Both my grandmothers have been gone from my life for over 40 years, but the impact their foods made on my life was strong. My grandparents from both the Serbian and Slovak sides of the family came from Europe in the early 1900s, bringing their knowledge of the foods and traditions along with them. Easter, along with Christmas, are the two holidays I associate with the most traditional foods.
Both sides of the family made traditional baskets of foods to take to their respective churches to be blessed. Though Slovakia and Serbia are not close to each other, the traditions of the area are very widespread. As the last Easter I may have spent with one of my grandparents was about 44 years ago, my personal memories are sketchy in some areas, and vivid in others. Lately, it has felt important to reach out to my siblings and learn what memories they might still have that are gone from my recollections.
The items traditionally placed in the basket of foods to be blessed are ham, sausage, egg cheese, bread, beets with horseradish, salt, butter, Easter eggs and a candle. There may be other things that were added. I recall the baskets being taken to church, but not too much more.
Some of the traditional foods that are less common here in the US are the beets with horseradish and the egg cheese. It seems lately that beets with horseradish recipes have been popping up all over. Not like the traditional one my grandma made, of course, but that combination suddenly has become apparent.
Beets with Horseradish
The recipe that my Serbian grandmother passed down was from grated cooked or canned beets, mixed with bottled horseradish to taste. The recipe amounts are fluid, depending on the size of family and how much horseradish one can tolerate. For two jars of beets, well drained and shredded, about 1 tablespoon of horseradish may be added. This amount may be increased or decreased as needed. A little sugar is added, from 1 to 3 teaspoons. All ingredients are mixed well, and then can be spooned into jars until needed.
This beet dish is used as a condiment, to go with the ham and other Easter foods. It can be used as a side dish on the plate, or it can be used on a sandwich of the traditional Easter Paska Bread with ham or sausage. The Serbian name of the beets and horseradish dish is not one I can recall. I have read that depending on the area it is from, this may be called Ren, Hren, Chrin and many other variations.
This particular dish is one that I firmly recall only being called by its Serbian name, Sirets. The pronunciation of this word is SEE rets, with the letter R trilled. It is one of the traditional foods I have never cared for, but my Dad just loved. Since my Mom never made it, I asked Grandma for her recipe so I could carry on the tradition.
She told me to take one quart of whole milk and a dozen eggs in a pan and mix them together really well, adding in a little bit of salt and sugar. Over time I have found that about 2 teaspoons each of the salt and sugar work well. The mixture is cooked slowly on the stove, stirring constantly, until the eggs begin to cook and separate. Once the mixture has completely separated, it is poured into a cheesecloth lined colander to drain. Once drained, the ends of the cheesecloth are brought together and tied, and the ball is hung to continue draining. Grandma hung the cheesecloth ball from her kitchen faucet. Once the egg cheese ball has cooled it is placed in the refrigerator to continue to firm and chill. When ready to eat, it is unwrapped from the cheesecloth and sliced.
This rich butter and egg bread was made mainly for Christmas or Easter. My Slovak mom also made it for Thanksgiving. The bread is delightful, and I have made this recipe as our daily bread since the 1970s. It may have started as a traditional bread used only for these special feasts, but it is far too delicious to limit its use. I have now created a version that is easy to make in my heavy duty stand mixer. For Easter, the bread is braided, either in a ring shape, or a round loaf with a small braid on top or in a braided loaf.
Keeping traditions alive for your children is a worthwhile endeavor, giving them a sense of place in the world. It is not meant to divide or separate cultures, but to keep the foods in their purest state so they maintain their ability to stand out from the crowd in these days of fusion cooking.
Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I hope it was informative and helped you along your own culinary journey.