Monday, April 1, 2013

Mazanec, Lilies and Family Stories for Easter

The baked and sliced loaf. 


Slicing the cross into the loaf of Mazanec before baking.

Last Sunday, my parents-brothers-sister-spouses-children and I had lunch together for Easter at my sister's house in Houston. I baked Mazanec, which is a Czech bread made for Easter. It's very much like (if not exactly the same as) Vanocka made for Christmas. The slightly sweet dough is filled with raisins and almonds. Recipes vary, of course... some call for soaking the raisins in rum; some sprinkle almonds on top, too; some dust the finished loaf with powered sugar. I only had Vanocka occasionally growing up and never ate Mazanec. My mother remembers Vanocka fondly but, when asked about Mazanec, she had a vague memory of a loaf with the cross cut on top,  but not a memory of who made it. It seems that it was a tradition that died out early in our family, but I'm going to revive it. 

It was delicious and, as my mom said it would be, better the next day toasted and dipped in coffee. On Easter Sunday, we ate it buttered with our lunch because I didn't get it into the oven the night before, so it was still baking Sunday morning while we gulped our coffee down trying to get to my sister's house on time. The rest of the lunch menu was ham with pineapple chutney, peas, carrots, potatoes with butter and onions, roasted and marinated asparagus and beets, a curried quinoa salad with spinach, an olive and pickle tray, and deviled Easter eggs.

This is a bittersweet occasion since my mother's mother (we called her Datu) died in January of 2012 at 96 years old. We spent many Easters at her house in Hallettsville as adults with our children doing the same things we do at my sister's... eating a potluck lunch and having an Easter egg hunt for the kids. We add our own twists to the day now. We had a 120-egg cascarones fight made possible by my nephew and his girlfriend who drove from Laredo where he's a reporter. And the day ended with all the kids (and a few uncles) in the swimming pool, even in March. But the basic components of the day at my sister's house are the same as when we spent it with my grandmother... sharing food, enjoying the Texas sunshine, kids going crazy on sugar, and building relationships with cousins that will hopefully last a lifetime.
My son and my brother's son.
I'd been thinking about my grandmother since I'd stopped by her house a week before and was struck by the sight of bright orange lilies in the backyard garden. I took a photo for my mom and she emailed it to her sister, my Aunt Maryann, who told this story about the flowers. 

Lilies in my grandmother's
backyard in Hallettsville.
"Mine are also blooming and I hope they last until Easter. They are St. Joseph's lilies. According to Datu when she gave me a bulb to plant, the original plant was given to Aunt Bessie when she had Joseph in March, 1938. Aunt Bessie was given her plant by her brother, our Uncle Joe, who, along with his wife, Aunt Lillie and another of their brothers, Monsignor Alois Joseph, was also born in March (all on March 16th strangely.) Uncle Joe and Aunt Lil were my godparents so that is the reason I remember the story of the lilies!"

St. Joseph's lilies in my mother's

backyard in Katy.
My mother then wrote "I knew Datu got the original bulb from Aunt Bessie, but had forgotten the rest of the story. Mine are also blooming, which is really special. I think Aunt Charleen planted some in her flower bed as well. I'll dig up a bulb for you so that it can be passed down to the next generation. Isn't it wonderful that all these flowers came from a single bulb before 1938? We really need to preserve it so that it lasts at least 100 years in our family."

Lilies in my Aunt Maryann's
backyard in Galveston.
There was a theme of family stories to our Easter Sunday as well. My mother and I looked through old photographs of her mother's family, trying to identify people, places and dates, now that my grandmother is not here to do that. My mother knows wonderful family stories that I want my children to know, too. And our family is blessed with really old and amazing photographs, collections of which stayed intact with my grandmother eventually being their caretaker. I remember sitting in the nursing home with Datu a few times looking through photos with her and trying to memorize every word she said about them. Of course, I couldn't. I was afraid to write down what she was saying for fear that I'd be letting her know that I thought she wouldn't be on this earth much longer. I was afraid she'd think I just wanted her knowledge for identification purposes rather than to simply BE with her. Now I realize those things were one in the same and feel that she would have been pleased (and relieved) that someone younger wanted to record family history. But, I can never get those moments back now or ask her questions again.

An example above of the photos my mother and I tried to identify, piecing together things we'd been told about them and memories of people we actually knew.  My mother's mother is the standing at the far right. I can see my own's son serious expression on her face. It was the birthday party of Jaunita Raska, the girl standing with the white bows in her hair and my grandmother's cousin. My great aunt Marie is second from the right, seated. The photo was taken around 1920, probably somewhere in Lavaca County.
I recently read a wonderful article in the New York Times about the power of stories and shared history to strengthen a family. I want to be the kind of mother and grandmother and great-grandmother that can be the family historian sharing stories (and recipes) spanning generations from my great grandparent's lives down to my great-children's. Since I'm planning to live to 96 with all my faculties like my grandmother, that should be doable.  

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