  Like pink eggs, try beets.  The list goes on and it is fun to try different and unique natural dyes.  Even strong coffee will dye eggs a brown!  Think of what will stain your clothes and you know of something that will dye eggs naturally.

I did title this the Easter Eggs of Poland.  In our ancestors time the coloring of eggs would use many of the same dyes we term natural today.  It is all they had but they used dyes, wax, paper and sometimes straw in different ways.

In Poland, the decorating of Easter eggs was mainly the task of the girls and women.  It was done in great secrecy on Holy Thursday or Good Friday.  Men and boys were not allowed to see how the eggs were decorated.  If a man happened to enter the room where the eggs were being decorated, he was chased away and the women would have to throw a pinch of salt over their shoulders to cleanse themselves!

The Easter eggs of Poland usually fall into five types:

   Kraszanki – hard boiled and made for eating, these are dyed one color only (these are our basic Easter eggs)

Malowanki – blown egg with a colored design painted on the top (this type is also made in Russia but I am sure they have a different name)

   Pisanki – blown egg made by applying various wax patterns (sometimes known as the Ukrainian Easter egg)

Okeljane or nalepianki – blown egg decorated with paper or straw

   Skrobanki – blown egg that is scratch carved

25 March 2013

Easter Sunday

A vast majority of Polish peoples are members of the Catholic faith.  Some who originally lived in the German Partition of Poland were encouraged to follow teachings of the Lutheran religion.  There were also many members of the Jewish faith.

With the typical Polish families, Easter Sunday began with a High Mass, a celebration of the Resurrection.  After Mass the family shares Swieconka, foods Blessed on Saturday.  

In my family my mom would slice the ham and Polish sausage and place them in a pan to fry in a light amount of butter, basically just to heat them.  While they were heating she would remove the shells from the eggs  and slice the eggs.  Later she would crumble the shells and bury them in the plants (the shells had also been blessed so they could not be thrown out but in the potted plants the would add nourishment to the soil).  When the ham and sausage were heated they would be moved to the side of the pan and the egg slices would be added to fry a bit and heat.  Frying of boiled eggs may sound strange but on Easter Sunday they were delicious.  The eggs, ham and sausage would be served along with the rye bread, butter lamb, horseradish and other items which had been blessed.
In some households the water in which the Polish sausage was cooked on Saturday was used to make a white borscht.  The following recipes was shared with me by my Aunt Emily Dul Szostek.  The recipes was given to her by her mother, Catherine Zuba Dul.  Both women served this to their families on Easter.

Easter Borscz

½ cup flour
1 1/4 cup milk
¼ cup vinegar (or to taste)
Smoked Polish Sausage – cooked
5 to 6 eggs – hard boiled
Touch of horseradish
Tiny crisp pieces of bacon - optional

In a small bowl mix together flour and ¾ cup milk (mixture should be fluid, not paste).  Pour ½ gallon (8 cups) of water into a large pot.  Bring to a boil and immediately add the remaining ½ cup milk.  Stir.  Pour in flour/milk mixture and stir.  Simmer over a lowered flame for a few minutes (mixture may rise). 

Remove from flame. Add bacon pieces, if desired.  Serve pieces of sausage and eggs in the soup bowls along with the borscz.  Horseradish can be added as an optional seasoning.

 Others just added sour cream, flour and horseradish to this water and heated to make this soup which is shared along with the rest of the items from the basket.  Many would added their kielbasa and eggs to the borscht.  
In Poland, husbands and wives share their decorated eggs with each other.  Many children play a game called “wybitki”.  Two children each take an egg in their right hand and hit one against the other.  Whoever’s egg does not break wins the other child’s egg.

In my maternal side of the family it was traditional to celebrate both Easter and my Grandma, Mary Inda Szostek's, birthday together.  She was born on 30 Mar 1894 so her children, Edward Szostek, Phyllis Szostk Wegrzyn, Loretta Szostek Kolodzinski and Helen Szostek Huffman, decided it was better to all get together on Easter to celebrate no matter which date Easter fell on.  After my Grandpa, Stanley Szostek, died in 1955, we normally got together at whichever sibling my Grandma was living with at the time.  Many times this was at the Wegrzyns, home of the my Aunt Phyllis and her family.

After visiting for a while we would sit down for a huge Easter dinner!  This normally started out with homemade chicken noodle soup and continued with ham, chicken, mashed potatoes and gray and many vegetables.  Dinner was finished off with a birthday cake and other desserts.  After dinner the men would get together for pinochle while the women would clear the tables and head to the kitchen to wash and dry the dishes.  Both of these were great times to get together and share stories and great conversation. 

Just wait until you hear about Easter Monday!

23 March 2013

Święconka - Easter Baskets

A major part of any Polish Easter tradition is the Święconka or the blessed foods of the Easter.  The Blessing occurred on Saturday, the day before Easter.  Saturday mornings were busy days for a Polish housewife, not only was she making her home ready for visitors she would have the next day but she would be busy preparing the foods to be eaten on Easter Sunday.  Normally this is when the children of the house decorated Easter eggs. The Blessing would take place at church in the mid-afternoon   In my father, Edward Kolodzinski, parents' home the family would fast from noon on Saturday until after Mass on Easter Sunday morning.  Easter breakfast was the end of the Lenten fast.

 Traditionally, a special basket was decorated to carry the blessed foods.  The baskets were decorated especially for this coming time of celebration, the Resurrection of Jesus.t.  The cloth had been previously beautifully embroidered, possibly even an heirloom from her mother, to line the basket and cover the foods.  Sometimes a crocheted cover was made.  These items were special and used only for this occasion.

The foods that were placed in the basket had a religious meaning. I have listed the foods with both their Polish and English names.  Although not all Polish families could afford all of the items listed but the basket contained many foods that were only purchased for the Easter celebration:

 A carved or molded maslo or butter lamb represents the goodness of Christ

Jajka or eggs are the symbol of Christ’s tomb and resurrection

A special Easter rye chleb or bread which would have a cross cut in it before it was baked symbolizing Christ, our true Bread (in later years the rye would have a purple paper sticker with a white cross attached)

Fresh kielbasa or Polish sausage indicative of God’s favor and generosity (the water one cooked the sausage in would be saved for Easter morning for white borscht, I will include my Aunt Emily Dul Szostek's recipe which she generously shared with me, in my next post for Easter)

Szynka or ham which is symbolic of the joy and abundance of Easter

Sol or salt which is symbolic of prosperity and justice

Chrzan or horseradish symbolizing the bitter sufferings of Christ

A candle to symbolize the power of light over the darkness

Sometimes, slonina or smoked bacon (to symbolize the over abundance of God's mercy and generosity) and ser or cheese (to symbolize the moderation Christians should always have) were also added.

When everything was prepared, the basket is taken to Church for the Blessing.  Many times the whole family would attend this event, children carrying their own baskets of food.  This tradition is still celebrated in PolandBulgariaBohemiaRussia and other Slavic countries along with many areas of the United States.

In my household we would include jellybeans and candy eggs in the basket, in later years would also include a biscuit for our special feline or dog member of the family and birdseed for our feathered friends.  My materal Grandfather, Stanley Szostek would include his favorite Babka in his basket (he was the cook in the house).  I have included a recipe for Babka at the end of this post.  I have also seen people bring bottles of wine in their baskets for Blessing.  Yes, the baskets could get really large!

Babka is a traditional Polish cake made for special occasions, especially Easter.  Babka also means old woman or grandmother in Polish.  The cake was baked in a fancy pan that looked like a grandmother’s skirt and that is how it received its name babka.

Babka Wielkanocna Lukrowana
(Easter Babka with Icing)
1 envelope dry yeast
½ cup half and half – room temperature
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups flour
3 eggs – room temperature
1 teas vanilla
1/2 teas rum extract
1 teas grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon melted butter or margarine
1/3 cup raisins (mixed light and dark)
 ½ cup confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon rum (you can use lemon juice instead)
Dissolve the yeast in the cream.  Combine this with 1 cup flour and half the sugar.  Let rise until double in size.  Add all the remaining ingredients except the raisins and knead until smooth (this may be very sticky and will be kneaded in bowl).  Add raisins and knead into dough.  Grease and flour babka pan.  Place dough in pan, cover with cloth, and let rise in a warm place until double in size.   Bake at 350° for 35 to 45 minutes or until a tester is inserted and comes out clean.  When cool remove from pan.  Mix icing ingredients and drizzle over cooled babka.