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26 March, 2016

PREPARING A SPECIAL UKRAINIAN EASTER MEAL FOR ROSANNE AND I

The makings for our special Easter treat.
I went grocery shopping for our Easter dinner Friday afternoon.  Some of the items on my list included lean Kolbassa sausage, sauaerkraut, havarti cheese, cabbage, onions, egg bread, horse raddish, beets and eggs,

"...Not ingredients for your traditional Easter dinner," you might well exclaim with a degree of shock.

Well, I've got news for you!  Those items are very traditional if you are of Ukrainian or Polish heritage as is my wife Rosanne.

Because she is not well and as a special treat for her this Easter, in a weak moment I promised to prepare a full Ukrainian Easter meal, duplicating as much as possible the menu she remembers sitting down to as a child.  It will be no small undertaking for a Canadian kid who grew up on baked ham and scalloped potatoes for Easter, but I like to live dangerously and I'm always up for a challenge.

To better prepare myself for this culinary adventure, I determined that it was in the best interests of the two of us to do a little research and what better source for information than good old Ukrainian cook books, one in particular having been published by ladies from St. Demetrius parish in Toronto.

Ukrainians approach the celebration of their religious feast days with spiritual devotion as well as traditional rituals.  Present day Ukrainian Easter traditions are a rich blend of ancient pagan rituals and Christian idealogy and practises.

Much to my interest, I found that with the arrival of Christianity to Kyivan Rus in 988, many of the pagan spring rituals were incorporated into the Christian celebration of Easter.  The Christian church added a new perspective to these seasonal celebrations.  In addition to physical preparation, the six-week period of "Pyist" (Lent) became a time for spiritual renewal, fasting, forgiveness and meditation.  It was also a time for the writing of "pysansky".  In pagan times pysansky were considered magical talismans.  Today's pysansky in the form of Easter eggs, incorporate not only ancient geometrical designs and colours, but also Christian symbols in beautiful vibrant colours, and are given as tokens of love and affection.

As with the traditions of Christmas Eve and the food associated with them, the Easter foods, especially those placed in baskets for blessing by a priest at Easter worship services, have special meaning.

Paska, the Easter bread, symbolizes the joy of new life through Christ.

Eggs are symbolic of Christ's death and resurrection.

Salt is essential to our bodies as Christ is to our souls.

Horseradish is blessed as a reminder that even though there is bitterness in life, all pain and suffering can be overcome through Christ.

Dairy and meat products (butter, cheese, ham and kolbassa) are a reminder of the goodness of God's creation.

A candle is always present as a reminder that Christ is the light of the world.

Taking all of the forgoing into consideration, the meal that I will be preparing for Rosanne will consist of "favourite" foods that stand out in her memory of family Easter dinners when she was a little girl i.e. paska (egg bread), hard-boiled eggs, kolbassa, ham, horseradish/beets combination as a garnish, Havarti cheese, kapusta (a boiled side dish consisting of cabbage, sauerkraut and onions with thyme seasoning) and potato salad.  Of course desert will consist of nothing else but cherry cheesecake.

All in all, a pretty simple meal to put together, but wish me luck anyway.  I can always use it!

"Smacnoho!" as they say in the Ukraine, or "Bon appetit!" in French.

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