'Hrudka': For many, egg cheese an Easter tradition
By JOHN E. USALIS, The (Pottsville) Republican-Herald
Apr. 01, 2018
SHENANDOAH HEIGHTS, Pa. (AP) — Traditions are often about families remembering the past, celebrating the present, and looking forward to the future, with Easter holding many customs.
For many who have Eastern European roots, the making of a simple holiday food of Easter egg cheese called "Hrudka" is among favorite traditions of the holiday. It can be a time of family members getting together, working in unison to make the food served cold at Easter Sunday breakfast or at the holiday dinner feast. It is also sliced to be put on a ham sandwich on paska bread with horseradish.
At the Shenandoah Heights home of Anne Babinchak Grochowski and her daughter, Jennifer Grochowski, the making of hrudka is a longtime tradition that celebrates their Slovak heritage. Those of Ukrainian, Polish and other Eastern European heritage make hrudka, also called sirecz, ciruk, cirek, sirets, sirok and other names.
The Grochowskis usually make their hrudka with Anne's sister, Jean "Nini" Donahoe, Schuylkill Haven. They make about three hrudka each Easter, and their creations, done one at a time, include laughter, patience and an occasional "ouch" in mixing the ingredients in a large pot over a hot stove and squeezing the hot liquid out of the egg cheese ball.
"We gather it up (after draining the whey) and then scream 'ouch' and try to squeeze it into a ball," Donahoe said, working with her sister showing how the egg ball is formed. "Then we hang it in a cool spot to drain. When it gets a little cooler, I'll squeeze it some more. Right now it is really hot."
"It will be put in the refrigerator and hung on a rack," Jennifer Grochowski said.
The basic recipe is mixing eggs and milk, adding salt, and cooking it while continually stirring until the curds form to prevent scorching. When ready, in about a half hour, the contents of the pot are poured into a container, such as a colander, that is lined with cheesecloth.
When the liquid drains, the cheesecloth is gathered and the liquid is squeezed out by hand to form the ball, which is the time an ouch or two is heard because the ball is hot. The cheesecloth is tied to keep the ball shape, then hung over a container to allow remaining liquid to drain for a few hours or overnight. The hrudka is stored in a refrigerator for the Easter feast. Some use the leftover liquid in other recipes, such as paska bread.
"We put in two dozen eggs and a quart of milk," Donahoe said as she stirred the mixture. "You should use whole milk."
"I think we got this recipe from St. Stephen's. Father Anselmi gave it to us," Jennifer Grochowski said, referring to the former St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church in Shenandoah and its pastor, the late Rev. Victor J. Anselmi. "It has eggs, vanilla, milk and sugar."
In addition to salt, some versions include cinnamon and nutmeg and raisins. Eggs and milk are the necessary ingredients, with all others added due to taste preferences and family tradition. Donahoe said the recipe was tweaked over the years by adding more vanilla extract.
Anne Grochowski spoke of growing up in the village of William Penn in West Mahanoy Township with her parents, Stephen and Lillian Babinchak, and Easter traditions, including making the food, placing items into a basket to be taken to church the day before Easter Sunday for the special blessing.
"This was a tradition and why we kept it," Anne Grochowski said. "We've been doing this since we were little. One tradition was that when you came home with the blessed food basket, you would take it and run around the house with it because it was supposed to protect you from fire. I would run around our house and my aunt's (Helen Steidle) next door. I'd go around in a circle and I'd ask, "OK, Dad, how many times do I have to do this?' After he passed, we said that we'll keep doing this. I think it's a nice tradition."
She said there is usually enough hrudka to share with other family members.
"On Easter morning, after we get the basket blessed on Holy Saturday, we have it as our breakfast with ham and the kielbasa and the hard-boiled eggs," Donahoe said.
"It's great when you go to church for the blessing and it smells so good with the food," Anne Grochowski said.
Information from: Pottsville Republican and Herald, http://www.republicanherald.com