Like many of the other Eastern Europeans, Slovaks attach a great importance to the serving of our traditional foods on Christmas and Easter. These two Holidays are basically the only major observances of Slovaks here in the United States and the Homeland. During the Christmas Holidays the main day of our celebration is Christmas Eve where we prepare for the remembrance of the Birth of our Savior. We also have the Christmas trees, all kinds of decorations and Santa Claus with his reindeer.
On Easter, there’s certainly nothing wrong with the traditions of the familiar chocolate bunnies, marshmallow eggs, colorful jellybeans that we all know, love and grew up with including the Easter Bunny – Peter Cottontail. But for many of us growing up we can’t forget the true meaning of the Easter Season as well as the traditional preparations we remember our parents and grandparents going through at the end of Lent starting with Palm Sunday.
In the streets of the Slovakian homeland, traditionally men would chase women to either playfully whip them with a willow branch or splash them with cold water and bad perfumes. Whether you are from Poland, Hungary, Slovak or Czech Republics, Austria, Serbia, etc., there is a common theme throughout many of the Eastern and Central Europe of Easter Traditions.
The main Easter table will usually include ham, eggs, sausage such as kielbasa and a kind of a roundish sweet bread is found there as well. “Paska” is known in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria or Greece, it is only the north-eastern part of Slovakia that really knows what this word means.
Paska, is that round bread like sweet cake and is an inevitable part of the Easter table in the regions inhabited by the Rusyn minority. Northeast Slovakia marks the border between the Eastern Orthodox line and the western – Catholic religious tradition.
Paska is closely connected with the Easter Holiday which Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ but it also has its roots in pagan spring rituals. Ethnologist Katarina Nadaska says: “Paska has a specific meaning. It is not only a dish but caries great symbols. Just look at its shape – it is a round cake. Round cakes are known from pre-Christian times when they stood for the symbol of the sun.” The almost ball-like shape of Paska represents the sacrifice people used to give to the sun. By baking it they showed that they honor the sun.
…is a rich bread and is rooted in the Easter traditions of the Eastern Orthodox (catholic) Church, and therefore very popular in those Ukrainian, Slovakian and Polish communities. The Christian faithful in many Eastern Christian countries eat this bread during Easter.
Christian symbolism is associated with features of paska type breads. The inside of paska can be a swirl of yellow and white that is said the yellow represents the risen Christ, while the white represents the Holy Spirit. Other versions include chocolate, rice, or even savoury mixtures based on cheese. A version is made with maraschino cherries added to symbolize royal jewels in honor of the resurrection of Jesus.
In many of our Slavic (not specifically “Slovak”) Christian homes, there is traditionally quite a lot of activity from Holy Thursday through Holy Saturday as we prepare for the remembrance of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Customarily, beginning on Good Friday we begin with our Fasting and Abstinence. Growing up in my home my mom would be busy early in the morning making the dough and cooking potatoes for pagach (https://slaviccooking.com/pagach/). When I was very young I also remember my Slovak grandmother baking multiple loaves of Paska.
In the afternoon, when the food was being prepared for the next day, my mom took out from storage a woven basket. The basket and a special linen would only be used on Holy Saturday. Into it she put a ham (traditionally, some would put lamb meat, signifying the Lamb of God), kielbasy, boiled then dyed eggs,, Easter Cirák (https://slaviccooking.com/?p=2285), the Paska, , and salt.
A white embroidered linen cloth covered the packed woven basket which was then taken to the church hall where the priest blessed it, using this prayer: “Bless, O Lord, this creation that it may be a means of salvation to the human race, and grant that, by the invocation of Thy Holy Name, it may promote health of body, and salvation of soul in those who partake of it, through Christ our Lord.”
Afterwards the food is then taken back home for breakfast (including the pagach) after mass on Easter Sunday and continued through Easter Monday and the rest of Holy Week.
There are several versions of Paska recipes depending on nationalities and tribes of this rich Slavic region. Paska is made with milk, butter, eggs, flour, (white) raisins, and sugar, except in Romania, where the recipe most commonly includes sweet cream, cottage cheese, and/or sour cream along with eggs, sugar, and rum. An egg and water mixture is used as a glaze. Like I mentioned above, white raisins are typically used but where I live, here in South Carolina, black raisins are more readily found in the grocery stores.
Made with Golden Raisins
- 1 pkg Active Dry Yeast - 2¼ tsp (0.25 oz)
- 1 tsp Sugar - used to proof yeast
- 1 cup Water - warm (about 110 F degrees)
- ¼ cup Sugar (1.95 oz)
- 1 ½ cup Milk (scalded and cooled)
- 2 cups Bread Flour (9.6 oz)
- add to above starter...
- 3 Lg. Eggs beaten
- ½ cup Sugar (3.90 oz)
- 1 cup Crisco
- 1 tsp Salt
- 5-6 cups Bread Flour (24 oz to 28.8 oz)
- 1 ½ to 2 cups White Raisins as needed
- Place the raisins you plan to use in very warm with about a cup of dissolved sugar (not included from above ingredients) to soften for about 30 mins before using.
- Into 1 cup of warm water dissolve 1 tsp sugar with the yeast in a mixing bowl until frothy.
- Scald 1½ cups of milk then dissolve ¼ cup of sugar in the hot milk.
- Allow to cool then add milk mixture to yeast mixture and add 2 cups of flour.
- Mix well, cover, and allow to proof for 60-90 minutes or until almost doubles.
- After the dough doubles, stir in the beaten eggs, ½ cup sugar, Crisco, and salt. Then slowly add the remaining 5 cups of flour.
- Reserve a cup of flour in case needed.
- Knead well to form a soft dough.
- Cover with loose plastic wrap to prevent drying
- Then topped with a towel to hold in the heat and moisture.
- Allow to rise until doubled about 1-2 hours.
- Deflate and fold in drained raisins.
- Divide into 2 or 3 balls, shape place in “greased and floured” bowls
- Let rise until doubled about 45-60 minutes.
- Brush tops with an egg wash.
- Bake at 350 for 30 – 50 minutes (depending on size) or until internal temp is 190 degrees.
- Allow to cool a little before removing from the baking bowl.
- Golden (white grape) raisins are typically used but where I live, here in South Carolina, black raisins are more readily found in the grocery stores than the golden.