CNN photojournalist John Bodnar is a second-generation Slavic-American whose grandparents emigrated from Eastern Slovakia, and his mother’s Carpatho-Rusyn ethnicity is the prominent influence for his cultural and family traditions. Previously, he wrote about haluski.
Spring in Western Pennsylvania was all about the sounds of the birds, the smells of renewed life, and sights of the buds and green surrounding us. All of this seemed to happen suddenly, and with these changes we knew that Easter was soon upon us. The traditions of my mother’s Byzantine Catholic and my father’s Roman Catholic church were prevalent in our lives, and the sound and smells of these traditions were as stunning as spring.
After the Lenten fasts, prohibition of meat on Fridays and religious customs like the Friday Stations of the Cross, the Easter feast was always eagerly anticipated. The feast’s traditions, modified some over the years, were initiated by the blessing on the food baskets. The baskets of food were taken to the church and blessed by the priest. Only the foods that were blessed were eaten on Easter Sunday. Traditional foods like ham, kielbasa, cheese, eggs, butter and bread were in the basket for the blessing. Though they weren't eaten, the baskets were adorned with artful Pysanka eggs.
I’d like to introduce you to the Easter bread that we called Paska. It is a two dough bread that incorporates cheese and raisins, and the arduous process that can take up to SIX hours to prepare. There in no wonder that this bread was made only once a year. I can’t imaging how my grandmother, who had 10 children, could find time for anything, let alone spending so much time for baking bread, plus the rest of the meal preparation.
It will always be one of my favorite foods. I will occasionally make a small loaf, but it is never as good as Mom’s. When I visit her, frozen Paska is always “forced” upon me and I take it home with me. Outside the Easter tradition, it is amazing when toasted and covered with butter. Oh yes, did I mention Paska with a hot cup of coffee?
6 cups flour
6 cups flour
Start the cheese dough first, since it will take longer to raise.
Grate the cheddar cheese
Put dry yeast into a small bowl with 1/2 cup of warm water to activate. Then add cheese to three cups of flour with the eggs in a large bowl and mix together. Once mixed, add the remaining 3 cups of flour and the activated yeast and finish mixing the ingredients, then add raisins.
Leave mixture in the bowl and let raise for an hour.
Mix and raise the same as the cheese dough.
After the dough raises, take dough and make six equal sized dough balls, three white and three cheese.
Flatten the dough with a rolling pin into 12”-14” ovals. Place the flattened cheese dough on top of the flattened white dough, then roll the two into a 2” wide braidable roll. Repeat, and finish with six rolls.
Braid the three rolls, then let the braided dough raise again for an hour.
Brush with butter or egg glaze, and bake for 45-60 minutes at 350 degrees until it is golden brown.
More on Easter foods and traditions