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.

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