In search of the perfect paska

My grandma was very particular about her paska.

This braided Easter bread, with very specific designs meant to represent Christ, formed a central role in Eastern European Easter baskets, which were taken to the church on Holy Saturday and blessed by the Catholic priest.

Grandma baked her paskas meticulously and for many years they made their way from Colver, Pennsylvania to Green Bay Wisconsin as part of generous Easter care packages that also included walnut rolls and apricot cookies.

Eventually, Bell’s Palsy rendered her hands unable to form adequate braids and she launched an all-out effort to find someone to create paskas to her standards. Though she lived in a house surrounded on both sides by relatives who could easily provide her with adequate paska, Grandma refused to lower her paska standards. She continued to search.

One night she called me and, very excited, told me she had found someone to bake her paska. A neighbor who worked at a local grocery store had demonstrated acceptable paska skill and agreed to provide the sacred bread.

A few weeks later poor Grandma called me again.

It seems her chosen paska maker had died suddenly, a victim of a horrible crime.

Grandma detailed the story and sadly shook her head.

“So I don’t know what I’m going to do about my paska now,” she said.

Yesterday, in a tribute to her great-grandma, Molly gave paska baking a whirl. She used a traditional recipe from a cookbook given to us by my Grandma, which meant the directions were very vague.

“Place in greased pans,” it said, with no actual instructions about which type of pan to use.

“Reserve a small portion of the dough for a braid and cross” it said, with no clear description about how to form the braid and cross.

With help from her friend Karma, Molly gave it her best shot. The process, from the yeast rising to the bread baking, made our house smell wonderful and, on Easter morning, we’ll be thinking about the very particular Baba Kostelnik as we break apart our paska and enjoy our Easter meal.

Happy Easter from Molly and Me!

This is a circa 1968 picture of my grandma and me. I'm not sure what we're cooking here, but I have a lot of great memories of delicious food and competitive bingo games in this kitchen.
Molly and Karma add their own twist to the traditional Easter bread.
Karma goes for the extra long roll. With no direction at all regarding the paska process, the girls had to wing it.
If you look carefully, you can see the braided ring and the central cross.
I think Baba would approve.

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