Monday, March 16, 2015

The Smells of Easter by Roseanne Dowell

Dedicated to my parents, especially my mother who made Easter so special for us. First published in Nostalgia Magazine March 2005

Easter was a busy time in our house during the 50’s.  It began Holy Wednesday, with the baking of our special Easter bread, Paska*, or Babka, as it’s sometimes called.  My sisters and I helped gather the ingredients and set them on the table. Mom stood on a chair and took out the special round pans she used only for Easter bread. I’m not sure why, but this bread had to be round.
 First, we measured the milk and set it on the stove to scald. Next Mom measured the yeast. I loved the smell of it. One year, enticed by the aroma, I stuck my finger in it and tasted it. I couldn't’ get rid of the bitterness out of my mouth and my brothers, sisters and mom laughed at me for being foolish enough to try it.  I wondered how something that smelled so good could taste so bad.               
           Once the ingredients were mixed together Mom began kneading the dough.  I thought it looked like fun, until I got older and she let me try it. Kneading bread dough is hard work and we had to knead it until it blistered. After she kneaded it it was set to rise.  We often sneaked in the kitchen and pinched off a piece and ate it. Something about the taste of raw dough kept us coming back, no matter how much my mom yelled at us.
After an hour or so, Mom turned the dough out onto a special board my uncle made for her from an old table. She reserved a small piece of dough and cut the remainder into even portions for the loaves.  She put the loaves in the pan and took the reserved dough, rolled it between her hands like a snake and cut off pieces to form a cross on each loaf and put the loaves in the oven. The savory smell of fresh baked
bread filled the house for hours.  The bread was then stored in plastic bags for Easter Sunday.
Holy Thursday was beet-making day.   My mother used fresh beets and horseradish for this delicious relish*.  After she cooked the beets, she grated them on the small side of a grater and suffered many a skinned knuckle. In later years, she purchased six cans of whole beets and a jar of horseradish from the grocery store. I’m not sure what gave her the idea, maybe she got tired of skinned knuckles, but one year she brought out her old meat grinder and attached it to the table, added the beets, grinding them into a finely shredded consistency. I loved watching the beets come through the grinder.  After the beets were ground, mom boiled vinegar, added sugar to it and mixed it with the beets. When it cooled she added horseradish, tasting it until it was just right.  The vinegar blended with the pungent horseradish and filled the house with its stinging smell. If we got too close it made our eyes water.
On Good Friday Mom baked a ham and boiled kielbasa.  The kielbasa had been in the refrigerator for several days.  Every time we opened the refrigerator door, the rich garlicky aroma tantalized our taste buds. Sometimes we opened it just to get a whiff.  As the aroma of the ham and kielbasa wafted through the house our mouths watered, but since it was Good Friday, samples of the delicious smelling meats were forbidden.  We could hardly wait until Easter.
 Friday night, Mom made sirok*, Easter cheese.  We called it yellow thing.   My older sister and I cracked several dozen eggs into a large pot and beat them with the electric mixer. Mom filled another larger pot with water and set it on the stove to boil. After we added milk, sugar, and nutmeg to the eggs, we beat the mixture a little more. Mom then took the mixture to the stove and set that pot inside the large one, creating a double boiler.   We took turns mixing it since it needed constant stirring.  As the mixture began to curdle, it formed a solid almost scrambled egg texture. The liquid separated and turned a bluish green. Once it curdled, Mom poured it into a colander lined with cheesecloth.   While it drained, she tightened the cheesecloth into a ball and tied it.  She hung it over the sink from a hook and let it drain overnight.   In the morning, she removed it from the cheesecloth. The sweet spicy smell of the nutmeg lingered for hours.
Saturday afternoon, Mom sent one of us to the attic to get the blessing basket.  She lined the basket with a towel, set a loaf of bread, a large piece of ham, kielbasa, sirok, several hard cooked eggs, and a small container of beets into the basket and covered it with a fancy white doily that she Ohio, many churches carried out this tradition. I believe some still do.
crocheted especially for it. The blessing of baskets was a custom from the old country and even though we lived in
  My father, sisters, and I took the basket to church. This was a special service and before the blessing, we removed the doily.  The Priest went up and down the aisle sprinkling Holy Water over the congregation and baskets of food. 
Easter Sunday after church, Mom took out the blessed food and everyone had a small piece of it for breakfast. After smelling all these delicious aromas for the past four days, we savored the taste. Easter was a not only a time to rejoice in the new beginning through Christ, but a time to share the love of family and good food.

*Paska or Babka is sweet bread usually with yellow raisins.
*Sirok – a yellow round ball made from equal amounts of milk and eggs (1 dozen eggs to 1 quart of milk) add sugar and nutmeg to taste.

Beet Relish
6 cans whole beets grated
½ cup white vinegar, boiled
2/3 cup sugar 
Horseradish to taste

In a large bowl, grate the beets.  Boil the vinegar. Add the sugar to it and let it cool slightly, then pour it over the beets.  Add horseradish to taste. I start with
2 tablespoons, but depending on hot you want it more can be added.

Trouble Comes in Twos

Roseanne's books can be found at   Amazon