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Not only borsch and dumplings: how a Lviv woman collected the traditions of Ukrainian cuisine in the USA

Marianna Dushar from Lviv researched the cuisine of the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States as part of a Fulbright scholarship. Her project called "Ukrainian cuisine is more than borsch and dumplings" will soon grow into an online library of culinary books, a site with interesting culinary stories of Ukrainians, an archive for researchers, writes Radio Liberty.

Photo: Shutterstock

How did Ukrainians in America manage to preserve the culture and traditions of Ukrainian cuisine? What interesting things did the Ukrainian researcher find, a well-known blogger under the pseudonym "Mrs. Stefa"?

Marianna Dushar has visited more than 20 Ukrainian families in New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago. Mostly, these are the second and third generations of Ukrainians who were born in the United States, but retained the Ukrainian language and traditions. Their relatives left Ukraine, fleeing the second arrival of the Soviet "liberators" in July 1944.

However, before reaching overseas, they lived, worked, studied in special camps in Germany and Austria for some time - Displaced persons (DP). People, despite difficult life trials, were able to take home archives, books from their homeland, what allowed them to preserve Ukrainian identity, culture, language, traditions, history.

“The cuisine is intertwined with tradition. For example, celebrating Christmas, such a right Christmas. I just read about this and saw it in New York. For example, my grandmother did not bake three rolls, but cooked a round roll. And there they still bake round, on top of each other, three rolls and a braid, like a wrapped baby. The symbolism of the holiday is embedded in this. We share kutya, and in the families of the Ukrainian diaspora - prosphora with honey.


I compare these traditions with my own experience, my family. Their housewives still bake knysh with onions, and in the middle there is a knyshatko ball. In the Ukrainian diaspora, the gastronomic culture has been preserved and everything is textbook and unshakable that I was simply amazed. They had a conscious mission to preserve the tradition, and they took care of it, kept it in everyday life, passed it on to their children and grandchildren. This is a living tradition, ”says Marianna Dushar.

Dumplings and borsch

Ukraine and Ukrainians are known in the world for their dumplings and borscht, it has become an indispensable symbol of "Ukrainianness". You can often hear that more than one church in the diaspora arose on these Ukrainian dishes, because this is how people collected money. Numerous kitchens and cafes where Ukrainians gather, make dumplings and cook borscht functioned at Ukrainian churches.

On the subject: Dumplings conquer America: 5 of the best restaurants of Ukrainian cuisine in the USA

In the title of the project, Marianna Dushar specifically pointed out that Ukrainian cuisine is more interesting than borsch and dumplings. And in Detroit and New York I saw master classes on making pies.

“I've been making pies in Detroit and New York. And it looked different. Detroit is run by fathers who come from Brazil. There, on the stove, there is a wide pot and water constantly boils in it, dumplings are boiled, then they are washed in cold water, dried and frozen. This is a must see! Or a rocking chair that passes through the dough and circles are immediately cut out. There are other devices, say, cut out with glasses: chick-chick and you're done. In Detroit, men roll out the dough and the rocking chair is wrapped in a rag so that the dough does not stick, or maybe to better hold the flour. I haven’t tried this method yet, ”says Marianna Dushar.


In the famous Ukrainian restaurant "Raduga" in New York, you can even take a master class on sculpting pies, which is held by an American of Ukrainian descent every two weeks. It is visited not only by Ukrainians, but also by people of other national origin. Someone is looking for their roots, the half-forgotten taste of their childhood, while someone is just interested in getting to know the culture of Ukrainian cuisine.

“I watched with delight how people cherish what is important to them, this is not an imitation, this is the meaning of life and these are very“ high-quality ”Ukrainians and they feel like them. But the problem of self-identification, in my opinion, exists in Ukraine. For we do not feel where our roots are, we do not go deeper. Everyday self-identification does not mean for Ukrainians in the United States that they have closed the world for themselves, ”the expert notes.

The Ukrainians shared their grandmothers' recipes with the Lviv woman and showed old culinary notebooks.

In Chicago, Oresta Fedinyak, a representative of the Ukrainian diaspora, keeps a notebook with her grandmother's notes, which even describes the tradition of making bread in Ukraine. It is very carefully written. On one page - the recipe, it is indicated from whom it was taken and from where. You can trace a separate family history, show how recipes migrated from house to house, how housewives improved them. These notebooks are passed down from generation to generation. This is not just food, emphasizes Marianna Dushar, but a tradition of taste.

There are never too many "medoviks"

In the New York family of Larisa Zelik, the Lviv woman was treated to four types of "honey cake": with and without nuts, wet and dry. Marianne also brought her own. This is a testament to how rich and varied Ukrainian cuisine is. Larisa Zelik is the most famous loaf maker in New York and conducts ritual baking courses in the Ukrainian museum.


“I made a honey cake with American products, Irish butter and California pear. This is a transplant of tradition, because nothing is identical. Flour in the United States is different than in Ukraine, more humid. You take the same amount of flour and the dough is lumpy. This changes depending on where you live and what the tastes of others are. American sweets are sweeter, American honey cake is sweeter, maybe sugar is sweeter. I bought Ukrainian honey in an American supermarket. So glad! There are, there are nuances and you need to know about them, ”Marianna notes.

The Ukrainians who, after the DP camps, ended up in the United States, when cooking, learned to take into account the nuances of what products they cook from and adapt their recipes to American standards: go from glasses to mugs, find out how much a tablespoon can hold. For if the record is "one tablespoon", then this tablespoon of sugar or flour must be leveled with a knife - and this will be the observance of the recipe. For a long time Ukrainians could not get used to bread in the USA and American flour.



Marianna Dushar recorded dozens of such interesting stories. And about how Ukrainians got used to one kind of flour and used it throughout their lives.

Or another story, how in the 1970s the fashion for embroidered dresses for the bride and bridesmaids was revived in the Ukrainian diaspora. And it influenced the decoration of wedding cakes and sweets in general. Therefore, dressmakers began to master and improve the specialty of a culinary specialist, elements of the Ukrainian folk system appeared on cakes, loaves, cookies.

To this day, the Ukrainian diaspora remember the "embroidered cakes" and loaves of Maria Khotinetskaya-Maletskaya from the suburbs of Chicago. The hostess baked for weddings and even decorated the cakes with a Hutsul pattern. Some of the Ukrainian women took over her business.


And then there is a separate story of a small but valuable book "Young mistress", published in 1971 in Chicago, where a paper copy is kept in the Ukrainian National Museum. The initiators of the book were plays from the Spartanka kuren. The girls needed a large kuren flag to assert their identity. And there was no money to sew it. Therefore, they came up with a cookbook, found sponsors for it and managed to earn money for the flag, and also to popularize Ukrainian cuisine.

On the subject: Cossack menu and pineapple dumplings: what is served by the first Ukrainian restaurant in Philadelphia

“I was just bombarded with material and at first there were some intentions for the implementation of the project, but now I want to create a library of online publications, mainly culinary. These are the culinary books of certain communities in churches, dance clubs. This is a purely American phenomenon that has passed into the diaspora circles. This is an interesting and broad topic. I want to cover the diaspora from several countries: the USA, Brazil, Canada, Australia. This will be an online archive. The second is the stories of families through food, how they cooked and how they baked. There are many interesting facts, ”notes Marianna Dushar.

Marianna Dushar wants to involve many people in the Ukrainian gastronomic project so that they share their delicious family stories. Showing people through the prism of food is also a reflection of the traditions of every Ukrainian family.

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