As with every holiday, my traditions arise out of Gram’s holiday traditions. As long as I can recall, the weekend before Easter was spent at Gram’s making Easter Bread – sometimes called Polish Bread. We would make so many loaves of bread that we ran out of loaf pans and would bake it in Gram’s Pyrex bowls. Everyone waited for Gram’s Easter Bread.
Gram taught me how to make it when I was little and I watched her do every step.
First you scalded one and a half cups of milk. The key was to catch it as the bubbles formed on the side of the pot and sizzled when you tipped the pot but before a skin formed on the top of the milk. Then you dropped a stick of butter into the milk. The butter would melt in the hot milk and form a buttery yellow layer on the top.
Then we would prepare the yeast by mixing 3 packages of yeast in 3/4 of a cup of warm water. The water had to be warm because the yeast was a living thing. I also add some of the sugar from the one and a half cups of sugar I will be adding later into the yeast to give the yeast something to start feeding on. It usually starts foaming then and I know I have some healthy yeast. There is nothing worse than going through the entire process and the bread never raises. Always a possibility when making Easter bread because it is kind of dense and heavier than plain boring white bread.
While the yeast is getting happy (hopefully) I beat three eggs in a separate bowl. Now I need to start mixing them together but I don’t want to kill the yeast with my hot milk so I add 3/4 of a cup of cold water to the milk and butter mixture to cool it down. At that point, you have this.
Then you mix the yeast mixture and the eggs into the milk mixture. Next comes four teaspoons of vanilla. That is Markus adding the vanilla while Vashua stirs. This tradition is being passed along to them and they help make the Easter Bread every year with me, just like I did with my Gram.
Then I add one and a half cups of sugar (minus what I already put into the yeast) and one cup of golden raisins. It just isn’t right if it is not golden raisins. Then you start adding in the flour. The recipe uses 10 cups of flour that we add the flour two cups at a time. Vash stirs in the first two cups. Then Jesse gets to stir in the next two cups.Markus stirs in cups five and six.
I get cups seven, eight and nine and then I divide out the dough between all of us, we have a refresher course on kneading (use your palms, not your fingers) and everyone gets to work.
The boys then get to pull out enough dough to fill their buttered custard cups to make their own personal loaves of bread. The rest is put into loaf pans to rise. Now, I remember letting it rise in a warm place with kitchen towels over it, punching the dough down after it had doubled in size, putting it into loaf pans and then baking it, but the recipe Mom wrote out for us from her notes has the dough sitting for 15 minutes, then being divided into greased loaf pans to rise in an oven where you have placed trays of boiling water to help it rise and then, after it has risen, baking it for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. I don’t do the boiling water, though I do heat up my oven to around 200 degrees then turn it off so the oven is warm while the bread is rising. Luckily, the yeast was happy yeast this year and we got three big and three little loaves of Easter Bread.
I also went shopping today for the traditional Easter dinner that Gram made – which was simple. We would have Ham, fresh kielbasa and smoked kielbasa. Gram would special order the kielbasa from a meat market and Grampa – and later I – would go pick it up a day or two before Easter. We would also have asparagus – all of which I bought today to make for tomorrow’s dinner. We would also have potatoes and usually strawberry shortcake for dessert.
That is Easter. Ham, Kielbasa, Asparagus and Easter Bread.
Just as an extra Easter bonus, I am including a couple of pictures of a couple of Gram’s sweaters she made me. The first is my other aran sweater. This one I had requested a sweater with popcorn stitch, and this is what she made me. Note that the pattern follows down the arm and it is a boat neck. My recollection is that Gram just made up this pattern on her own – but I could be mistaken – it was a long time ago.
This one is my soft pink sweater with the cable yoke. I love turtlenecks so alot of my sweaters were turtlenecks.
So, have a happy Easter all – I’m cooking tomorrow!!