Slovak Easter came early this year


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The tastes of a Slovakian Easter came a few weeks early for members and friends of one of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh's oldest South Side parishes.

On Saturday, March 29 -- following a mass celebrated in Slovak by Father Peter Haladej of St. Aloysius Parish in East Liverpool, Ohio -- the faithful gathered at Prince of Peace Parish on 13th Street for a traditional Easter breakfast and cultural festival. And to talk about good eats.

Per custom, the menu included many of the foods traditionally enjoyed in towns throughout Slovakia on Easter morning -- garlicky pork kolbassi, sliced ham (sunka), egg cheese and a sweet, rich yeast bread known as pascha. There were dozens of brightly colored hard-boiled eggs, too, though they were naked of the elaborate wax designs you might expect at such a gathering.

With 175 guests from throughout the tri-state area, "It's just too hard" for volunteers to decorate so many pysanki, said organizer Paul Zatek. Especially when you've got 50 pounds of sausage to stuff and smoke in the parish center, as he did with his son the previous Saturday. Mr. Zatek also smoked and sliced the ham, grated the horseradish to be mixed with grated red beets for a dish called hrin, and made egg cheese using his grandmother's recipe.

"Everything is homemade. Nothing is store-bought," noted the long-time member of Prince of Peace's Cultural Diversity Committee, which sponsors the event.

All of the food was rich with symbolism. The pork kolbassi, for example, is indicative of God's favor and generosity; hrin is offered as a reminder of Christ's suffering. Eggs -- one of the most enduring symbols of Easter -- represent Jesus' emergence from the tomb and resurrection.

"These foods are traditional all over Slovakia, from the north to the east to the south," said Mr. Zatek. "It's what I was raised with with my parents and grandparents."

This was the 24th year for the free breakfast, which the church hosts as a way to teach people about age-old traditions.

"We don't celebrate a lot of ethnic masses anymore," Mr. Zatek said, "so we have to [find ways to] keep the traditions alive."

Holding the event a few weeks earlier than they used to is a good thing, he noted, in that it also allows those who think they might like to serve the traditional meal at home time to find and test recipes before putting them into a basket, with butter and wine, to be blessed on Holy Saturday.

Prince of Peace's Blessing of Easter Baskets will take place at noon on April 19 at St. Adalbert Church on 15th Street.


Gretchen McKay: gmckay@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

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