Since marrying my husband—who is of both German and Polish descent—I have been lucky enough to taste new culinary creations and celebrate new traditions. Thanks to his strong Chicago roots, I have been able to enjoy Polish meals, celebrations and even the occasional vocabulary lesson from his fantastically colorful uncle Greg (no words of which I can share here). I’ve also been introduced to a charming tradition just for Easter: the butter lamb!
What Is an Easter Butter Lamb?
An Easter butter lamb is simply butter molded into the shape of a lamb. Introduced to the United States by Eastern European Catholic immigrants, the tradition can be traced back to Poland (as well as Slovenia and Russia).
Baranek wielkanocny (the Polish name for this delicacy) has distinctive details of religious meaning for the holiday.
- The lamb itself represents Jesus (referred to as the Lamb of God)
- The red ribbon around the neck represents his death
- There is an accompanying little banner that says “Alleluia” (a nod to Jesus’ resurrection)
As tradition would have it, families would mold their own seated lamb out of butter and take it to church on Holy Saturday to be blessed at Swieconka (“the blessing of the Easter baskets”). The butter lamb would be carried in a basket along with rye bread, ham, colored eggs, kielbasa, chocolate and other food items to be eaten during the Easter feast.
As far as eating the butter lamb, my research turned up a bit of etiquette for how to proceed. Start at the back end, leaving the head for last. So, now you know!
How to Get Your Own Butter Lamb
There are a few different ways to secure your own butter lamb for Easter.
Butter lambs are popular and readily available in areas where there is a substantial Polish population. For example, Buffalo, New York, where “Ma Malczewski” began selling her Malczewski’s Butter Lambs in the 1960s at Broadway Market. Another popular brand to look for is Danish Maid Butter from the south side of Chicago. You can buy their butter lambs at Jewel-Osco, Kroger and other grocers—though, it might be worth calling your store first.
Both companies tout selling over 100,000 butter lambs each Easter season. If you live outside of New York state or the Great Lakes region, you may have to get a little creative if you want to introduce the butter lamb to your table. Check out your local delis, Polish specialty markets and general grocery stores. However, you could also make your own!
Many families have made carving or sculpting their own butter lamb an Easter tradition. When I envision freehanding a butter sculpture, it seems like an inevitable fail. But if you have the guts and the chops, go for it! We’ve got full directions right here.
Finally, you can mold it. I prefer this method as it has a little, handcrafted feel, while still pretty mistake proof thanks to the parameters of the mold. Here’s the mold that we like. And here’s the brand of butter our taste-testers love.
The Reason for the Season
No matter what, it is the holiday, time with family, tradition, and thought behind the effort that really counts. Perhaps your Easter butter lamb comes out a little wonky. Perhaps it looks more like a dog than a lamb. No worries! It will still taste great and make for a fantastic story for years to come.
(If you decide to go for it, make sure to share your butter lamb with us on Instagram! Tag @tasteofhome or use #tohfoodie. Remember: We’re rooting for you!)