Saturday, April 23, 2011

All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt!

Besides being the most important holiday in the Christian world . . . Easter is a time for bunnies, egg hunts, baskets full of goodies, fancy bonnets, and the traditional whipping & dousing of women.

Yes, you read correctly . . . whipping women and dousing them with water.  It’s a very old pagan custom practiced in Slovak communities. 

A pomlázka is special pussy willow cane which is hand-woven and decorated with colorful ribbons; one ribbon for every girl a young man has managed to soak or whip. 

One part of the tradition is for men to pursue women brandishing the light branch and use it to "whip" women on the legs when they catch up with them.  Whip is a strong word; nowadays it’s more in fun and shouldn’t actually cause pain. 

The other part of this practice is for young men to chase a young girl and when they catch her they throw her in a creek.  These days, however, a man will ask the girl for a cup, fills it with cold water, and then splashes it in her face.

And THEN for the pleasure of being beaten and drenched, the girls give away colored eggs and chocolates to their aggressor.   Sounds like fun . . . not . . . nobody better get any funny ideas . . . just sayin’.

What is the meaning behind this barbaric behavior? Pagan Slavs believed that the whipping brought good luck, wealth and a rich harvest for the whole year and the drenching was supposed to keep the woman fertile, healthy and fresh for the rest of the year.

My family emigrated from Czechoslovakia over 60 years ago.  I’ve never seen or heard of either of those traditions being practiced here in America but apparently it stills goes on in the old country.

Our Easter tradition was what most little kids expect . . . the chocolate bunnies, colored eggs and an Easter basket.   One Easter, when I was still an infant, my mom got my sister peeps for Easter.  Not the marshmallow kind . . . the live and in person fluffy yellow kind.

My sister was a little older than two years old at the time.  She may not have known a thing about the birds and the bees but she knew where baby chickens came from.   In her Easter basket nestled amongst the candy were plastic eggs filled with small toys.  My sister emptied out those plastic eggs and stuffed the fuzzy little chicks into them. 

I’d like to say this story has a happy ending, but it doesn’t.  By the time my mother discovered the missing peeps, they were no longer peeping . . . the poor little things.  Keep in mind, the same kid who killed the baby chicks is the same one who stuck a bobby pin in a wall socket and went screaming to mommy that the wall bit her.  Cute but not to bright.

That's one little kid who might have benefited from some traditional Slovak Easter customs.


Another, less wet and painful, Slovak Easter tradition is a special breakfast.  The meal consists of sliced hard boiled egg, ham, klobása (kielbasa), cirak (Slovak Easter cheese), homemade bread, butter, and horseradish mixed with chopped beets.

Cirak, the Slovak Easter cheese, is traditionally served sliced and cold with the Easter meal.  It’s more of a sweet custard with hints of vanilla and nutmeg.

  • 12 Eggs
  • 4 Cups Milk
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Pinch Ground Nutmeg

In an electric mixer, beat the eggs until mixed well.  Transfer the eggs to a double boiler and stir in milk, sugar, vanilla and nutmeg.

Cook over a medium heat for 30 minutes. Use a metal slotted spoon and constantly stir the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching.

When the mixture looks just like cooked scrambled eggs, pour it carefully into a cheesecloth-lined colander.

Carefully gather the ends of the cheesecloth in your hands and pull them together until the cheese forms into a ball. Tie the cheesecloth tightly at the top of the ball.

Tie the cheesecloth ends over a faucet or to the handle of a kitchen cabinet (place a bowl under to catch the whey dripping down which can be used to in the bread dough) and let hang for about 3 hours.

Untie the cheesecloth and wrap the cheesecloth ball in plastic wrap before refrigerating. The cheese will keep for about a week. Slice and serve.

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