Pisanki – Polish Easter Eggs

Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the spring equinox, which is the 21st of March. So the earliest date for Easter is the 22nd of March and the latest date is the 25th of April.

In English the word Easter comes from the name of the pagan goddess of dawn or spring – Eastre or Eostre and her festival was in spring time and hence this old word has stuck.

In Polish the name is Wielkanoc – which translates as Great Night – as it is the night of The Resurrection.

Eggs at Easter were originally a pagan tradition as symbols of fertility, rebirth and the revival of nature and heralded in the start of spring.

The tradition was absorbed by Christianity and the egg is now the symbol of the tomb and as the chick hatches from the egg with life so it symbolises the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Pisanki are the decorated eggs you find in Poland. The word comes from the Polish verb pisać which nowadays means to write,  however in old Polish it also meant to paint.

There are many different ways of decorating eggs and each of these has its own specific name  –  one method uses beeswax and dyes are used to give wax resist patterns – another scratches away the dye to revel the original shell colour.

In Kraków there is the Museum of Ethnography, founded in 1902, which has  superb displays of intricate and beautiful pisanki through the ages – well worth a visit.

Below are photographs of an egg which was decorated using the beeswax and dye method – onion skins in this case.  It belongs to the Director of  the Leeds Polish Saturday School and was one of many made two years ago with instructions from a visiting tutor at a workshop session for the teachers and pupils at the school.

 

 

I make very simple coloured eggs by hard boiling eggs with onion skins.

Boiling eggs with brown onion skins dyes the egg shells a rich brown colour.

 

Boiling eggs with red onion skins dyes the egg shells a dark red-brown colour.

 

 

You can buy sheets of coloured paper dyes which give a range of colours   – safe edible dyes of course – I have tried these in the past but now just use onions as they are always in my vegetable basket.

Tip

When hard boiling eggs use eggs that are at least three days old as very fresh eggs are hard to peel.

These hard boiled eggs form part of the basket of food which is taken to church on the Saturday before Easter to be blessed see Palm Sunday & Holy Saturday.

The blessed eggs are peeled and cut into quarters to be shared at the Easter Breakfast with all the people present.

 

 

Other non- blessed hard boiled eggs are used in a game of tapping  eggs together to see which one cracks first.

A wooden imitation of these lovely decorated eggs is now a very popular item for sale throughout the year in Poland.  It is a something that many tourists buy to take home.

 

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Pisanki for sale in Kraków

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My Wooden Pisanki

 

 

Wooden Eggs belonging to my friend in Leeds

 

In these the wooden eggs have been painted and carved to expose the pale wood imitating the method of scratching with a fine tool the paint or dye and exposing the egg shell colour of real eggs

Easter Greetings

The photographs are taken from recent Easter cards from Poland.

Wesołych Świąt

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Happy Holy (Holiday) Day

 

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Wesołych Świąt Wielkanocnych

Happy Holy (Holiday) Day at Easter

Wesołego Alleluja

Happy Alleluia

 

Because of the egg theme you may also hear

Smacznego jajka 

May the eggs be delicious.

 

 

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PS

After posting the above I received an Easter card from Poland with the following stamp.

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Palm Sunday & Holy Saturday

Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter and marks the beginning of Holy Week.

Palms are blessed in church on this day to commemorate Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.

Of course palm trees do not grow in Poland and so other plants are substituted. Often pussy willow  is used as the catkins are usually out around this time. My mother always called pussy willow – palma – the Polish for palm.

 

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Twigs For Sale in the Old Square in Kraków

 

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Palms are also made from  dried grasses and corn which are often dyed to make them colourful or from coloured paper which is rolled and the edges cut to make a fringe.

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In many villages the farmers would make huge palms for the procession completing with each other to see who had the biggest and best.

The Main Square in  Kraków – Decorated with Large Palms

 

 

It is still Lent in Holy Week so the food eaten is simple and often meat, butter and egg free. Most baking and cooking done now is to make food to eat at Easter.

As well as going to church services it is a time for houses to undergo a massive clean-up especially inside.

Holy Saturday is the last day of Lent – the day before Easter.

This is the only day in the Catholic year on which Mass is not celebrated.

In Poland there is the tradition on this day to have the food for Easter blessed.

This has its roots in the early medieval church in the 12th Century and the food would have originally  been just bread and eggs.

In times past in villages the priest would have gone around to people’s houses and blessed the food there. Nowadays people bring a basket of food to the church and the food is blessed with Holy Water and is then taken home and not eaten till the Easter Sunday Breakfast.

Once blessed this basket is called święconka meaning  that which has been blessed

The basket is lined with a cloth – often white linen and sometimes embroidered.  A white linen cloth is used to cover the basket. These cloths represent the white shroud in which Jesus was wrapped.

What goes into the basket depends on several factors but hard boiled eggs and bread are usually present. Everything in the basket has a symbolic meaning.

Eggs –  Christ’s Resurrection – a symbol of life.

Bread – Christ as the Bread of Heaven.

Salt –  Preservation & Purification & Zest for Life

Horseradish – The Harsh & Bitter sacrifice of Christ.

Cooked Meat & Sausage – Joy & Abundance of God’s mercy.

Babka – The risen  dough  – this represents the Risen Christ.

Shaped Lamb (butter/cake/bread) – Christ – The Lamb of God -(see Lamb Bread)

Cheese – Moderation.

Butter – End of Lent.

Getting a basket ready to take to Church

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See Babka

 

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People coming & going to church in Kraków with baskets of food.

 

 

 

Food for sale for Easter in Kraków.

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The special meal at Easter in Poland is the Easter Breakfast –  although it is a lot later than a normal breakfast being usually around 11am

This meal is a cold buffet and includes the food that was blessed in church on Easter Saturday.

The hard boiled eggs are cut up into quarters or eighths and they are shared between everyone present  at the start of the meal.

POSTSCRIPT

Since posting I received the following photographs from my friend in Leeds who is The Director of the Polish Saturday School.

Sugar Lambs to go in the basket for blessing.

 

Salt Dough Lambs – made for the Easter Fair

 

 

 

 

 

 

Polish Easter Lamb

The Lamb is a symbol of Christ Resurrected  – The  Lamb of God – The Saviour of the World.

In Poland there is a tradition of having a Lamb  on the table at Easter.  This would be made out of moulded butter or sugar or baked as a cake.  There are moulds available for making a lamb-shaped cake into which you pour the cake mixture before you bake it.

My auntie in America sent me the instructions for making a lamb using bread dough. I think the result is super.

I used my basic enriched bread dough (click here for link to the recipe).

You can use this or your favourite bread dough recipe using 500g of flour.

Make the dough until it is ready for shaping.

Shaping the Lamb

Grease a large baking sheet.

Pre-heat the oven to GM 5 – 200°C.

Prepare an egg white wash by whisking an egg white in a bowl or an egg white and 1 tablespoon of water.

Divide the dough into 3 parts.

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Use 1 of the pieces and shape it into a large oval – this will be the “body

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Chop 1 of the pieces into 4 parts

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Shape 1 part into an oval “head

Shape 1 part into an oval “tail

Shape the remaining  2 parts into long oval “legs

Attach these to the body by pinching them slightly together.

Cut a vertical slit in each leg.

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Using the remaining pieces of dough, pinch off small amounts to make around 24 x 2.5 cm balls and 11 x 1cm balls by rolling the pieces in your hand.

Arrange the larger balls over the body leaving a border of around 1cm uncovered.

Arrange the smaller balls between the larger balls and on the top of the head.

Insert a currant or a raisin for the eye.

 

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Brush with egg white wash and bake for 10 minutes.

Quickly brush on more egg white wash and sprinkle sesame seeds over the head and body.

Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or slightly longer until lightly browned on top.

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