Sunday, October 22, 2023

Ukrainian Culinary Heritage

A couple of days ago, I watched the “Passing the Plate: Documenting Family Recipes for Future Generations” presentation with Ashley Covelli and Lisa Lisson. Ashley is a popular American food blogger and Lisa is a well-known genealogist. They covered how to document recipes with your family members, the role recipes play in understanding your family heritage and tips for gathering the stories behind family recipes.

Ashley Covelli of “Big Flavors from a Tiny Kitchen”

Lisa Lisson of “Are You My Cousin?” and “The Food Memory Project” and

Exploring Your Culinary Heritage – Lisa Lisson

Culinary Heritage: Finding Home at the Dinner Table – Lisa Lisson

“Culinary heritage is quite simply the traditional foods your ancestors prepared and ate.” 
~ Lisa Lisson ~

My first career was as a Chef for 11 years and even though I went to work for the provincial government for 33 years, I have retained my interest in food and cooking. This Zoom session got me back thinking about my own family, what culinary traditions we continue with and what memories I have of my childhood including the stories I was told about my ancestors.

Geto, H. Seniuk, Barbara and Baba
Note that Baba has a new dress on
I am lucky that I have my Mom, Sylvia to call to clarify information and also the Kalynchuk Family History book to refer to. I published this book 30 years ago and am so glad that I did it then when so many of my relatives were alive to capture their stories, pictures, and documents.

I remember my Mom packing up cooked Ukrainian food and us going to Vermilion to spend Christmas with our cousins and, Aunts and Uncles at Geto’s (Harry Kalynchuk) house. Geto always had a container of white, peppermint candies in the top drawer of a cabinet in his living room. I now like to put candies in the pockets of my nieces and nephews. I also prefer the small, sour cabbage rolls (holubtsi), Easter bread (paska), head cheese (studenetz), perogies/pyrohy (varenyky), sauerkraut (kapusta), borsch, sauerkraut soup with pork (kapusniak), beet leaf buns (beetniks), stewed dried fruit (compote), mushrooms in sauce, prune buns (pampushky) or made with poppy seeds, cooked wheat (kutya) and Christmas bread loaves (kolach) that my Mom learned to make from my Baba (Alexandra/ Grace nee Pawliuk). There were no cookbooks then! My Mom learned to make the cheese rolls (nalysnyky) from the volunteer ladies at the King George Hall on the highway, for their perogy suppers.

Larry, me, Della, Dad, Les with
Mom taking the picture
When I moved to the city of Edmonton, I kept up the tradition of stopping at the Ukrainian Bookstore (no longer exists) and getting a calendar and candle for my Dad, Steve at Christmas time. The calendar had Ukrainian religious information on it and the candle had a red Ukrainian embroidery strip wrapped around it. My brother Les has kept up many of our family’s Ukrainian Christmas traditions. Today, I get my calendars and candles at the Orbit Ukrainian store.

With my four trips to Ukraine over 21 years, I have started to incorporate some current Ukrainian ways of cooking. I also have a hobby of collecting Ukrainian cookbooks. For example, I like the Polish dill pickles with red peppers in them. My Mom makes a Summer Borsht which is based on having a garden at the farm and I make Jewish Winter Borsht at home. I also like cherry nalyvka, a homemade wine plus rosolynk, a dill pickle soup and Lviv syrnyk, a cheesecake made with cottage cheese from my travels to Ukraine.

When I go to restaurants like the Taste of Ukraine restaurant in St. Albert or the Eats and Treats by Hotsuls in Lloydminster, I like ordering their borsht which tends to have a piece of pork with a bone in it. Another great place is the Baba’s Attic & Coffee House in Mundare and the Uncle Ed’s Ukrainian Restaurant in Edmonton. When I go to a restaurant, if it either reminds me of my childhood or my trips to Ukraine, I am extra happy. I also like learning about new methods of cooking Ukrainian food and especially the influences from other countries, e.g., Jewish, Polish, German, Romanian.

Taste of Ukraine – St. Albert

Eats and Treats by Hotsuls - Lloydminster

Baba’s Attic & Coffee House - Mundare

Uncle Ed’s Ukrainian Restaurant - Edmonton

Uncle Ed’s restaurant has a deli on the northside, and they have some Polish imported food products because Poland ruled Western Ukraine in the 1900’s. This relates more to the “first wave” of immigrants. For more recent immigrants, they tend to go to the Ukrainian Orbit Store downtown which mainly has a large selection from Ukraine. The European Market and Produce in the westend has Ukrainian and Russian food items etc. When I go to Orbit or the European Market, it smells like Ukraine when I walk inside (smoked fish, cheese, fresh produce, chocolates…). This reminds me of being in the grocery stores in Ukraine. Uncle Ed’s reminds me of the perogy suppers at the King George’s Hall near Elk Point or now in Edmonton at the St. Basil’s Cultural Centre or by attending family weddings or funerals.

Ukrainian Orbit Store
10219 – 97 Street, Edmonton

European Market and Produce

Della, Les, Dad, Mom with me taking the picture
(the candle in the center of the bread is from me)
Years ago, our ancestors ate more basic meals, based only on what they had on their farms or nearby. My grandmother, Grace used to make a bread pudding or cornmeal casserole (nachynka) for my Dad in the morning, before he walked to work at the Lindbergh Salt Plant. My Mom said that with my Dad’s income, Baba was able to add raisins to the bread pudding. My Aunts Nancy and Barbara also went to work and contributed to what Baba was able to cook and what nicer things she got in her home. I remember a well near the house and my Mom said that they put milk, cream and butter down the well by a rope as they did not have a fridge. I also remember lots of canning. Even today, morel mushrooms and wild strawberries are my favourite.

From my last trip to Ukraine in 2019, I had the cornmeal casserole in my Baba's family village (of Malyatyntsi in the Kitsman district) but they now call it "Banush" because they include topping it with fried salo or pork rinds and sheep milk cheese (brynza) which is the Hutsul way of making it.  

We are lucky with farmers markets and local food production that we can get local, homemade garlic dill pickles, prune buns (pampushky), jams and jellies, beet leaf rolls with creamy dill sauce, garlic sausage (kobasa), sauerkraut, etc. With the increase of Ukrainian newcomers to Edmonton, I notice more Ukrainian food products in the popular grocery stores. I even heard of a grocery store in the westend selling Kyiv cake via Facebook. Some Ukrainian newcomers are selling Ukrainian food items on the Facebook Marketplace and at Facebook pages (especially for Український - for Ukrainians who speak Ukrainian). Thank goodness for Google and Facebook translate! And I smile when I see Paska (sweet egg bread) in Safeway before Easter.

Malina Ukrainian Bakery

Yo Baba Ukrainian Foods

Ukraine’s Kitchen

Widynowski’s Sausage House

In Ukraine they drink room temperature, mineral water, and we like “plain”, ice cold water. This is such a problem for me that I used to carry a label from a bottle so that when I went in a store in Ukraine, I got the correct bottle of water. My Dad liked buttermilk and in Ukraine they drink kefir. In Ukraine they make more of the traditional blueberry or cherry perogies (varenyky) or cottage cheese with potatoes, sauerkraut, or mushrooms. Today in Edmonton, we have new favors in the grocery stores (pizza, cheddar cheese) plus the tradition ones. My great grandparents (Elko and Anastasia Kalynchuk) had a Russian stove and when I was in Ukraine, I stayed at the house that my great grandmother (Raifta Pawliuk, nee Tkachuk) lived in, and it had a Russian stove.

Ukrainian Folk Art, unknown source
Note the Russian stove behind the lady standing alone
I find that mixed families and those who choose to become more “Canadian” (even changing their surnames), it is harder for people interested in genealogy to connect to their culinary heritage. But there is hope! By taking your DNA test, you can find out what your ethnicity estimate are from. I had a cousin on Ancestry who thought that our common family branch was from Bosnia. The Stetsko’s are from the district of Borschiv in Western Ukraine. By doing genealogy and family research, you will find out more about your ethnicity and culinary heritage.
  • What recipes have your family pass down?
  • What culinary traditions does your family, or you continue to do?
  • What memories do you have of eating with your families and communities?

Anastasia Kalynchuk in her garden
The memories of three grandchildren of Baba, Anastasia (Nancy) Kalynchuk

Lena (Karpiuk) Koehler: “I use to love going berry picking with Grandma because she made the best lunches… She used to bake bread that was the best you ever tasted. She also made raisin bread. Somehow, she always managed to have candy in the house. When we used to bring her cream, she would reward us with her sweets.”

Nancy (Kalynchuk) Fossen: “I remember that I always enjoyed it when my folks and us kids would spend Ukraine Christmas Eve (January 6th) at Grandma’s. Her preparations kept up with the Ukrainian customs and traditions. She would spread a handful of fine hay on top of the table and cover it with a table cloth. The centre piece was three braided round loaves of bread (Kolachi), putting one on top of each other with a candle inserted in the top loaf. There was a candle on each side of the loaves also. There was also a few handfuls of hay laid under the table in memory of Christ child in the manger. She prepared various dishes of food for Christmas Eve but with no meat. Cooked wheat, sweetened and some poppyseeds mixed in it (Kutya), was a must dish. This was considered as Holy Supper (Svyata Vichera).”

Pete (Petro) Kalynchuk: “Grandma also had a large garden with lots of potatoes. I remember around 60 bags of 100 (or 10?) lbs. each. I took care of the garden for her. I remember taking lard sandwiches to school.”
"Food is everything we are. It's an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It's inseparable from those from the get-go."
~ Anthony Bourdain ~

“Cultural foods will help children and non-genealogy family members connect to the previous generations. The food at celebrations and family dinners starts family history conversations.”
~ Lisa Lisson ~


Traditional Ukrainian Cookery, Stechishin, Savella 1959, Trident Press, Winnipeg

Culinary Treasures, St. Basil’s Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League, 1982 (7th reprint), Ronalds Western Printing, Edmonton

The Art of Cooking… Ukrainian Style: A Book of Recipes, Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada, 1971 (sixth reprint), U.W.A.C. – Vancouver Branch

Ukrainian Cuisine, Technika Publishers, 1975, Kiev, Ukraine, USSR (in English)

Daughters of the Ukraine (article)
A ladies club for the King George area was organized in May 1940.
Reflections: A History of Elk Point and District: 1977 Supplement, page 43.

Gastronomic Heritage – Government of Canada

Culinary Historians of Canada

Ukrainian Cuisine - Wikipedia

Ukraine Traditional Food: A Culinary Journey Through Ukrainian Cuisine

Ukrainian Institute

Tracing Your Family History Through Food
Ancestral, article and video

A set of recipe cards from Kyiv, Ukraine
(in Ukrainian, English & Russian)

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