Paska: Discovering Diversity in Easter Bread
As Easter rolls around, the number of eggs in my house tends to increase by the day. Brown ones, white ones, organic ones, free-range ones, they pile up one by one in the inconspicuous refrigerator drawer, and while this may seem normal for the general population, these eggs will not be dyed in brilliant shades and hues, but will be used for making “paska,” a traditional Ukranian/Russian Easter bread that has been a staple in my house as far back as I can remember.
It’s a moist, crumbly, towering bread that melts in your mouth when you take a bite. Bursts of candied orange peels, vanilla and a tiny hint of cardamom explode across your palette, and it tastes so specific, so particular, that you must have some more.
Although many buy this bread professionally made and equipped with decorated bonnet like fondant toppings, it’s been a tradition for my mother to make paska for the past few years – and believe me, it is anything but easy.
There’s yeast involved, hours upon hours of waiting for things to rise, for other things to get to the right temperature, for consistency to be well, consistent. In short, it usually irons out to the time you would spend at a day job, along with some overage. But as straining and difficult the process is, the results – a one foot tall block of delicious bread – are well worth it.
In the book, “Christmas in Ukraine,” the religious connection to paska is explored.
“Ukranians seems to have a special bread for every holiday and celebration. The paska, specially made for Easter when it is taken to the church to be blessed, is rich, round and decorated with fancy dough ornaments and a cross.”
Author Volodymyr Bassis writes in his book “Ukraine,” that the paska is a “rich round load of bread decorated with elaborate dough ornaments that symbolize prosperity.”
Wikipedia also has some interesting references about paska.
I do hope I’m not alone in saying this, but I find it truly fascinating how I’ve grown up with such rich and intricate traditions that have somehow wormed their way into my life from other amazing cultures. Last week I was talking about celebrating Iranian New Year, and this week, Ukranian Easter bread. I hate to repeat myself, but the definition being Armenian couldn’t be homogeneous even if it tried. It’s impossible. We are the result of dozens of beautiful, swirling cultures that run deep within our history, emerge in our present and will continue in our futures and I love relishing in it all. I’m Armenian, but what is Armenian? If you look closely, you begin to realize that being Armenian means sharing similar paths in the road of culture with Greeks, Azeris, Iranians or even, dare I say it, Turks.
“No matter what day we celebrate the new year, whether Jan 1, on the vernal equinox, or whenever, I think we all truly have the same wishes for peace, love, family, health and hope in the new year and always.”
I like to think the same can be said not just for new year or Easter, but for life. Of course, you may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. At least I have good company in the form of John Lennon.
Happy Easter to you and yours, I’d give you some bread if I could.