Polish Easter Traditions and Cuisine

Polish Easter traditions were born out of a combination of old Slavic customs, regional traditions and most importantly, the Feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are many Easter customs, many of them connected with the cuisine. Let’s enter the fascinating world of Polish Easter traditions!

Pisanki – colorful wooden Easter eggs hand-made in Poland

Pisanki – colorful wooden Easter eggs hand-made in Poland.

Celebration of the Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday. Palm branches symbolize victory and triumph. It was a common belief that a child carrying high palm will grow tall in the future and that during Easter, a man will eat much more than he eats on any other holiday. Even in the homes of peasants, Easter time was a period of a great feast. That’s not only because of joyful nature of Easter, but also because it follows the season of Lent – the period of prayer and fasting in preparation for Easter. There were only few dishes which were allowed to be eaten during the 40 days of Lent and many people refused to eat anything!

Two most popular Lenten foods have always been Żurek soup or Żur and herring. Żurek soup (zhooh-rek) – made from sour rye starter, similar to that used in sourdough bread and served with hard boiled egg and herring – prepared in different ways.

Żurek – sour rye soup

Żurek – sour rye soup. Eaten without the white sausage during Lent.

Herring salad

Herring salad.

Lent came to an end on Good Friday. Good Friday was a time of preparations, especially in the kitchen. Housewives and kids worked together to prepare foods for Easter.

The most important Easter foods have always been eggs. Easter eggs symbolize new life.  Hard-boiled, beautifully decorated Easter eggs are called “pisanki” in Polish. Pisanki can be made by using different techniques:

  • Kraszanka (or malowanka) – is made by boiling an egg in a concoction of plants or natural products. It could be gold (made from bark of young apple tree), black (oak), brown (onion peels), pink (beet juice), and many other colors.
  • Drapanka – which is made by scratching the surface of an egg (especially kraszanka) with a knife or other sharp tool, to reveal the egg’s shell.
  • Pisanka – created by drawing on an egg shell with melted wax; the egg is then submerged into a dye.

Only women could decorate Easter eggs and men were not even allowed to come inside the house during that process. It was widely believed, that man entering a house, when women were preparing “pisanki” would bring bad luck!

More of  colorful hand-painted Easter eggs – pisanki.

More of  colorful hand-painted Easter eggs – pisanki.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Pisanki are very important part of so called “Święconka”, which means the blessing of the Easter basket. Tradition of food blessing at Easter has very old medieval roots, and is still in widely practiced in Poland. A basket containing a sampling of Easter foods (including pisanki) is brought to church to be blessed on Holy Saturday. All baskets are very decorative. Foods inside have symbolic meanings, i.e.: eggs symbolize life and Christ resurrection, bread symbolizes Christ, salt – purification, ham – great joy and abundance.
After the blessing the food remains untouched until Easter Sunday morning.

Święconka” – Easter basket.

Traditional “Święconka” – Easter basket.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

So what are the main courses for a Easter Sunday breakfast (and dinner later), and typical, traditional Polish dishes for Easter?
All kinds of meat; baked or fried and in the villages across Poland pig roasts are common, too. Baked ham, roast leg of lamb or loin of pork, roasted veal, beef, turkey, duck or chicken. Fresh, predominantly white sausage, and of course famous bigos, know as a Hunter’s Stew. It’s ingredients vary, but most often it includes sauerkraut, cuts of meat and sausages, tomatoes (whole or pureed), honey and mushrooms.

Another characteristic dish is braised red cabbage – sweet and sour braised. Boiled potatoes with caramelized onion and dill, famous pierogi (dumplings), horseradish, various cheeses and chalka – slightly sweet, egg braided raisin bread. You can eat chalka for breakfast or with a meal.

For desserts, a full range from cakes, which could take many fancy shapes like Easter lamb. The most popular cake is “Mazurek” (type of pastry), “Babka” a rich bread-like cake, often shaped to reminiscent a woman’s skirt, hence its name Babka (Grandmother Cake). Honey cake, makowiec – which is Polish specialty (poppy seed cake), sernik (cheesecake) and many other delicious desserts.

Delicious poppy seed roll and blueberry cake.

Delicious poppy seed roll and blueberry cake.

Easter holiday is not, of course, just about food. It’s about getting together with extended family and friends and enjoying leisure time. Monday after Easter is also a holiday in Poland and most shops are closed for business. Easter Monday or Wet Easter Monday is known as Smingus-Dyngus day in Poland and that’s when boys chase after girls with buckets full of water and try to drench them with it, all in good fun!

Poland is worth visiting at Easter time, both for great food as well as wonderful atmosphere!

Wesołych Świąt Wielkanocnych! Happy Easter!

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