On a balmy spring evening, Tanya Meyer waits with other Russian Orthodox parishioners along the pathway to Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral in Los Angeles. On a bench before her are dozens of loaves of tall, cylindrical kulich ― a festive sweet yeast bread ― including her own, which her mother taught her to make decades ago.
As the priest, Father Joseph, approaches to bless the loaves on this Russian Easter eve, Meyer hastily lights a candle atop her kulich. Later, her family will break their Lenten fast with a lavish buffet that includes the blessed bread.
The crowd swells to pack the cathedral, and minutes before midnight, a flame is passed to light candles members of the congregation are holding. At the stroke of 12, bells ring in joyful chorus, and the clergy leads worshipers outside, through azalea-filled gardens and around the building. Then the procession reenters the brightly lit church for services that last until about 3 a.m.
Every year in April, similar Russian Easter celebrations take place across the land.
The earliest Russian settlements in Alaska date back to the 18th century, but it is 20th-century immigration that has swelled the number of Russian Orthodox Americans ― particularly in the Northwest, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York ― who continue to observe the holiday traditions of the old country. Like Meyer's, most families include in their festivities a buffet of many dishes: fish (smoked, pickled, and marinated), warm or cold roasts (ham and turkey), and sausages; salads, pickled vegetables, and dark breads; colored eggs; and, most important, the rich kulich loaves and paskha, a sweet and simple homemade cream cheese spread to slather onto slices of the kulich.
A Russian Easter table is both a gracious and a relaxed way to entertain. In Russian Orthodox homes, the meal is served following midnight services, as a brunch, or as midday dinner. And it's an easy menu for Easter or any other party ― composed of make-ahead dishes and presented like a smorgasbord, with little plates to refill at each diner's own pace.
A taste of Russia
In communities with established Russian populations, you'll find specialized markets. Recent Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union have also opened food markets, and although Easter is not part of their culture, foods for the holiday are available: smoked fish, herring mixtures, sausages, cheeses, yogurts, salads, pickled vegetables, and breads.
S & M Russian Food, 6433 S.E. Foster Rd.; (503) 771-8873. Kulich and paskha.
Many Russian delicatessens line Geary Blvd. between 18th and 22nd avenues.
Gastronom Deli and Bakery, 5801 Geary; (415) 387-4211.
Katia's A Russian Tea Room, 600 Fifth Ave.; (415) 668-9292. Kulich and paskha; order ahead at this restaurant.
Moscow Bakery Store, 5540 Geary; (415) 668-6959. Kulich and paskha.
European Gourmet Cafe and Deli, 1882 136th Place N.E., Bellevue; (425) 641-0818.
Santa Monica Blvd. has markets between N. Ogden Dr. and N. Crescent Heights Blvd.
Gastronom European Food, 7859 Santa Monica; (213) 654-9456. Kulich.
Royal Gourmet, 8151 Santa Monica; (213) 650-5001. Kulich and paskha.
Tatiana, 8205 Santa Monica; (213) 656-7500. Kulich.
Tblisi & Yerevan Bakery, 7862 Santa Monica; (213) 654-7427. Kulich.