Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church

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.


Potato/Sauerkraut Pierogi

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.

Potato and Cheese Pierogi

Potato and Cheese Pierogi

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.

No small potato operation

No small potato operation


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.

Dedicated workers, a labor of love

Dedicated workers, a labor of love

Pierogis are parboiled

Pierogisare parboiled

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

Italian Easter Cookies

Italian Easter Cookies

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 60 minutes

Yield: 3 -4 dozen individual cookies, depending on size

This recipe will also make 3 - 4 large egg filled cookies, again depending upon the size you create. To be honest, I ALWAYS double the recipe because they make great gifts. When my sons were young I would have an Easter egg hunt in our yard that would begin with each chid coloring an egg and placing it some cookie dough. The cookies would be baked while the egg hunt went on. Then each guest would take their frosted cookie home in addition to what remained of candies they hadn't yet devoured.


  • Cookie Dough
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup butter - room temp, may use salted (2 sticks)
  • 4 large eggs, room temp
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp. baking powder slightly rounded ( or 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp slightly rounded)
  • 4 1/2 cups flour
  • Frosting
  • 2 1/2 c. confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 c. milk or water or a little more to make frosting a thick drizzle
  • Colored nonpareils for decorating cookies
  • Optional - Hard cooked eggs decorated for the "Easter Bunny"


  1. Making dough
  2. In a large bowl combine the room temp. butter and granulated sugar, mix with an electric mixer until very creamy and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, crack eggs into a liquid measuring cup, add 1 Tbsp vanilla and with a fork beat to combine.
  4. In a medium bowl combine the salt, baking powder and flour. Stir well to combine all ingredients
  5. Now add egg/vanilla mixture to butter/mixture in four additions. Mix after each addition (add, mix;add, mix;add mix....)
  6. After all egg/vanilla mixture has been added begin adding flour mixture. Again do it incrementally and mix after each addition. There is a lot of flour so dough will begin to become rather thick, but still a bit sticky. You haven’t done anything wrong, continue until all flour mixture has been incorporated.
  7. Remove dough from mixing bowl, shape into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap to chill several hours or overnight.
  8. Baking Cookies
  9. This is where the fun begins. Collect a group of children to help, give them some suggestions on shapes and let them do the work
  10. Remove dough from refrigerator
  11. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line baking sheets with parchment paper
  12. Dough will be very firm so use a bench knife to divide dough into smaller pieces to make it easier to work with.
  13. Once each cookie is shaped place on parchment.
  14. Cookies will “puff” a bit but don’t really spread too much. Just be sure to place the same sizes cookie on each tray as bigger cookies will will take longer to bake, thus leaving the smaller ones to burn.
  15. Once you have a tray assembled place in preheated oven and set timer for about 8 minutes for small cookies, 10 minutes for slightly larger ones
  16. While cookies are baking prepare frosting
  17. Cookies are done when slightly firm to touch and when lifted from tray slightly brown on bottom. ( Remember they will continue to bake for a few minutes once removed from oven.
  18. Frosting
  19. In a medium bowl combine the confectioner’s sugar with 1/4 c. milk. Stir to combine, mixture will be fairly thick. Allow to”rest for a few minutes and stir again, adding the vanilla. the frosting has probable become a little thinner however if still very thick add a small amount of milk to form a thick drizzle

Pastiera Napoletana

Pastiera Napoletana is a sweet wheat berry and ricotta pie that originates in Naples, Italy. It is a traditional dessert served on the Easter Holiday in many Italian families. While this recipe is a bit “labor intensive” because of the 4 components, it can be made well in advance and frozen until the day before serving. If […]

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