Easter Zurek: A Century-and-a-Half Old Family Tradition | Metro Detroit Documentary Photographer

If you don't know yet, it's time that you do:

I am a big, big sap.

Which means that I'm a sucker for all things that tug at my heart strings. And one of the things that tugs at them most are traditions.  

We have many, but my all-time favorite is one that's been in my family for at least 150 years: Zurek. A soup made and eaten by our Polish ancestors, our family eats it annually when we celebrate Easter. Not only is it the most delicious soup I've ever had in my life (no joke), the history and love behind it make it a feel good kind of meal, too.

That feel good-ness is what saved my heart from breaking for almost a decade of Easters that I spent away from my family. At both duty stations I made the soup as a way to be taken back to a place where my heart grew and was filled. Ingredients were never perfect (who knew that Germany, Poland's neighbor, would have next to no Polish food sold in its stores?!), but what my heart experienced was always spot on...and that is what makes a tradition special.

There is a level of captivation with tradition, a connection to generations past that would otherwise be overlooked. On Good Friday, when I started the broth, I could hear my grandmother reminding me to not forget to leave the kielbasa in the pot of water in the fridge overnight, so flavor is maximized. When my husband cut the roasted meat, I heard my grandmother's voice echoing after mine as I reminded him how it is supposed to be cut. As we cut the farmer's cheese into small cubes, I closed my eyes and envisioned my great-grandmother helping her mother make the cheese with cheesecloth, boards, and bricks. When I skimmed the fat off the top of the broth after it had chilled overnight, I was taken back to my grandmother's kitchen table bench, where I sat as she first taught me how to do that. And the scent of freshly grated horseradish atop my bowl of piping hot soup took me back to that same grandmother's kitchen, where I stood watching my dad and uncle grating it beside her sink.

Woman cooks at kitchen island
Man cuts meat on cutting board
Man puts soup into bowl with ladel
Lemons in Pyrex bowl on cutting board
Child reaches across table for a sample from a bowl of meat
Zurek soup in a white bowl with a spoon beside it

Every year, I longed to share this experience with my family. As meaningful as it is to share this tradition with my own family, there is just something special about also sharing it with the family from which it came. The year I took these photos, my great-grandma was 101 (she is now 103). We Skyped with her as the kids ate, knowing how much joy it would bring to witness her great-great-grandchildren enjoying a tradition she shared with her own grandmother.

As I sat there wishing I could embrace her and thank her from the bottom of my heart for being the rock of our family, the person who has always brought so much love with her everywhere she goes, and for sharing this incredible tradition with us...she started to cry. 

I didn't need to say a word, and neither did she. 

Her tears were enough.


You see, this is more than just a bowl of delicious Polish soup. It's an experience of history, love, togetherness. It's part of who we are, something that I (and many others in my family) can't imagine as not being a part of our lives, a part of our Easter celebration. 

Zurek pulls at my heart strings because it is a part of my story...a part that will always ignite feelings of warmth, because it is something I share with some of the people I love most in this world.

What traditions, holiday-related or not, does your family (or friends) partake in? Why do you love them?