Friday, June 29, 2007

My Ukrainian Grandmother

My maternal grandmother is Ukrainian. Her parents immigrated to Canada near the beginning of the last century - in an amazing story I'll post about at some point.

A few weeks ago, we had a heritage pitch in at work. Everyone was encouraged to bring in a family dish or recipe.

I brought in kolachky.

Kolachky are a small jelly filled cookie/pastry. They are common in the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine and Russia. My home town had many Polish/Eastern European immigrants, so dishes like kolachky were more common. I'm used to kolachky that are sugar cookies with jelly filling, not pastry - donut like.

Yes, I wimped out and bought kolachky from a local Russian bakery instead of making it myself.

Partially because I've been a little stressed out recently, and spending time baking didn't sound like something I was up for.

But mostly because my grandmother never made Ukrainian food for us while I was growing up. Except borscht (with beets).

She didn't make a lot of Ukrainian food, despite living near her family. Her parents never learned to speak English. Her sisters made amazing Ukrainian food - my Aunt Mary would make the full Easter feast (with 12 different dishes) each Easter. But they both married Ukrainians.

My grandmother married a Scotsman/Norwegian. He died before I was born, but I know a few things about him. He liked to golf. He was very religious - even before he and my grandmother joined the mormon faith in their late twenties. He had a temper and his eyes would get incredibly blue when he was angry.

And he disapproved of all things Ukrainian. I'm sure it was more than that. Growing up in an immigrant family, I've realized that there is a certain dynamic that can happen. Typically, the immigrants are not respected (Ukrainian neighbors of my great grandparents were put in camps in Canada in WWI). They don't speak the language. They have different religious traditions (my great grandparents were Ukrainian Orthodox). They are the "other" - in all senses of the word.

So often, what happens is the family does whatever they can to prove themselves - to prove that they are good, Christian, hard-working, normal people. This is at least what my grandmother's brothers and sisters ended up doing. Sometimes it is at the cost of family history and traditions.

I don't know why my grandfather didn't want my grandmother to cook Ukrainian food. And yes, my grandmother had to cook - they had a very traditional 50s marriage. I don't know if he just didn't like the food, or if he had ever even tried it. I don't know if he associated it with her family or with being lower on the social food chain.

So my mom never learned how to cook Ukrainian food from her mom. My grandmother made no cabbage rolls, perogi, perishke, kasha - nothing. And my grandmother is typically an amazing cook and baker. She has a strawberry pie to die for. So I learned how to make the strawberry pie - not the traditional dishes.

I've asked my grandmother to cook Ukrainian since then, and she will make borscht. When she's feeling up to it, she may make cabbage rolls. But these things seem to make her uncomfortable - she'll admit that she can't cook/bake like her mother. It's just not the same.


Freckle Face Girl said...

Kolachky looks delicious. It is sad when cultural characteristics are lost due to assimilation.

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