Friday, November 4, 2011

Welcome to Potluck!

On a dark stormy night in Donetsk,  Caleb, Daria (the local organizer) and I hurried down a gusty street, clutching our umbrellas and leaping over ankle-deep streams at intersections, to arrive at our second Pickle Project conversation.   We entered the school where the conversation was to be and were instantly swept up into the kind of buzz that only excited high school students make. 

"Welcome to Potluck" said the chalkboard and we were thrilled to see that students had all brought food from home to share with us.  EkoArt, our partner in Donetsk, works with young people, so they decided to have the conversation at a lyceum with high school and college students.   We met in the French language classroom, where their enthusiastic teacher, Nikolai Routchka, had read our blog, had it projected on the board, and had even brought us a jar of preserved sea buckthorn after seeing my request for information and identification after spotting the berries in a market.

We began the evening with girls in traditional costume bearing the traditional Ukrainian welcome of bread and salt;  a lovely reminder of an ancient, still important tradition.  We asked students to share the details of each dish they had made--and impressively,  each one did it in English, most with an accompanying PowerPoint presentation.  Here's just a bit of what we ate (and thanks to Valya Sakhnenko and others for the descriptions!)
The salad is called "herring under fur coat" or short "fur coat" ("shuba" in Russian). It includes herring, pickled onions, potatoes, carrots, beets. Clean and cut the herring into small pieces. After that put chopped fresh or pickled onion. Vegetables cooked, rubbed on a grater and put by layers. You can add the grated apples and eggs. All layers except herring, covered with mayonnaise.
Daria's pickles, "This is my pepper in tomato sauce, which was pickled by my mother. In Ukraine we call this dish "lecho"."
Verguny--a fried dough.  
 Mlyntsi, (depending on where you're from, blini or crepes) filled with homemade cherry jam. 
 Homemade compote, above, and below, holubtsi, stuffed cabbage rolls.
Below, still warm plov, brought in right as we started by a student's father.  Plov is traditionally made by men, and she had made it with her dad, who was Kazakh, and had, as I recall, learned to make it from Uzbek friends while living in Moscow.   Ukraine is a diverse place, with many different cultures, and of course, it can be seen in the food.
And what would a potluck be without a great looking dessert.  One student had some pretty amazing cake baking and decorating skills!
The food was great, but it's the conversations that I'll remember.  Donetsk is off-the-beaten-path for most Americans, so we had lots of questions.  What is "typical" American food?  (which consistently, was one of the hardest questions to answer throughout the trip).  Are Americans really overweight?  Do we all eat fast food all the time?  What kind of food does my family eat?  Does my daughter know how to cook?  Do I preserve fruits and vegetables?  Is food in the US safe?  Do we trust the government to regulate it?  What makes food healthy?  (in part, this conversation was generated by the university nutrition students who attended bringing healthier versions of some typical Ukrainian foods).
So much of what Ukrainians think of Americans comes from television and movies--particularly for young people.  Caleb and I are from different generations, different regions, and different family backgrounds--but what we both shared with these enthusiastic young students were stories that are different from what movies and TV shows convey--that there's not one American food, nor one American story.  And what did we learn?  We learned about food, but even more about a curious, enthusiastic group of Ukraine's young people who care passionately about their country and the world.

We ended the evening with group photos and headed out, with bags full of sea buckthorn, cake, grapes from the teacher's arbor, bread, and more, to sustain us on our next train trip.   The rain continued, but the warmth of the evening carried us home.


  1. Linda, I am LOVING your reports! What a delicious slice of life you're showing us, thank you!

  2. Thanks Andria--it was a really memorable evening with all those great young people--glad you enjoyed it. I feel always so lucky to have the experiences I've gotten to have in the course of this project and my entire Ukrainian adventure.

  3. > Mlyntsi, (depending on where you're
    > from, blini or crepes)

    nalysnyky, where i am from...


  4. > Verguny--a fried dough

    is this what that is: Pretzels Kiev-Style "Kievian Verguny" Recipe


  5. Anonymous--my friends in Donetsk tell me that's a good, accurate recipe, although the cognac is optional. Let us know if you try making it!

  6. > > Verguny--a fried dough

    is that a russian food that has been introduced in to ukraina?


  7. I don't know whether it can be defined as Russian or Ukrainian, as there's of course, much overlap. One of the things that interests us a great deal here at the Pickle Project are the many ethnic groups in Ukraine and how so many food traditions are adapted and used. So this is probably one of those!