Easter is a very special celebration in the Lithuanian calendar. Like Christmas Eve (Kūčios), it is a time for thorough housecleaning and preparation. The Easter feast is an important meal after long Lenten fasting, and in earlier times usually featured pork (suckling pig or ham), and lamb roasts, sausages, stuffed geese or turkeys, and meat in aspic (šaltiena). Fish dishes were not customary on the Easter table, as it was a food eatenf during Lent. It is an occasion for serving favourite cakes – yeasty “babkas”, poppy seed wreaths (kringels), and a hostess’ best tortes.
An interesting custom was having a Paschal Lamb (emblem of St. John the Baptist as well as Christ as the sacrifical lamb) carved out of butter as a centrepiece, according to gastronomic heritage researcher Prof. Rimvydas Laužikas. Also popular were various decorations featuring Easter rabbits, which came from a German Lutheran tradition, and of course the Lithuanian Easter Granny, bringing gifts for good children.
A unique dessert, made only once a year at Easter, is borrowed from the Russian Orthodox tradition. It is called pascha (or paska), and is made of cottage cheese. Laužikas notes that this was a very special dish, because dairy products were more scarce in the winter, but began appearing on fancier Easter tables in Lithuania toward the end of the 19th century.
A mixture of cottage cheese and other ingredients is set in a flowerpot and turned out onto a plate for serving. Usually included are some form of dried fruit such as raisins or apricots and nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts or pistachios. Most recipes from Lithuanian sources produce a fairly large amount, but here is one for a smaller family.
1 lb. package of cottage cheese
1 cup table cream (or sour cream)
½ cup sugar
⅓ cup butter
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons raisins or other dried fruit
3 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds or other nuts
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
- Soak raisins in boiling water or rum
- Beat butter with sugar, add yolks and beat well, then add cottage cheese and beat until smooth.
- Add cream (or sour cream) and remaining ingredients. Mix well.
- Line a new clay pot (about 7 inches in diam.) with parchment paper or 3 layers of cheesecloth. (You can also use a small plastic bucket with a few holes poked in the bottom.) Add the cheese mixture, fold the paper or cheesecloth over the top and cover with a weight. Place the flowerpot in a bowl so that it can drain for 24 hours. Turn out onto a plate and decorate with more dried fruit, nuts or flowers.