Evolutionary Eats is about family and the evolution of family.
And I decided that I wanted to learn more about my family and where we came from. When I was little, I was sickly and spent a lot of time with my Grandma Rose. She was German, born in Russia, and a Jew who had converted to Christianity as a new American immigrant. These were all things she told me, and apparently no one else until she neared the end of her life. Things were pretty rough for her in Russia, her parents died of unknown causes, her own sister was a widow at 18. There was a major famine in Russia after WWI, Jews were being killed and driven out, along with millions of other ethnic Germans, most of them Christians, that the new Soviet government wanted out or dead. But Grandma Rose was an eternal optimist for me, and told me stories about dancing, music, traveling on a ship to America, the clothes they wore, what they played with and what they ate. The stories about her mother seemed to be blurred between the two women in her life who were her mothers. Amelia Herman was the woman who ‘adopted’ Rose, 12 and Walter, 9. And Katharina, her birth mother, who died before Rose was 11.
Kaldunis to Kreplach
When major events happen in families, we often reach for a story in our history. In 2012, we lost the beloved T.D, and in 2016 we gained a new little soul. Clara has brightened our little Texas family and I’m happy to be the grandma now. But it made me reach for my family history as well. And I want to share the family recipes with Clara as well as anyone else who might be interested. So I’ve spent some time reviewing some of the things we ate and cooked, and foods that helped us celebrate and congregate as a group. My mom was usually the one who hosted the events, but Grandma Rose always brought something special as well. She made the best dill pickles, pickled herring, and a pocket full of goodness called a kalduni. For my senior project as culinary student, I created a menu based on Russian foods, and the Belorussian kalduni was a term used for a small ravioli. But Grandma’s were huge and my research this year led me to kreplach. Grandma’s were always filled with ground beef, onions and sometimes rice. They were always boiled in salt water and she always used a tomato sauce, but her brother, Ed, made the best sauce. Her dough was the perfect combination of thin, but the edges still chewy. And they were always triangles, while kalduni’s were described as round, like perogi and translated to little ears. And they were only for special occasions.
She always wanted to go visit Russia
The story of the two families that make up me are incredibly interesting. Through researching, I really got a feel for how amazing our lives are now. My grandparents on both sides of the family went through two world wars, crop failures, diseases that today we don’t even know about, genocide, and being poor and hungry. Although many people who knew Rose would say she was grumpy or mean, for me she was an incredible optimist. She had some really awful jobs and struggled with rheumatoid arthritis. Her later life was good. She had a home and a huge garden. She went on fishing trips to Wisconsin and traveled to Montana to visit kids and grandchildren she rarely saw. She always wanted to go visit Russia and find her childhood home, but never got the chance. I think she and I were a lot alike, and we played together well, especially when I was young and sick and she was my grandma for a day or two.
I’m learning about Kosher cooking
I always wanted to learn more about my family and ancestors. As a teenager, I wanted to learn more about Judaism, but didn’t pursue it until now. Along with Scripture, I’m learning about Kosher cooking, and honestly, it’s hard to go from Lutheran Iowa girl eating her daily serving of bacon, to attempting to make Kosher style meals. But I have a better understanding of what Grandma Rose taught us about food and her cooking style, and how she preserved foods as well. I also get that when you’re starving, sometimes rules must be broken to survive. I believe that in God’s eyes, survival is more important than passing on the catfish that will keep a family healthy for another day or two. After hearing her stories, and the stories of other family members, I would do exactly the same things in the same situations. Thankfully, it hasn’t happened in my lifetime, and I pray it never will!
My family is very much an American story, with travel by boats, never seeing family again, some rough characters, learning new languages and how to fit in. The history spanned almost two centuries. Everyone who came to America in my family, came with a hope of a better life, and without fail, it worked out for everyone. Some did better than others, and that’s true as well in our current generations. I moved to Texas with those hopes, and moving here was like moving to another country. And like those who made major life changes to have a better life, I have tried to do the same here in Texas. We have discovered new foods and traditions that are now expected at our holiday tables. I discovered the luscious Russian tea cakes Grandma Rose made are known as Mexican wedding cookies as well. I attribute this to the German immigrants who settled in Texas.
Families are in a constant state of evolution
This year Good Friday coincided with the beginning of Passover. For our Easter/Passover meal, we incorporated some traditions of both cultures and philosophies It started with my daughter, making a a potato kugal, which led to making beef instead of the traditional ham and side dishes of sauteed vegetables and pasta salad. Our dinner rolls were infused with bitter herbs, and although they were leavened it was symbolic of the traditions of bread. We drank a Cabernet Sauvignon from Israel. Our dessert was a seven layer cake made by a Kosher bakery. We enjoyed each other’s company and thanked God for His grace and goodness. It wasn’t a true Seder or Easter meal, but it was time with our family. And that is truly what holidays are supposed to embrace. Families are in a constant state of evolution as each day brings new joys and sorrows. But our love for each other prevails.