By Suzanne Virgilio
So far I’ve shared some of the Italian traditions of my family’s Easter meal, but this article would not be complete without offering some of the Russian foods that grace our holiday table. Unfortunately since my husband’s older relatives have passed, we celebrate our traditional holiday meal on the date set by Gregorian calendar. This year the date is April 5th. My husband and I, however, will observe the Orthodox date as well, which is April 12th.
While our meal is a cultural mix of family favorites it always includes the traditional:
• Hard-cooked eggs: great use of those colored eggs our children would make for the Easter Bunny. The eggs are sliced in half, seasoned with salt & pepper, drizzle of cider vinegar and shards of fresh horseradish.
• Fresh asparagus w/ pan roasted mushrooms
• Herb roasted leg of lamb
• Honey roasted ham
• Easter bread or Paska – made from what my husband can remember of his Uncle George’s recipe. A large buttery round loaf similar to a brioche, decorated with a dough-braided cross to symbolize the “Risen Christ.”
• Homemade pierogi – the highlight of any Russian holiday meal.
Now, up to this point the suggestions of this menu might not be too threatening, however, the mere mention of HOMEMADE PIEROGI might send even the experienced cook running scared. Not to worry–those of us fortunate to live in the Lehigh Valley have several churches that continue the long-standing tradition of making these doughy purses of comfort.
Upon researching for this article I didn’t have to look far to find a treasured jewel in my own backyard: Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, located at 980 Bridle Path Road, Bethlehem, Pa. Like many in Bethlehem, I know of this church for its anticipated fall weekend celebration “Russian Days,” which takes place the first weekend after Labor Day in September. For 34 years Saint Nicholas Church has hosted this cultural event celebrating Russian food, music and faith. Homemade specialties include, borscht, potato pancakes, halupki, haloshki, and of course homemade pierogi, just to name a few.
Link to the Russian Days Festival
The church workers make over 700 dozen pierogi for this festival alone.
As I started doing my research I learned these dedicated parish members do not stop the pierogi production when their yearly festival is over. They continue on most weeks throughout the year making and selling pierogi as well as seasonal favorites.
Ordering Pierogi for Easter
Pierogi orders must be called in by Monday before noon, and pick up is on Wednesday at the church by 11 a.m.. The price is $6 a dozen. You may order potato, potato and cheese or potato and sauerkraut.
In addition to pierogies the church hosts a Friday Lenten fish dinner for eat in or take out. $10 for adults and $6 for children, but get there early since availability is on a first come basis. Paska is also baked during the Easter season and sold at the annual Russian Days festival.
St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church
980 Bridle Path Road
Bethlehem, PA 18017