Russian Пасха (Easter)

April 15, 2012

More than 60% of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians, and for them Easter (Пахса – Paskha) is the most important holiday of the year. While a surprisingly small number of Russians actually attend Easter church services, the traditional foods and rituals associated with Easter are an integral part of Russian culture even for the most mildly religious. Russians celebrate Orthodox Easter later – this year, by a week – than “Catholic Easter.” (Don’t Protestants celebrate Easter, too? Not according to Russians, they don’t). On the night before Palm Sunday – which in Russia is Pussywillow Sunday – the Moscow metro stays open an hour later, until 2 am for all those late-night churchgoers, and a number of streets are closed around major churches in Moscow. On Palm Sunday, upon meeting other people a familiar ritual will take place. Masha initiated this ritual with me, and when her friend dropped by later in the day I witnessed the same – kiss three times on the cheek, then pronounce “Христос воскрес!“ (Khristos voskres) Christ has risen! To which the answer is “Воистину воскрес!“ (Voistinu voskres) Indeed/ In truth he has risen! There is some kind of seniority rule about who initiates and starts by saying Христос воскрес, but as the resident American I immediately fall to the bottom of any pecking order. Which takes all the pressure off.

I have tried three kinds of кулич (kulich): two medium-sized from Masha’s favorite bakery, a little one from her friend’s favorite bakery, and big slice of the friend’s homemade variation. (Don’t worry, I have already asked for the recipe for the friend’s homemade – it was positively delicious. I will be pestering Masha to ask her for it). Masha called herself a грешница (greshnitsa – sinner) for not making one of her own, but she’s been busy researching and writing her latest article about a Russian avant-garde artist whose name I cannot pronounce, even after 8 months in Russia. The big slice of the homemade version was infinitely superior to the others – dense, moist but satisfyingly crumbly, with a richly delicious yeasty-eggy flavor. It is a bit more crumbly and less dense than German stolen, and not at all as sweet. (Can you tell that my dream job would be a food critic? We’ve been writing sample resumes in my stylistics class, and I wrote a resume and cover letter to be a staff writer at a foodie magazine. Fun fact – Russian resumes traditionally include a person’s age, marital and family status, and whether they smoke or not.) And did I mention the raisins? Well, there are perfect raisins dotted through the dough – Masha knows that I love raisins, yeast bread and all kinds of milk products, so she was pretty sure this would be a hit. Кулич is eaten with пасха (paskha – yes, same name as Easter), an incredibly sweet and rich mixture of tvorog, cream, with – you guessed it – raisins. Words cannot do it justice, so I will have to procure the recipe and make it when I get home for everyone to try. It’s probably (definitely) sacrilegious to make it at a time period other than Easter or the period immediately following Easter, but as I am not Russian Orthodox and in no way kept Великий Пост (Veliki Post) – Lent – making кулич in the middle of summer will be the least of my sins, I think.

Linguistic Note: Funnily enough, bread is never moist in Russian – it is свежий (svezhi – fresh), мягкий (myaki – soft) or сдобный (sdobni – rich), but not moist. (The homemade кулич was all of the above, but I wanted to describe it as moist to Masha, and was told that is simply not said in Russian. Fresh, soft and rich it is, then.) Bread can be сухой (sukhoi – dry), but never moist. Russians have a plethora of words to describe various types of bread and their attributes, so it surprised me that bread cannot be moist.

Check out the pictures of кулич and пасха below (and note the vase of pussywillows in the background). Besides March 8, the Russian celebration of Easter is another holiday I want to bring home with me.

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