After the strict fasting of Lent, Poles are more than ready for a feast. In Poland, the storks are once again on the rooftops and the flowers have started to bloom. On Good Friday night, hard-cooked eggs are colored and decorated with traditional designs. On Easter Saturday, swieconka baskets filled with salt, hard-cooked eggs, butter, sausage, ham, bread, babka and other foods are taken to church to be blessed by the priest. On Easter morning, the feasting begins with a breakfast taste of everything in the basket.
After breakfast, the table is set with the best linens, finest china and silver, and decorated with pussy willow branches and garlands of leaves. The Easter lamb cake takes center stage. Then the appetizer buffet is laid out. Appetizers are mostly of the zakaski or przystawski type -- substantial small plates of cold dishes requiring a knife and fork -- rather than the przekaski type which are more like canapes. In the former category, anything goes -- stuffed hard-cooked eggs, sausages, smoked fish, caviar, aspics, creamed vegetables and more. When all is ready, guests are welcomed by the head of the house with a wedge of hard-cooked egg and wishes for health and happiness.
White borscht soup is either eaten on Easter Sunday morning or served for dinner after the appetizers. It's made with most of the foods from the swieconka basket and with the flavorful kielbasa cooking water. There are as many recipes for this soup as there are cooks. Some make it with a kwas when it becomes zurek wielkanocny, others with sour cream or buttermilk. Some use smoked sausage, others use fresh white sausage or ham or bacon. This is a version my family enjoys.
Baked ham, roasted veal, roast suckling pig, roast leg of lamb, roast loin of pork, roast beef, roast turkey, roast goose, duck or chicken, and fresh white Polish sausage or bialy kielbasa all make an appearance on the buffet table. The variety is staggering and there's something for every meat lover. Leftovers go into bigos, smigus-dyngus casserole, sandwiches and ham and fruit salad on Easter Monday.
This meat orgy is fleshed out with an assortment of vegetables like sweet-and-sour braised red cabbage. It comes together in a snap, especially if you use a food processor to shred the cabbage and onion. Czerwona Kapusta Zasmazana goes great with just about any dish, but is a favorite with ham, pork and sausage.
Some type of potato -- be it boiled potatoes or mashed potatoes or potato salad -- are a given for Easter dinner. Boiled potatoes with caramelized onions and chopped dill were a favorite at my mother's table. We made a meal of them, especially during Lent, washed down with a cold glass of buttermilk. This starch goes well with pork, chicken, beef, ham and fish.
My mother always grated beets into her chrzan for color and a touch of sweetness. In fact, the first time I saw plain white horseradish, I thought it was something else entirely. One taste told me differently! It's called ćwikła and is a traditional Easter relish. I have memories of my father and brother grating fresh horseradish root by hand with tears streaming down their faces. But they loved it so much, they put up with it.
Polish chalka is a slightly sweet, eggy braided raisin bread. Chalka is served for breakfast or with a meal. It's especially great for ham sandwiches -- the sweet and salty combination is unbeatable. But some type of rye bread, like Polish sourdough rye or another type of rye the family likes, is also served.
Multico Books, used with permission.
The Polish Easter table is not just all cold meats and eggs, it's a lot about the dough. Pastries and sweets of all kinds abound on the Easter table -- babas, cheesecakes, flaky jam-filled pastries, fried twists of dough -- all washed down with strong coffee or tea. Probably the most conspicuous of all the desserts is the Easter lamb cake, representing the Paschal Lamb, that takes center stage on the dining table, often with a miniature red-and-white Polish flag.
Homemade or purchased honey-flavored vodka like krupnik and cordials made in the summer months and aged for just such a special occasion make an appearance after dinner. Every fruit imaginable goes into these potent sweet liqueurs to make strawberry cordial, blueberry cordial, rhubarb cordial, cranberry cordial, and more for toasting and as a sweet finale to an outrageously filling meal.
As one might expect, there are plenty of meat leftovers from the Easter buffet. But they all go into one dish or another on Smigus-Dyngus Day, also known as Wet Monday or Easter Monday. Bigos, Smigus-Dyngus Casserole, Smoked Sausage with Kraut, and Ham with Fruit Salad are just a few. Here are more ideas: Leftover Ham Recipes and Leftover Easter Egg recipes.