Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Family Tradition

I grew up in a very tight-knit family in a very small town cattycorner to Pittsburgh. If you looked south, along the Monongahela River, you would find us. My grandmother lived in a little patch town called Clarksville (or Williamstown, to locals), which is basically a one- to two-mile square filled with row upon row of small homes built by the coal company to house its workers (almost all of my male ancestors worked for or in the mine at some point). I lived about five miles over in another coal-town called Fredericktown, on a hill overlooking the river. If you've never lived in a place like this, let me describe it this way: it is at once claustrophobic and comforting. On the one hand, if you ever do anything wrong (like the time I got roaring drunk when I was about 18 on Boone's Farm Wine and made quite a scene of myself), your parents will most likely know about it before you even get home the next morning. On the other hand, we never locked our front door, even when heading out to work or school in the morning (here's why: once, my dad had his radio and other things stolen out of his truck, and the perpetrator tried to sell the radio at the American Legion. Honest to God. You can't make this stuff up).

Over the years, the edges of my family have frayed, mainly because of death and divorce. F-town itself looks different; someone removed all of the rusting mine machinery that was melting back into the land, and the state built a gigantic prison across the river that lights up the night like a persistent flashlight pointed skyward. There are many things, however, that have resisted such change. The house that I grew up in (ran through in my bare feet, read in, perched beside the window in my closet, snuck into late, late at night) is still there. Every time my car noses its way back into that valley, the land comes alive with memories. It's kind of like a hologram, lifting up out of the dirt, rising like a ghost and blotting out what is actually there with something much more vivid and alive.

Some of the happiest memories I have are of my family's Christmas Eves, before everyone went their separate ways. My father's side of the family, from what I can piece together, is of Carpatho-Rusyn, Czechoslovakian, and Ukrainian descent. Here are three things that I will be making, as I try to bring some ghosts back to life.

Sauerkraut Balls

Sauerkraut Balls Via

This recipe from is pretty similar to my family's (I'd share my uncle's, but then I'd have to kill you;)).


God love me, I am going to try to make Pirohi this year, from my Carpatho-Rusyn Cookery cookbook, put out many years ago by a local Byzantine-Catholic Church. Here's a rundown of the recipe.

2 cups flour
3/4 cup potato water
Two pinches of salt
1/2 cup oil
1 small onion

Mix flour and salt in a deep bowl. Make a well in the dough and add the potato water to make a pliable dough. knead the dough. Roll dough out 1/8 inch thick and cut into three or four inch squares or circles. Place a small amount of filling and pinch all around the edge to seal well to prevent filling from running out. Drop pirohi into boiling salted water. Wait for water to boil again and boil pirohi for about three to four minutes. Stir gently with a flat wooden spoon during the process to make sure all the pirohi are cooked thoroughly. Remove pirohi carefully and put in colander. Drain and pour cold water over them to prevent pirohi from sticking together. In a skillet, use 1/2 cup oil (my grandmother used butter) to fry onions until they are golden brown. Pour onion mixture over pirohi and they are ready to serve. Filling (mashed potatoes, with chopped onions fried in butter).

Rugelach (or Little Twists)

Chocolate-Cherry Rugelach Via
See this recipe on the blog from last year. They were absolutely delicious!!

My grandmother made this sort of thing look so easy. I have a feeling making them will not be. But I'm going to try. Oh, and if I get drunk and sing all night long... it's a .... family tradition. A/J
Post a Comment