An Easter Gift For My Readers: The Elusive Hrudka

Hrudka

April 21, 2011

Allan Stevo

Note: This article originally appeared as a guest post at SlovakCooking.com.

This Thursday Bratislava empties out.  You don’t want to be on the road, on a train, or even on a bus out of town on Thursday afternoon, because it’s going to be standing room and bumper to bumper.  It’s more crowded than other times of the year.  Each weekend brings heavy traffic as well–Bratislava empties out on Fridays and fills again on Sunday evenings as people return from their ancestral villages.  However, Easter is an even greater extreme.  Many, many people leave town and do so all at once – on Thursday afternoon.

Easter is an important family holiday in Slovakia and “hrudka” is an Easter staple in Eastern Slovakia.  I’ve been lucky over the years to spend Easter with close friends and family in Slovakia.  I have not been able, however, to spend Easter with a family from the East, meaning that while I have heard of this food called hrudka, for 8 longs years I have only been able to theorize about what this elusive food might taste like.  Until now.

Over the last three weeks, I have been intensively asking people I encounter from Eastern Slovakia about hrudka.  I did not expect the answers I received, but I should not have been surprised.  To this point, I have not found one household that makes hrudka precisely like any other household.  Despite its simple base recipe, the variations on this basic recipe are virtually endless.

Generally, hrudka, also known to some as “syrek,” is made to taste salty. In some cities in Eastern Slovakia, however, the tradition is to make a sweet hrudka.  Some families make their syrek very salty, akin to some very salty cheeses.  One family I know of even makes hrudka that contains both a generous amount of salt and a more generous amount of sugar.

Any way you make it, hrudka tastes good.  Below are two versions of hrudka that you can try at home.

Recipe: Savory Hrudka

Ingredients: 1 liter milk, 10 eggs, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper

Preparation Time: 30 minutes of cooking, 3 to 4 hours setting time.

Pour one liter of milk into a pot.  Turn on low heat.  Add 10 eggs to the milk.  Add salt and pepper.  Mix the mixture well with an egg beater, but do not beat vigorously.  A double boiler is not needed for this process, just be sure not to let the mixture scorch at the bottom, but honestly a little scorching will not harm anything.  Stir constantly (about 20-30 minutes) until the mixture separates into curd-like pieces and whey-like “white water.”  Cook the mixture for a few minutes after the white water appears.

Pour the mixture into a strainer lined with a cheesecloth or a porous kitchen towel.  Pour off the water, collect the solids.  Squeeze out the liquid, being careful not to burn yourself.  Tie the cloth tightly and hang it in a place where it can drip dry.  Some use a kitchen faucet for this purpose, others use a wooden spoon placed on top of a pot.  Tie the top of the towel with a string to help create a more ball-like shape. Allow the hrudka to cool.  Squeeze it a few more times before the process is complete, taking effort to really squeeze the water out of it.  Place it in the refrigerator to protect from spoiling.  Allow it to set for 3 or 4 hours and unwrap it.  It can be stored for 2 or 3 days in aluminum foil and sometimes longer.  When the hrudka has gone bad, it will be apparent that it is bad, because of the noticeable smell of rotten eggs.  Until that point it is okay to eat.

The variations are unlimited.  Fresh ingredients like chopped parsley or chives can be added when the white water appears and should be stirred in.  Some families make very salty hrudka.  Some families add a little sugar to this recipe.  Some families make their hrudka very spicy.

While any of these variations will make a delicious hrudka, it seems that hrudka is generally known for its bland taste, which isn’t bad at all.  Good eggs and good milk have a pleasant taste of their own.

The recipe is commonly made with 5 eggs, 10 eggs, and 15 eggs, and 0.5, 1, 1.5 liters of milk respectively.

Hrudka can be sliced thick like a piece of cheese and enjoyed alongside some meats, sausages, sliced vegetables, and horseradish on a Easter Table.  Some even make sandwiches from left over hrudka.

Recipe: Sweet Hrudka

Ingredients: 1 liter milk, 10 eggs, a few pinches of salt, a cup of sugar.

Preparation Time: 30 minutes of cooking, 3 to 4 hours setting time.

The basic recipe is the same as the savory version.  Pour one liter of milk into a pot.  Turn on low heat.  Add 10 eggs to the milk.  Add salt and sugar.  Mix the mixture well with an egg beater, but do not beat vigorously.  A double boiler is not needed for this process, but again be sure not to let the mixture scorch at the bottom, though honestly a little scorching will not harm anything.  The sugar in the sweet hrudka, for some reason, seems to make it easier to avoid scorching than when cooking savory hrudka.  Stir the mixture constantly (about 20-30 minutes) until the mixture separates into curd-like pieces and whey-like “white water.”  Cook the mixture for a few minutes after the white water appears.

Pour the mixture into a strainer lined with a cheesecloth or a porous kitchen towel.  Pour off the water, collect the solids.  Squeeze out the liquid, being careful not to burn yourself.  Tie the cloth tight and hang it in a place where it can drip dry.  Some use a kitchen faucet for this purpose, others use a wooden spoon place across the top of a pot.  Tie the top of the towel with a string to help create a more ball-like shape. Allow the hrudka to cool.  Squeeze it a few more times before the process is complete, taking effort to really squeeze the water out of it.  Place it in the refrigerator to protect from spoiling.  Allow it to set for 3 or 4 hours and unwrap it.  It can be stored for 2 or 3 days in aluminum foil and sometimes longer.  When the hrudka has gone bad, it will be apparent that it is bad, because of the noticeable smell of rotten eggs.  Until that point it is okay to eat.

The recipe is commonly made with 5 eggs, 10 eggs, and 15 eggs, and 0.5, 1, 1.5 liters of milk respectively.

As is the case with savory hrudka, the variations are unlimited with sweet hrudka as well.  Freshly grated cinnamon, cardamom, a little ginger, a little ground clove, and a lot of freshly ground nutmeg and vanilla extract make a delicious sweet hrudka.

Sweet hrudka can also be sliced thick like a piece of cheese and enjoyedalongside other desserts at the end of a meal.

While delicious, it does not seem common in Slovakia to over-season hrudka.  It seems that hrudka is generally known for its bland taste, which isn’t bad at all. The simple ingredients, when of good quality, have a pleasant taste on their own.

I’d be interested in hearing more about special Easter foods that you’ve encountered in Slovakia or among Slovaks and other cultures from this region.  Was hrudka ever served at your table?

I wish you a great Easter.

Allan Stevo is an author living in Bratislava, Slovakia.  You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com.  If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email.  You can sign up for emails on Slovak Culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Comments

  • Michael Charnego (Cernega)

    Apr 25th, 2011

    My grandparents came from Eastern Slovakia, NE of Humenne-Snina. We made hrudka every year in our home in PA. Today, April 24 – Pascha, we still enjoyed the hrudka made yesterday by my sister. It was part of my Easter basket which was blessed following the Resurrection service on Sat. evening.

  • Michael Charnego,
    Thank you for the note. It sounds like a lot of people know about this blessing of the Easter basket idea except for me. I really have to look into it. As for that Easter basket you go, it sounds like you have a fantastic sister – making you hrudka for your Easter basket is really nice of her.
    Allan

  • I made my hrudka from 20 eggs with little salt and little sugar and served it at our Slovakia meetup Easter picnic yeasterday in Black Hill park, Maryland!
    15 people came, blend of native slovaks and other friends but only few knew about hrudka.They all loved it. It is definitely Eastern Slovakia staple.

  • Ludmila,
    Wow, I bet that was a gigantic hrudka. I’m definitely impressed. The folks in Black Hill Park were luck to get to try it. It’s definitely interesting how few people born and raised in Slovakia have never heard the about the food hrudka. You would think that most Slovaks would have heard about a food that is on the tables of so many Slovaks at Easter time. It sounds like you did your part Sunday in teaching others about hrudka. So, now the question is – out of those 15, has anyone asked you for your hrudka recipe yet?
    Thank you for the note, Ludmila.
    Allan

  • Okay if I Post that on Our Czechs Web Site?
    http://www.nebraskaczechsofyork.org/czecheastertraditions.htm
    Bill Drury, York Czechs Webmaster

  • Bill Drury,
    Thank you for the note and for the compliment of posting me on your website. I give you my permission to post anything from this website to your own. I’d like to ask you to credit the author of the work (which is me, unless otherwise stated) and link to the website as the source. Thank you again for posting this article to your site.
    Allan

  • I am happy to see this recipe as I have been wanting to try it since hearing the tradition from both Hungarians and Slovaks. I am half of each!

  • Eve Smith,
    Being half and half sounds like fun. I bet you realize things about both cultures that someone from that culture would never be able to realize. Thank you for writing me that it is part of the Hungarian cuisine to make hrudka. Another reader wrote me this week to inform me that a hrudka-like food was even sliced, grilled, and eaten on tortillas in Mexico. Thank you for the note, Eve. Let me know about the success of the recipe.
    Allan

  • Both my grandparents’ families were Slovak. They settled in NE PA and mined coal. My mother always made Hrudka at Easter. My wife, who is from Eastern Slovakia, does the same. She uses a basic recipe – just milk, eggs and a little salt. Nothing fancy. We always include this in our Easter basket, which gets blessed on Holy Saturday.

    Preparing an Eater basket and having it blessed at Easter might be a good topic for another article. It seems to be an Eastern European tradition. The other people at our church who have an Easter basket of food blessed are from Poland, the Czech Republic and the Ukraine.

  • Joseph,
    Cool idea for an article. I am going to have to dig a little deeper to find the blessing of food at Easter. I do not think anyone has mentioned the practice to me (prior to you, Dennis above, and Michael below), so I appreciate hearing about it. I saw a picture of an Easter blessing of food in a book that I was given to me a few years back. If you’d like to share more about how the blessing works at your church I’d like to hear about the practice. If not, it will be up to me to dig a little deeper on this one. Thank you, Joseph from NE PA.
    Allan

  • Dennis Ragan

    Apr 26th, 2011

    For me, our Easter meal is not the Easter meal without Hrudka (and sunka and pascha bread). I have been making it (it really is so easy) for decades. Reading about the variations in making is interesting. I certainly have encountered this as well. My father was from Turcovce (northeast of Humenne in Eastern Slovakia) and our hrudka is definitely the sweet variety. At our church’s Easter Food blessing on Saturday, a lady and I compared recipes. She could not believe I use a half cup of sugar. She uses a teaspoon. My recipe calls for a teaspoon of vanilla; she uses nutmeg. Growing up, our family used a double boiler — when I did not — and ended up with some brown pieces in my hrudka, I had a problem with that. For me it did affect the taste. I now use a microwave. Perfect results. Dozen eggs, 1 qt milk, 1/2 cup of sugar and the vanilla. I salt it heavily when eating the hrudka. I agree it’s a rather bland food, but what a treat it is on Easter.

  • Dennis,
    Thanks for the hrudka recipe. Both the nutmeg and vanilla sound like great options. If you get a chance, I’d be interested in hearing more about this Easter Food Blessing that you folks have at church. I’ve seen a photo from such a blessing happening in orthodox churches in Eastern Slovakia. Thanks again for the comment Dennis.
    Allan

  • Eastern Slovakian ‘Hrudka’ sounds delicious !!! However, my Americanized -version will last up to two weeks in the refridgerator !! I use 8-10 eggs, a pint of milk, 1/4 cup of white sugar, scant 1/4 cup of oil or margarine, and a dash of salt. I bake it in the oven for over an hour. The egg dish sits in another, larger dish that is filled with water, inside the oven. (I can read and send email while it bakes) !! My ‘hrudka’ also slices nicely and can be eaten warm or cold !! Come on and bless my hrudka !!

  • Cynthia,
    I like your hrudka recipe, esp. the low-maintenance nature. I will let you know if I give it a go : )
    Allan

  • The whole my ( quite long) life lived in Central Slovakia I have not heard of hrudka until I came to the US.
    However, I encountered more the word “syrek” than “hrudka”
    and did not have idea what that could be alike. I thought just plain home made sheep or cow milk cheese which we used also to do at home in the spring time after having little lambs. So, I did not bother to ask more about the “syrek”.
    Thank you, Allan, and others who shared the recipes, for uncovering the mystery of syrek or hrudka for me. I cannot wait to try it over this coming weekend , even though, the Easter is over :-)))

  • A variation I have not see: My wife’s family is from Czechoslovakia. One of her (our) family’s Easter traditions is Hrudka. Pretty much prepared as you’ve descriped about but my wife learned that after the hanging and refrigeration of the “crud”, the rounded ball of curd is turned out into a baking dish, whole cloves are used to put the sign of the cross on the top. Baked at 350 for about 30 minutes until brown. Served cold with horseradish at Easter diner.

  • My wife and parents-in-law are from Slovakia and hold true to many of the traditions I’ve seen you write about. My father-in-law made hrudka, as he has most years, on the Friday for lunch. Their tradition was generally to fast on the Friday lunch (lunch being the main meal of any given day), and have the usual big Sunday lunch after church service. He also, in his usual fluent way, emptied the eggs and decorated them with paint, scratching, and dyes, while waiting for the other foods to cook.

  • I thing, that this recipe is “light” version of original hrudka. We use about 60 eggs to produce original. Maybe it’s a little bit bigger, but I’m sure, that Your recipe is one of that, which appears in last few years. It’s lighter and probably more heatly, but not so delicious as original 😉 And it is also good to roast hrudka for a while finally. I know the difference between this “light” version (my Mom use this recipe) and original version used by my grandma…

  • […] There was a mystical food from the Eastern Slovak Easter celebration that I long heard about, but never tasted, or even saw.  For years the hrudka recipe evaded me.  In fact, if a Slovak is not from the East, chances are, he or she will have no idea what this food is, nor that it is even called hrudka.  After a diligent search that lasted a number of years, this recipe from Eastern Slovakia was finally shared with me when a friend taught me to make it. Since then, it has been a part of my Easter.  Please let me know if it becomes a part of your Easter as well.  Wishing a happy Easter to you and your family. Click here to for a hrudka recipe and photos and to learn more about this Eastern Slovak Easter deli… […]

  • Stephen Maro

    Apr 1st, 2013

    This sounds like a custard cheese. I will have to see if my family in Slovakia knows about it. they are more North Central, so not sure if they are “East” enough to know it?

  • Stephen,
    If you think of it, please write back and let me know after you hear from your Slovak family. I have a psychological dividing line that somewhere quite far East is where people make hrudka. Your data point might help me challenge that assumption a little. Thank you.
    Allan

  • Marycay Doolittle

    Apr 1st, 2013

    I was very interested after I saw the picture of your hrudka. My family always made this at Easter, as I do now, but we called it cirak, sirok or Easter cheese. The recipe was a dozen eggs to 1 qt of milk. My family added a little salt and that was all. I now make a sweet version using sugar & a dash of salt, & a savory version using garlic & onion power or other spices. Sometimes cinnamon is sprinkled on the sweet version. I now make it in the microwave rather than stirring forever at the stove. Now sure this is the right thing to do, but I drink the liquid that drips from the hanging cirak, I think it’s the whey & therefore good protein. On Holy Saturday my grandmother & mother made an Easter basket that had colored hard boiled eggs, cirak, ham, red & white horseradish, kielbasa, paska, sweet butter, nut & poppy rolls, & probably items I don’t remember. I do remember the basket being lined with linen towels with embroidery decorations. Always loved the preparations, going to church for the blessing & then eating everything from the basket for Easter Sunday breakfast. This was the tradition in the Slovak and Polish church in Olyphant & Dickson City in NE PA near Scranton. How I miss those days! Where I now live, I don’t know of a church that does the blessing so I do my own version. Also no meat was eaten from Holy Thursday until Easter Sunday breakfast. This year is the first time I’ve broken that tradition by eating ham on Holy Saturday.
    Thank you for keeping our heritage alive with your writing.

  • Marycay,
    Thank you for the kind words. What a fantastic collection of traditions you’ve presented here. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing them. As I sit in front of my computer, something is giving me a hankering for a big piece of Easter ham. I think that poppy roll you mention would make a nice dessert as well. Thank you, Marycay.
    Allan

  • Jackie Robb

    Apr 3rd, 2013

    My grandmother made hrudka every Easter, and not too many people at the table liked it — more for me! She taught me the recipe, and I make it every year. It looks just like hers did — like a yellow brain!

  • Jackie,
    You’re totally right. It does look like a yellow brain! I never thought of that.
    Allan

  • […] The heat and the stirring cause the eggs and milk to lump together into curds, which are then hung in cheesecloth overnight to produce a soft, cheese-like treat that is sliced and served as a side dish or with dessert. Stevo’s recipes and photos can be found at http://www.52insk.com/2011/hrudka/. […]

  • Here in Cleveland, OH and suburbs I always knew this as sirak; never heard the word hrudka before this. The Slovaks and Hungarians alway referred to it as sirak (cirak). It is still made at Easter.

  • My grandmother always used a pillow case turned inside-out to pour the cooked egg mixture into, so we called this “pillow case cheese.” This meant that there was one pointy end to the “cheese” after taking it out of the pillow case, and my brother and I would always try to be the one to get to eat that slice. I still make it every Easter and still use a pillow case.

  • My Baba made “Egg ball” every Easter and I am the only one who has continued the tradition. My recipe is 1, 1 and 1 – that’s 1 dozen eggs, 1 qt. mild and 1 cup of sugar. I usually throw in a splash of vanilla and have even tried cinnamon. The “juice” that drains from it is just as special as the dish, so sweet and yummy. Maybe that could be used for the liquid in a cake recipe? I have a special flour sack towel and cotton cord that are put away and used each year just to hang up the Hrutka.

  • My grandmother passed down the recipe to my mother and she passed it down to me. I am the only one in my family that has continued the traditional recipes and hrudka is still a part of my Easter meal. I seem to be the only one that enjoys it but I plan to continue it as long as I am able. To me it’s just not Easter if the hrudka isn’t hanging from the kitchen sink!

  • Laura,
    Yes! I love that quote. “To me it’s just not Easter if the hrudka isn’t hanging from the kitchen sink!” Thank you for sharing.
    Allan

  • Mary Batcha

    Mar 26th, 2015

    I was raised in a Slovak household….I have carried on the Easter tradition of making hrudka…we add a little sugar and vanilla ..
    I also use the microwave it eliminates the burning problem…..

  • Dot Munford

    Apr 2nd, 2015

    My mother would put raisins in the savory sirak and a
    little nutmeg. I am trying to make it this year for the first
    time. I have no one to advise me so wish me luck

  • In reading the many comments about making Hrutka, I would be interested in more information/details about making Hrutka in the microwave……like what temperature setting and how many minutes, how often to stir, etc. I was in a hurry this year….temp on stove was too high, cooked up too fast and did not firm up enough to slice it. It’s in a ball, but it still has a lot of moisture coming out of it…..will most likely have to serve it with a spoon and scoop it onto a plate. :-( P.S. It still tastes good!

  • I look forward to cirek every Easter and usually make two on Good Friday. I never heard of the sweet version. I use the whey in the dough for my nut and poppyseed rolls.

  • Fr. Ed Koharchik

    Mar 27th, 2016

    I made my Hrudka yesterday – one dozen eggs, one quart of milk (I actually used almond milk) some salt, and about a cup of sugar. I’ve been making this every year, but when my guests and I went to eat it tonight after the Easter Vigil Mass, it was awful! It had turned rotten! Why??? Would it have been bad eggs? I’m disappointed. :-(

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