Today, let’s explore another tasty Easter dessert from one of the Eastern Orthodox countries, Russia. Just like many other Christian families who will be preparing all kinds of food, from savory to sweet, to celebrate the end of Lent and the beginning of Easter, the Orthodox Russians are also making an enormous amount of their own traditional Easter foods. These festive dishes consist of food that was forbidden to be consumed during the fast of Lent. During Holy Week, it is time for families to create a variety of savory dishes as well as sweet dishes. Among the sweet dishes, Paskha is a one-of-a-kind dish that is not only delightful but it also carries hidden meanings and traditional religious symbols related to Easter.
What is Paskha?
Paskha is also called pascha or pasha. It is a traditional sweet dish made from quark or curd cheese. If you have never heard of quark, it is a type of fresh cheese similar to cottage cheese but is often less watery. Although the look is very similar, the taste of curd cheese varies from region to region. In Western Europe, especially in Germany, quark and cottage are often considered to be different types of fresh cheese. Quark is often creamier than cottage cheese. In Eastern Europe, quark and cottage cheese are considered the same thing, but in Russia specifically, quark is much drier, and its texture is much grainier. Since milk products have been consumed for thousands of years, other countries have also created similar fresh cheese that is relatively similar to quark. In India, there is paneer, and in the Iberian Peninsular as well as some Latin American regions, there is queso fresco.
If you are a fan of cheesecake, then paskha will definitely steal your heart. This dessert is very similar to a no-bake cheesecake while it does not have a graham crust at the bottom. What makes Paskha’s taste more appealing than a cheesecake is that it contains dried fruit bits, nuts, and citrus zest. Usually, I find that a cheesecake is too rich in texture. It often makes me feel full too quickly before I could finish a slice. Although I mentioned that Paskha is similar to a cheesecake, the process of making paskha is somewhat different. In the traditional method, paskha is made in a mould. The mould is a wooden mold that has special symbols carved on the inside. Nowadays, some people also use a new flower pot or a plastic mould to create paskha’s unique shape. After the making process, paskha is often decorated with candied fruits or dried fruits.
Even though paskha is a simple dish to serve on Easter, it also has many different hidden meanings. First of all, paskha is made out of fresh cheese, and its white color represents the purity of Christ and the Paschal Lamb. Secondly, the symbols carved on the inside of the mould are letter X and B which stands for Христосъ Воскресе, or “Christ is Risen.” Lastly, the mould is shaped like a pyramid which represents the Church. Some also said that the mould’s shape represents the Tomb of Christ. Therefore, all of the religious decorations of Paskha symbolize Jesus Christ’s Passion and Resurrection.
According to my friends from Russia, on Saturday afternoon, their family will pack all kinds of food, such as paskha, kulich, sausage, hard-boiled eggs, cabbage, horseradish, etc, in straw baskets before heading to the church for the midnight Easter service. During the midnight Easter service, the food will be blessed by a priest and later enjoyed by the family along with vodka and grape wine. To best serve paskha, the Russians often spread a generous amount of it on a slice of kulich, Russian Easter bread.
If paskha sounds interesting to you, let’s try making it this Easter weekend to share with your family or friends.