Preparing for Easter, and an easier way to peel eggs!

One of the bonuses of our move to the farm I grew up on is that we could take part in a childhood tradition; the blessing of our Easter baskets. It was many moves and many years before we were able to find a Polish church that did basket blessings, and be able to take ours in.

That didn’t stop us from doing our traditional baskets. It was one of my favorite traditions, growing up, and even when we stopped going to church for many years (for a variety of reasons), we still did our baskets and simply blessed them ourselves.

Which is what we’ll have to do this year, since none of the churches are holding any sort of services during the lockdown, other than online.

We did start some of our preparations already. For the cheese portion of our basket, we decided to do marinated goat cheese again. I made up two 250ml canning jars for our basket (I’m hoping to get one of them to my mother, along with some fresh horseradish), plus two 500ml ones, just for regular eating.

Tomorrow, I hope to make some fancy bread for the basket. Probably a Braided Egg Bread again, though I haven’t completely decided yet.

Today, I started pink pickled eggs; one of three ways we like to do eggs for our basket. The recipe for pink pickled eggs that I followed before is here. This year we, strangely, had a hard time finding anything other than shredded beets at the grocery store, so I modified the recipe a bit. I found 1 small jar of tiny pickled beets and used the juice from that to colour the liquid, plus sliced some of the beets and included them in with the eggs. With so little beet juice, I figured the addition of the beets themselves would help add colour. The other change I made was to include the fresh herbs I had left over from making the marinated goat cheese; thyme and rosemary.

When preparing eggs for the basket, we always cook way more than we need, so that we can use only the most perfect eggs for the basket.

Which is difficult, when the eggs need to be peeled first. There have been times when we’ve boiled a dozen eggs, and not a single one could be peeled without tearing apart!

So today, I tried a combination of “hacks” to get the job done.

The first is to add baking soda to the cooking water. Yes, it does make a difference.

The next is to cool the cooked eggs down as quickly as possible. Putting the eggs into an ice bath is one way to do it, but our well water gets so cold, we can get away with using tap water.

The final one is something I tried for the first time today, and it worked beautifully!

Shaking them in a jar.

Okay, so it wasn’t quite that simple. 😀

I grabbed a small canning jar, though any jar (with a lid) just a bit bigger than an egg would work. Theoretically, you can use a small glass and cover the top with your fingers, but that would get pretty messy. The first jar I tried was a 500ml (pint) size, and I found it a bit too big and ended up using a 250ml jar instead.

Leaving the eggs in their cold water soak, take one egg and put it in the jar, along with enough water to fill the jar about half full or a bit more. It can be helpful to crack the shell a bit before putting it in the jar.

Then, put on the lid and start shaking. Vigorously, but not too violently!

The shaking does a few things. The most obvious is, it cracks the shell quite thoroughly. This is where you have to find a balance on how much water is in the jar when you shake it. Too much, and the water protects the egg from cracking as much. Too little, and the egg can get bashed apart.

The shaking also separates the membrane from the white of the eggs – which would have already been spurred along by the addition of baking soda to the cooking water, and the quick cool down. And finally, it lets water work its way between the membrane and the egg white, making it much easier to remove the shell.

After a thorough shaking, dump the contents back into the water with the rest of the eggs. While holding the cracked egg under water, start peeling away the shell. If it still sticks, do the shake again. 🙂

Out of the package of 18 eggs I cooked, I got 8 that were perfect enough for the basket; two for each of us.

This is what happens when an egg is shaken up too vigorously.

Here are the best eggs, ready for the fridge.

They should have at least 3 days to marinade in the pickling liquid, which is just in time for Easter.

Of the remaining eggs, there was one that broke during cooking, which left another 8 eggs suitable for pickling. I did up another container the same way, minus the beet juice. It still has beet slices with the eggs, so it will have just a hint of pink. That one will be for regular eating.

It is going to be a delicious Easter celebration this Sunday! 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Getting Ready

While we are ready and waiting for my husband to come home from the hospital, we are also getting ready for Easter.

This evening, I went hunting for horseradish.

20190417.horseradish.found

After scraping away some fallen leaves, I found some new grow peaking through the ground. I used a potato fork (the only fork that didn’t grow legs and walk away over the years) to dig up a few pieces.

This bunch is growing under the power pole in the garden. I knew the area was very rocky, but wow. I had a really hard time getting that fork deep enough to get some roots out. No matter where I moved it, I was hitting rocks, just a couple of inches below the surface.

20190417.horseradish.roots

I didn’t take out much. A larger piece for our own basket, and a couple of small pieces for my mother. If she wants, she can use one and plant the other, since she has garden space where she lives.

20190417.horseradish.roots.cleaned

For now, I’ve scrubbed the dirt off, and they are wrapped in damp paper towels. For our basket, I will peel some of the outer skin off the lower part, and save the top. The tradition is to use horseradish paste, mixed with beetroot, in the basket; the bitter taste of the horseradish symbolizes the pain of crucifixion Christ endured for us, while the sweetness of the beetroot symbolizes the joy of the resurrection. Growing up, though, we always used fresh horseradish root. My mother would sometimes give away pieces with sprouting tops, after the baskets were blessed, to friends to plant if they wanted.

My mother planted the horseradish in strange places. One batch is under a spruce tree, which would be just as difficult to harvest as the ones growing among rocks. I found more growing among some of her flowers outside the living room window, which has better soil conditions, but harvesting it would mean damaging the bulbs of the flowers it’s growing with.

I’m thinking of maybe using some of the raised planters that are still in decent shape, so the horseradish itself will also be contained better, and not spread too much.

Something to figure out over the next few days!

Meanwhile, I will now go and boil some eggs to make pink pickled eggs. 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Marinated Goat Cheese

Though it is still weeks away, we are already planning our semi-traditional Polish Easter basket.

I say “semi” traditional, because we’ve modified some of the contents over the years.

If you’re unfamiliar with a Polish Easter basket, these are filled with symbolic foods to be blessed on Holy Saturday, and eaten on Easter Sunday. The foods include ham, sausage, bacon, bread, cheese, salt, butter, horseradish and eggs. We also include things like olives, vinegar, and olive oil. It may also contain a bottle of wine and a candle. Oh, and sometimes chocolate or candy. The baskets are decorated and covered with lace or embroidered clothes. As a child, Easter was my favourite holiday, and our traditional basket was a big reason for that!

Some of the contents require more advance preparation, and I was able to start on one of those, yesterday. This is a non-traditional way to include the traditional cheese in the basket.

This year, I found some absolutely delightful mini-jars, and decided to make several small jars of marinated goat cheese, but we’ve also done it by layering medallions of goat cheese in a larger jar. Both ways work fine.

It had been my intention to make two baskets this year, with a large family basket for ourselves, and a smaller one for my mother. She declined my offer, and will be making her own basket.

We’re going to have lots extra out of this batch!

To start with, I scalded the tiny jars I bought special for the basket, plus extra pint size jars. Then I prepared the ingredients. The mini-jars have smaller openings, though, so that changed things a bit.

marinated.goat.cheese.1

Here we have fresh rosemary leaves and fresh thyme leaves – they came in 28gram packages, and I stripped the leaves from the stems. There are peppercorns and about 8 cloves of garlic, sliced. Not pictured is Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

I completely forgot about the bay leaves. There should have been a bay leaf per jar.

As you can see, this is a forgiving recipe.

The goat cheese came in 300 gram logs; I had 2 of them and cut them each into 4 equal pieces. For the ones to go into the mini-jars, I cut pieces off to try and make them into smaller columns, then gently rolled them between my hands to make them smooth and round.

The first one I tried, promptly crumbed apart. Which is why I have rolled balls of cheese. I broke up each trimmed quarter piece into 4 and formed the smaller pieces into smooth balls.

For the pint sized jars, I didn’t have to be pretty, since they’re not intended for the basket

Each jar got some peppercorns, thyme leaves, garlic and rosemary leaves placed on the bottom. If I’d remembered the bay leaves, they would have gone into the bottom, too. Then the goat cheese gets put into the jars.

This is why I make extras…

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I didn’t make one of the small columns of cheese small enough. It got messy. 😀

No worries. It’ll still taste good!

Once the cheese is in, more peppercorns were added, as well as the rest of the thyme, rosemary and garlic slices. Then the olive oil was added.

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After the oil was added, the rims were cleaned, the jars sealed, and into the fridge they went.

Next is the hard part; waiting a week before using them!

From the looks of them, I think the balled cheese will be kept for the basket. I do have one non-messy mini-jar with a bigger piece, so I might use one of each. We shall see. The pint jars don’t have to wait for then, though, and I will post pictures, when they are ready. 🙂

After marinating for a week, the oil can be drained through a sieve and reserved (the herbs are discarded). It makes for incredibly flavourful oil to use when cooking. The cheese can be served as a spread on bread or crackers, or used any other way you would use goat cheese.

Alternatively, little jars like this can be served as individual appetizers. The jars can be warmed by placing them in a flat bottomed pan with hot water, and placed in a hot oven until heated through. They can then be used as individual servings, eaten straight from the jar.

I intend to put these in our basket, just as they are, without straining them first since the jars are so small. When we made them before, with layers of cheese in a larger jar, we removed the cheese, then put a few pieces into a smaller container with a liquid tight seal. I then covered the cheese with strained oil and closed it up. It made for a nice presentation in the basket. 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Blessing of the Baskets

My younger daughter and I took our basket into town for blessing.  After a bit of shifting things around, this is what our basket looked like.

2018-Easter.basket

The prosciutto roses were added at the very end, because they dry out so quickly – though they did double duty in holding some of the eggs in place!  I ended up fitting 8 of each type of egg into the basket, so there were some of the tea dyed and onion skin dyed eggs left over.

The embroidered table cloth is one of a couple of antique embroidered linens I’ve managed to acquire many, many years ago.  It has 8 little matching napkins.

Normally, I would have ironed it first, but neither of our two irons made it with the movers.

Which reminds me.  I have come to realize something.

We are now completely finished unpacking!

I had unpacked a box of books in the office some time ago.  I still have a number of bins, but aside from one that’s still got stuff in it because I have to find the right spot of them, they don’t need to be unpacked.  The stuff in them belongs in the bins.

On the one hand, Yay!  We’re unpacked!

On the other… there is now no possibility of finding the missing stuff jammed into an unpacked box somewhere.  That stuff is lost.

Including my two irons.

*sigh*

But I digress!

I snagged a quick photo in the church…

2018-Easter.basket.blessing

Another half dozen or so baskets were added after this photo was taken.

I’m taken aback by the lit candles inside people’s baskets.  I’m reading “fire hazard” all over the place!  😀  My daughter remembers the last time we brought our baskets here for blessing, several Easters ago.  We had come out for a visit and stayed with my father, in the very house we live in now.  We had included a candle in our basket.  Someone lit it for us!

A couple of the baskets that came after this photo was taken were just huge!  You can kind of tell whose baskets are for larger families. 😀 There was one that had the most interesting wire holder for the eggs, that kept them well above the rest of the food.  I love all the different styles of baskets and how they are decorated, too.

If you look towards the back of the photo, on the riser above the baskets at the foot of the alter, is a small basket that doesn’t have any food in it.  That’s a donation basket for the priest, for doing the blessing.  I remember helping my mother bring baskets for blessing, and she would set up the little donation basket, and a second one, where she added some food items from our own baskets.  Other people followed her lead and added more, so that by the end of it, the priest also had a basket full of food!

For the blessing ceremony, a prayer and blessing was said, then the priest sprinkled all the baskets with holy water.  Then he went down the aisle and sprinkled us, too.  We finished with a rousing hymn of blessing, with the priest grinning from ear to ear as he sang, his arms waving to the rhythm.  Clearly, this is a ceremony much enjoyed by the priest, as well!

Then, after we retrieved our basket, I saw him standing there with his iPhone out, taking video of us all, getting our baskets, still with that huge, joyful smile on his face.

It was awesome.

The Re-Farmer

Eggs, three ways!

Today, we did the final preparations for our Easter basket.  Which required an extra trip into town to get more eggs!

We eat a lot of eggs.

I see chickens in our future.

We tend to do eggs at least 2 ways.  This year, with the pickled pink eggs, we have 3 varieties.

First up, here is how the pickled pink eggs turned out.

Pickled pink eggs

Pickled Pink eggs, after 3 days in the pickling liquid.

Of the 12 eggs we pickled, I went over them and picked the 8 best, leaving 4 for us to taste test.

They are quite delicious.  The pickling gives the eggs a very solid, dense feel, and the tang after 3 days in the pickling liquid is just right.

We then got two pots of 18 eggs each going.  One included the onion skins I’d been setting aside for the past few months, along with a splash of vinegar and a dash of turmeric, for extra colour, in the water.  Onion skin dyed eggs for the Easter basket are called kraszanki (kra-SHAN-kee) in Polish.  The turmeric is my own addition.  The eggs are hard boiled until they reach the desired colour; these were boiled for probably 45 minutes.

Onion skin dyed eggs

Always cook extra, in case of breakage!

Of the 18 eggs, 6 broke, leaving an even dozen for the basket.  It’s unlikely we’ll be able to fit all of them in.

The other batch of eggs were boiled for 10 minutes.  The hot water was replaced with cold until they reached a temperature where they could be handled.  Using the back of a spoon, the shells were cracked all over.  After that, they were returned to the stove to boil again, this time with 3 Tbsp black tea leaves, 1 tsp sugar, a tsp of five spice mix (or, as we did today, the equivalent spices I had on hand) and 1/2 cup soy sauce.  They were then cooked for another 45 minutes or so – again, it’s until the desired colour is reached.  The original recipe I’d found for these said to cook them for 3 hours!  We’ve never cooked them that long.

Here is what they looked like, after being drained and rinsed.

Tea dyed eggs

Once they were cooled down, it was time to peel them.

Out of the 18, 7 got damaged while being peeled.

And that is why we cook so many extra eggs! 😀

Peeled, tea dyed eggs

In all the years we have done these eggs, including years when we’d cooked them for much longer, the coloured parts have never looked this intense!

I wonder if our well water has something to do with it?

Meanwhile, I dug out some of my collection of little bowls (I adore little bowls, so I’ve got quite a few) and other pretty dishes to hold the other basket ingredients.  Some of the vinegar and olive oil were transferred to small pitchers with liquid tight stoppers.  For the butter, we whipped some with parsley and fresh garlic.  The salt we’re using this year is Himalayan sea salt.  We are including a mustard this year, too.

Each item in the basket has symbolic meaning.

The bread symbolizes Jesus, who is the “bread of life.” Eggs symbolize the resurrection and new life.  Kielbasa (sausage) represents God’s favour and generosity.  Ham is a symbol of joy and abundance.  Bacon (which we don’t usually include, though sometimes we include prosciutto, instead) represents God’s mercy, as well as generosity.  Butter is a reminder of the good will we should have to all.  The butter is traditionally shaped into a lamb, but we usually have plain or herbed butter decorated with a cross made of cloves.  Some years, we’ve had a lamb made out of marzipan.  The lamb, of course, symbolizes Jesus.

Horseradish, with its strong, bitter flavour, reminds us of the Passion of Christ.  When made into a spread sweetened with beet juice, it represents both the pain of Christ’s crucifixion and the sweet joy of resurrection.  Salt is a reminder for us to be the “salt of the earth” and symbolizes prosperity and justice.  Cheese symbolizes moderation.

We’ve included olives and olive oil in our baskets, symbolizing peace, wisdom and hope.  Vinegar is there to remind us of the crucifixion, when Jesus was given vinegar (also translated as sour wine) on a sponge to drink.  We sometimes include mustard – preferably a type in which the seeds are still visible – to represent faith.

A candle can also be included, to symbolize Christ as the Light of the World.  The baskets can be decorated with spring flowers, greenery and ribbons to represent new life and the resurrection.  A bottle of red wine is also appropriate to include, to symbolize the blood of Christ.  Then the whole thing is covered with a fine embroidered or lace cloth.

The blessing of the baskets, called Święconka (shvye-CHONE-ka is a rough approximation of how it’s pronounced) in Polish, happens on Holy Saturday.  The blessing of the baskets is one of my fondest childhood memories.  Some years, I would have my own tiny little basket to carry (okay; tiny is a relative statement in our family…) for the blessing.  They would all be laid out at the front of the church, on the steps leading up to the altar.  I loved looking at all the different ways people did their baskets, and the different things they would include.  There is plenty of room for variety in this tradition!  I saw all kinds of breads, fruit, and eggs decorated in all sorts of ways.  With so many baskets, the church was soon smelling so good!  There was such a sense of anticipation – so very appropriate, as we anticipated celebrating the resurrection of Christ.

Whatever traditions you have for Easter, I hope that it brings you much joy and peace.

The Re-Farmer

Braided Egg Bread

Today, we made our bread for our traditional Polish Easter basket.  Though paska is usually associated with Easter, this lovely bread is also traditional.

One of the things that’s important for this bread is for the eggs to be at room temperature.

dried blood orange zest

Zest of 2 blood oranges.

This year, we added a new ingredient; dried orange zest.  I like to dry my own zest, and this time I had some from blood oranges.  I deliberately chose the reddest ones to get a much darker coloured zest.

If you have a zester, it makes it really easy to quickly zest your fruit over a paper towel.  Spread the zest thinly and leave to dry.  When dry, store in an air tight container.

Easter Bread

Easter bread ingredients

Not pictured: flour

2 cups milk
1/4 cup butter
2 tsp salt
2-3 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp yeast
saffron; a few threads
optional: orange zest
2 eggs
5-6 cups all purpose flour

 

  1. Proof the yeast in warm water (about 1/2 – 2/3 cups) in a large bowl for about 10 minutes.
  2. Soften the saffron threads in a small amount of very warm water.
  3. Scald the milk, then add in the butter, sugar and salt.  Stir until butter is melted.
  4. Allow the milk mixture to cool before adding it to the yeast mixture.  While it’s cooling, stir in the saffron and optional orange zest, then add the milk mixture to the proofed yeast.
  5. Stir thoroughly, then mix in the eggs (if the mixture seems too warm still, the eggs can be added after the first cup or two of flour).
  6. Add 3 cups of flour and beat thoroughly with an electric mixer for 2 minutes, or by hand for about 200 strokes.
  7. Add more flour by the half cup-full until a stiff dough begins to form.  Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead thoroughly, adding more flour as needed.  If kneading by hand, knead for at least 5 minutes.
  8. Clean and oil the large bowl.  Add the kneaded dough to the bowl, turning it to coat all sides with oil.
  9. Cover loosely and place in a warm place to rise until doubled in size.
  10. Once the dough is doubled in size, turn it onto onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently a few times.  Divide the dough in half, and return one half to the bowl.

    Braided egg bread

    Braided loaves, ready for the oven!

    Braided loaves, after rising and ready for the oven!

  11. To form a braid, divide the remaining half into 3 equal pieces.  Knead each piece a few times, then form into a rope about 12-18 inches.  Join the three lengths together at one end, then braid the dough.  Tuck under the ends to hide them, then transfer the braided loaf onto a well oiled baking sheet.
  12. Repeat with the second half of the dough, or use it to create other shapes.
  13. Cover and allow to rise again for about half an hour.  Preheat oven to 350F.
  14. Optional: glaze the loaves with an egg wash (2 egg beaten with about a tablespoon of water) to get a nicely browned surface.
  15. After the loaves have risen, place into the centre of the preheated oven and bake for about 30 minutes.
  16. When done, allow the bread to cool slightly before carefully removing from the pan to a cooling rack.

Egg.Bread.baked

 

A Good Day to Stay Inside!

It was just a bit nippy out there! 😀

I posted a video, taken from the cat food area, on my Instagram showing some of the branches blown into our yard, though a few of them were there from a previous blustery day.  I took another video from the deer feeding area that I posted previously.

That was the only time any of us stepped outside today!

The wind actually managed to knock over some of the insulating foam we’ve got around the base of our house.

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I can see the one bin being blown over, as it was empty, but the other had stuff in it to weigh it down.  Plus, there were bricks holding up the foam.

It was the only area I had to fix, though.

I was holding the containers of deer feed when I took this photo.  You see those seeds on the bin and the step below it?  That was blown out from them, in just the few seconds it took me to get out my phone and take the photo!

I ended up not having to refill the cats’ food at all; I just got some of the snow out of what was already there, then refilled their water.  Only Rolando Moon braved the winds to say hello, and take a few bites…

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… and give my finger a gentle chomp, immediately after this shot was taken! 😀

The deer feeding area had only quick visits with deer, including one I didn’t recognize that came by, but didn’t go near the feed.  The area is just too exposed to the wind, I think, and they were very skittish.

I first saw what I thought was Barbecue, running away from the feed, across the garden area.  I’m pretty sure I saw Hungry Girl already ahead of him.

It turned out they were chased off, by two more deer I’ve never seen before!

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This one dared come to the feed for only a few quick mouthfuls.  I noticed the mark on its neck and, once the photos were uploaded, confirmed that it was indeed a scar.

It looks like there are antler buds on this one, too.

The other deer didn’t even get that close…

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This second one started towards the house, but only a bit.  Then they both ran off.

It wasn’t until I uploaded the photo that I saw the red mark on its inner leg.  It looks like a fairly fresh wound.

This one also seems to have antler buds starting to show.

Happily, Hungry Girl and Barbecue did come back later, but only for quick visits.  The area, however, was just full of redpolls, today, in spite of the winds!  Those little guys sure do move quick!

We humans, on the other hand, stayed warm inside.  Normally, we would have gone to church for Palm Sunday, but if it’s this windy by our house, the roads would be far worse.  Instead, my daughters baked some more bread, since we were going through the last batch so quickly.  I started a list of what we’ll need for our Easter baskets and prepared some recipes.  The girls requested I bake a special bread I used to do regularly, when opportunity allowed.  It’s very similar to challah, and I enjoy making pretty shapes with it for our basket.

Our Easter basket is based on the traditional Polish Easter baskets of my family’s tradition, which means it will be full of symbolic foods, plus a few token chocolates, if we happen to pick them up.  The bread is the centerpiece, and of course, there are lots of eggs.  We make sure to have both peeled and unpeeled eggs (no unnecessary work is to be done on Easter Sunday, including peeling eggs, if it can be avoided).  One very non-traditional way of doing eggs we’ve decided to do again is pink pickled eggs.  Those require 2-3 days to pickle in, among other things, beet juice. Sometimes we like to do herb and olive oil marinated goat cheese, but those need about a week to marinade, so it’s too late to do that this year.  The basket will also include ham, kielbasa, butter, cheese, salt, horseradish (we’ll be buying that in a jar, this year) and a few other things.

I had asked my mother again about the horseradish growing here, and this time she told me where she’d last transplanted them.

Under the spruce tree, next to the house.

I tried to get her to be more precise as to which spruce tree she meant, since there are quite a few by the house, but I never did get a clear answer.  She seemed to assume I would know exactly which tree she meant! 😀

Ah, well.  We’ll see where it comes up and will know for next year!

We make sure to have the basket ready by the end of Good Friday, so it can be assembled and taken for blessing on Saturday.  The contents are then used for our Easter brunch.  It’s one of our favorite traditions, and I’m really looking forward to it.

This tradition is huge in Polish culture (shared in Ukrainian culture, too).  I recall when our Polish priest had to finally retire for health reasons, and we got a new and younger priest that was…  I don’t know, actually.  Just “not Polish.”  😀  When Easter came around, he announced that there would be no blessing of the baskets.  I don’t remember the exact explanation, but basically, it wasn’t “Catholic”, so it wasn’t going to be done.

Boy, did he have a revolt on his hands!

By the time the uproar was done, he was doing the basket blessings.

That priest didn’t last long.  He was a very bitter man.  I don’t know how he was ever ordained in the first place.

As far as I know, no priest assigned to this parish has ever tried to end the tradition of blessing of the baskets!

The Re-Farmer