There’s certainly nothing wrong with Easter traditions being centred around the familiar chocolatey, eggy, chicky, bunny-y territory that we all know, love and grew up with. But when I set about researching Easter I really wanted to find something to include that I hadn’t known before. Something with a history and that taps into everything that I feel about families sharing experiences and celebrating together. Discovering paska was like getting a full house at bingo.
Paska is a rich bread, very much like a brioche. It is rooted in the Easter traditions of the Eastern Orthodox (catholic) Church, and therefore very popular in those Ukrainian, Slovakian and Polish communities. You couldn’t exactly call me an expert on the Eastern Orthodox Church, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I skate over paska’s religious associations, for fear of telling you some nonsense which could at some point very well get you kicked out of the pub quiz team. My own theory – not based on any theological fact – is that this bread rises so many times that there has to be some resurrection symbolism going on.
Paska recipes are traditionally handed down for generations from mothers to daughters. Which brings it slap bang into my field of vision. As I trawled through the wonderful world of online communities to find out all about paska making, I found so many women each pronouncing that it is their family’s recipe that is the best of all and everyone would surely agree if only they had the opportunity to try it. No matter how subtle those differences may be – and they often are, as after all is said and done the basic ingredients and method can’t or don’t change all that much – it is those individual characteristics that make the paska ‘owned’ and beloved by each family. Whether that is how long you leave the dough for its fourth rising (I kid you not – saddle up for the test of endurance that is paska-making) or the family tradition of baking it in a coffee tin or a particular porcelain bowl.
What I think really sold me on paska is that traditionally the women of the house would gather together to make it. It was and is an annual ritual of sharing that time to create something everybody would enjoy. And boy, these ladies would be sharing some serious time together. As you may have gathered by now, paska takes a long time. It took me about 10 hours in total, but bear in mind that much of that time is waiting for the dough to do its thing. Time that can be well spent putting the world to rights, having a proper catch up and hopefully a fair few laughs. There is no age barrier on who can be involved and certainly not everyone has to be doing something to be involved. The ritual is about being there. And just to be clear, although traditionally paska making was left to the womenfolk, I can see no reason why fathers and sons should be excluded from the fun.
And it is fun. Even if in my recipe I may not make it sound like it is. Paska is also beautiful. A beauty that brings a rarely matched sense of achievement.