Baba was the name my children grew up calling my Slovak grandmother. I think of her more now than ever, wishing she were here to answer questions about her faith, her heritage, and the family she left at such a young age, to start a new life in America. As you grow older, you wished you’d paid more attention to those little details.
My grandmother grew up in Prague and was considered a poor farm girl. Historically, Slovaks were peasants who spent their days in the fields or herding sheep. You ate what you grew and raised on your farm. Meals weren’t fancy, but they were fast, easy and delicious.
I was lucky enough to watch my grandmother cook over the years and had the opportunity to record some of her simple recipes. I’m sure some of these things were cooked all year long, but for some reason, Easter stands out in my mind. Memories of paska, nut, poppy, and prune rolls, kielbasa and sidak were the foods I grew up with. I’ve tried to make all of these things around Easter, but it just became too much work and quite frankly too much food. Sometimes you have to let certain traditions go. This year I decided to pick a few of my favorites and instead of making them all for one day, I spread them out throughout the entire Holy Week. My plan worked.
I have a few reminders of my grandmother in my home, but the one I hold most dear is her halusky maker. I think she told me it cost her 25 cents at the time she bought it, but to me it is priceless. It hangs on the corner of my cabinet, proudly displayed in my kitchen. I can still recall moments spent in her tiny little kitchen watching her cook these over a boiling hot pot of water. I pull it out a few times a year, but Good Friday has become the day to make my grandmother’s Brown Soup and Halusky – also called Caraway Soup ( Rascova Polievka). The soup is the easiest thing in the world to make and fits the “no meat” guideline for Friday’s in Lent.
I’m sure there is a much easier way to make the halusky today, but I simply can’t imagine doing it any other way than to use the little silver gadget that looks very much like a food grater. Simple ingredients of potato, flour and egg create a sticky dough that you place into the “grater”. Simply sliding the grater back and forth over a boiling pot of water creates small noodles that boil for a short time. Drain and cool them and they’re ready to eat.
A few years back, right before the Easter season, I had a reunion with all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins and asked everyone to bring a favorite recipe of my grandmothers as a way to celebrate our heritage and to hold on to those precious traditions passed down to us. It was a great experience and everyone enjoyed the “feel good” moment those comfort foods and the memories they brought back of my grandmother. I know she was smiling down upon us that day to know that her memory was living on in all of us as we shared our stories, memories, food and especially our love for one another. It was almost like being around that little kitchen table again on Linden Avenue.