Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Tradition Lives On

"baranek"
Since I could speak the word "baranek" (lamb) it was part of my Easter vocabulary. As I mentioned before I grew up in a Polish family. The Easter lamb is a eastern European religious symbol. It represents Jesus as the sacrificed Paschal lamb.  Christians traditionally refer to Jesus as "the Lamb of God. " The Easter lamb, draped with the flag of victory, may be seen in pictures and images in the homes of every central and eastern European family, during the Easter season.

My grandmother owned a genuine Polish Bakery. Easter was the biggest holiday of the year. As soon as you were considered "capable" you were enlisted in the preparation of the "baraneks" for Easter. These pound cakes made from lamb-shaped molds were baked mounted on iced and green-dyed coconut rectangle cardboard. The beginners working on this family tradition made the bows, placed the raisins for the lambs eyes and noses, and placed the flag of resurrection into the cake.


Seasoned Antique Lamb Mold
The real master of this project was the baker who made hundreds of these cakes and stored them in containers with a bit of liquor to keep them moist. The baking went on for weeks. This was before large scale freezers and institutional sized cake mixes. The baker made these cakes from scratch and along side the regular bakery stock.

The scouring boy (the teenage male) selected to clean the pots, pans, tables, and floors of the actual baking area was put on over drive. He had to clean the molds and then have them greased and floured for the baker for the next baking day.


Lamb Cake Just Out of Mold
The unsung heroes of this production of a flock of cakes were my mother, aunt, and grandmother. I watched them take skinny pound cake lambs and make them into fluffy white tasty desserts. It seemed that they could hold a pastry tube that some times was as large as a small car vacuum. They would deftly decorate one cake and move right on to the next without skipping a beat. My grandmother often would come down in what I would call "the staging area," in reality it was the storage area for flour and sugar bags that weighed at least 50lbs. or more.

We thought that the entire world celebrated Easter the way our neighborhood in Chicago did. None of us ever took pictures of this phenomenon called the decorating of the lambs. We always thought that the bakery world always be there. It was when my mother sent me a lamb cake mold after my grandmother sold the bakery an era had ended.  I realized that the preparation of the "baraneks" was passed on to me.
Lamb Cake Waiting for Finishing Touches

Each year during Holy Week, my heart and mind goes back to those days on 51st Street in Chicago. My mom, aunt, and grandmother have left this earth. My children are grown, but I make a "baranek" and think of the days and the hundreds of lamb cakes that brought the women in my family together to celebrate Spring, the promise of hope, the time of grace. When I make my "baranek" I am renewed. I feel like I am twelve and my mother is teaching me how to make my first "lamb cake."
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