My heritage is Slovak and Yugoslav, so I grew up with these cultures firmly in place, food-wise. When I was growing up, it was Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Now, I know that my Mom’s parents came from Slovakia, and my Dad’s parents came from Kucur, Backa, in the province of Vojvodina, in what today is Serbia. All my grandparents came over from Europe in the very early 1900s, bringing with them the knowledge of the foods they ate in the "old country."
Many recipes I have seen elsewhere for some of the foods I know, such as Chicken Paprikas, are very rich, with sour cream or other cream added in. The version I know is simpler, and less rich, though I cannot say it is any less good, for all that. I suspect that my Slovak Grandma, living in town during the Depression and the World Wars, learned to make do with less than optimal ingredients at times. My version of Chicken Paprikas came with no formal "recipe", but was passed down by word of mouth.
I remember my Slovak Grandma more for her savory foods: Holupki, Chicken Paprikas and others. She made nut or poppy seed rolls
(called Kolach) at Christmas time; just dreamy-good. At other times, the dessert I remember best is her Anise Cookies. Made the night before and allowed to set until next day, they puffed up on top, almost meringue-like, on a cookie base. She always, always topped them with little colored sprinkles. She made bread for holidays, and my Mom did also. I have carried on that tradition, though I make the bread for daily consumption, and have altered the recipe to work in my Kitchen Aid mixer. I can, if needed, make it completely by hand. I have not lost that art.
The other thing I remember most about her is that she crocheted. She made lacy edges for pillowcases and handkerchiefs. She made all sorts of doilies. I still have some of the doilies she made so long ago. And, I can say with pride that I learned to crochet also, although I don't do it as often as I once did.
My Slovak Grandma,
crocheting in our backyard, circa 1955.
My Yugoslav Grandparents, on the other hand, lived on a farm. They had chickens, so eggs were plentiful. They grew crops. They lived far differently than the town folk. My Mom recalled that early on in her engagement with my Dad, she went over to his parents' house after church one Sunday, for breakfast. She was appalled that Grandma had more than 13 eggs in a bowl, to make scrambled eggs. She felt it was nearly obscene to have that many eggs for a family of five. That brought home to me the huge differences between town and country in those times.
I recall my Yugoslav Grandma most for her desserts. There was no one better. She made strudel from fine flaky dough similar to phyllo and filled with poppy seed, nuts or cheese. She made Kifli, flaky little pastries that were rolled into squares and filled with things like Prune Lekvar, ground poppy seed filling and apricot filling. She made so many pastry varieties, and unfortunately the Kifli is the only one to survive as a recipe in our family. I never learned to make the strudel dough, though I recall as a child, watching Grandma quickly manipulate a small ball of dough into a paper thin piece that covered the entire kitchen table and hung down over the edges for at least another 8 - 10 inches. An amazing feat. Grandma cooked and baked back when cooking with lard was an every day occurrence. On the farm, they worked hard, and burned off the calories. And now, once again, lard has come into vogue!
My Yugoslav Grandparents, circa 1948, on their farm in Ohio.
Grandma's Chicken Soup, simmering on the stove, filled the whole house with its smell; a high note being the saffron she used for color and flavor...
I know there are many relatives living there in the old country still. My Dad in his later years, got in touch with some of them, as he still spoke their language. I, sadly, never learned the language Dad called "po-rusky".