What's Your Favorite Ukrainian Food? Baba's Borscht!
This past sunny Saturday, I went to the 50th Anniversary Celebration of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Hunter, NY to share the Pickle Project with visitors. The church itself is an amazing structure to come across in the Catskills, handbuilt in the style of the Carpathians wooden churches.
I brought along some historic photos, a few of our official Pickle Project t-shirts, but most of all, I wanted to hear from festival-goers a bit about their favorite Ukrainian foods and to chat about the Pickle Project and our work in Ukraine. Most people I spoke to were second or third generation Ukrainian-Americans whose families originally hailed from L'viv or elsewhere in western Ukraine. Many have made just a brief visit or two to their homeland and were curious about my experiences while others spoke about cousins and extended family still living in Ukrainian villages. Several people already knew the project from reading our blog and it was great to meet those people in person! Many were interested in the idea that we worked all over Ukraine from east to west and that the food conversations were a way to open up civic engagement, to begin talking together about food, something we all know, and broaden out into all sorts of topics.
But I always love talking to people about food and associations with family. To encourage that, I invited festival-goers to share their favorite Ukrainian food on a Post-it note and put it up. As the notes went up, people stopped to read, to chat, to say, "oh, no, my baba's borscht is the best!" I think borscht was the clear winner, followed by pirohi (varenyky) but many other memories were shared. One man pulled up a chair and described in detail, the multi-layered torte his mother would make. I was particularly impressed with the children who carefully printed out, in Ukrainian, their favorite food and appreciated parents' commitment to passing on the language to a new generation.
And of course, I ate! The women of the church had clearly been cooking for days, so I tried the combination plate, which included borscht, varenyky with fried onions, sausage, and holobitsi. The bake sale table had American style treats, but also cookies made with buckwheat honey and other traditional sweets.
The day also brought me another lesson. The festival was public and in a way, I was surprised at how few non-Ukrainian Americans I met. It was free, it had great music and dance, exhibits, food, and even a bouncy castle for kids. No matter where we live, I think we all can make more efforts to get out there and see, in informal settings, cultures different than our own. So, Pickle Project readers, get out there and go to a festival in a neighborhood that's not your own, stop in at a church supper somewhere you wouldn't go to, and, of course, eat, eat, eat and enjoy!