February 29th, 2012
05:00 PM ET
CNN photojournalist John Bodnar is a second-generation Slavic-American whose grandparents emigrated from Eastern Slovakia, and his mother’s Carpatho-Rusyn ethnicity is the prominent influence for his cultural and family traditions. Here is an introduction to the comfort foods that he grew up on.
Cabbage, onions, potatoes and carrots are used in many ethnic dishes from Eastern Slovakia. Coincidentally, my grandparents settled in western Pennsylvania, which has a similar climate and growing season as their homeland, so maintaining the native cuisine was not at all difficult.
Most families and relatives that I knew growing up had a backyard vegetable garden, and these gardens produced quite a large variety of fresh rooted and vine-ripened staples. My father and uncles seemed to be especially proud of the hot peppers that they grew, and a friendly rivalry of whose was best was quite evident - though my uncle Mike usually won the unofficial competition.
The local backyard farmers were always generous with their harvests. Sharing with neighbors, or the elderly who couldn’t grow their own gardens, was a common practice. The produce that couldn’t be eaten immediately was soon canned and set aside for the winter months. My mother and grandmother usually took care of the canning, and the fresh aroma of the canning process is indelibly etched in my memory.
When these fresh vegetables and fruits are incorporated with breads, dumplings or noodles and a pork product, a substantial meal awaits. I’d like to introduce you to haluski. Quite simply, it’s a mixture of noodles, cabbage, onion and seasoning, and it takes about 30 minutes to make. It is best served hot, but many people like it served cold as well.
The smell of cabbage cooking on the stove is very common in the Slavic kitchens. I’ve been told that the smell is quite pungent and disagreeable, but to me and my Slavic - and non-Slavic for that matter - family, it is heaven to the senses, and initiates the Pavlovian response we are all so familiar with.
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Your haluski recipe is handed down differently than the one I grew up eating. I love the combo of ingredients, I think I will try it sometime! Both my grandparents (my mom's parents) and my husbands grandparents (his father's parents) were from Czechoslovakia. I only have a few recipes and unfortunately they didn't teach their children slavic when they immigrated to America in the early 1900s. My mom used to make cabbage pies that were also quite good (made with bread dough not pie crust). Thanks for the recipes.
That sounds great! I love cabbage and noodles but never thought of combining them. http://critcherbrothers.com
Any more Slovak recipes? Thanks for sharing the Haluski recipe ;)
"Real:" halusky (as in Slovak halusky) is not made with noodles, home-made or otherwise. It's made with potatoes, flour an egg, salt. Carmelized butter and typically cabbage and/or bacon are added after small sections are boiled into small dumplings and strained. Halusky made with noodles is a Slovak-American thing. My Slovak father called it poor man's halusky because it was faster to make and held up better at festivals and activities.
Ut ohs.. a Haluski Showdown!
Reading your post a year later but it brought back loads of memories. My gramma made halusky the way you describe. It was wonderful!!
My grandma made the homemade noodles as well for the haluski. I made it myself a few months ago when I was back home. My mom and my aunt showed me how since my grandmother has since passed away. I never realized how much work went into making such a simple dish. Hopefully once I get settled down I can pick up the traditions of making slovak dishes on a regular basis.
Can't believe nobody caught the large miscue in the story. My Father was Slovak from CzechoSLOVAKia. My Mother was half Croatian and half Slovenian, both from the former country of YugoSLAVIa. I was always taught that the Slavic people were from Yugoslavia and Slovak people were from Czechoslovakia. Am I wrong on this?
The Slavic people comprise a large number of ethnic groups - Croatians, Yugoslavs, Slovenes, Slovaks, Czechs, Ukrainians, Russians, Poles, and many more.
There is also another variant on this culinary style – Jewish cooking. Basically, replace all the pork with beef. My Slovak/North Hungarian grandmother raised me on it.
Im appalled! Bacon-bits are NEVER optional, what kind of monster are you!
that is SO true!
My relatives followed a similar path in the 1890's to PA and on to Montana. Good Slovaks are scattered through out all of Montana. All those same foods filled our house. Nut Roll has now been made by my son in law who loves to bake. I too grew up on pieroges, nut roll, povatisa, and pigs feet. Bubulkies made with sauerkraut as well as poppy seed. Where does one find those cook books as my mother has passed on.
I'm also from Pittsburgh. My mothers Czech and my dads Slovak. We ate everything all you guys mentioned. My mother is in her 70's but still cooks everything on Easter, Thanksgiving and Xmas. My dad was from the South Side and we went to the Kollar Club every Easter to have our food blessed. One thing we always had were these thin wafers that were about 6" x 3" and reminded me of the communion host from church. We use to break these and dip them in honey and eat them. When my grandmother died in 1973 I never had this again. These were bough at the Kollar Club and I don't know what their called. Can anybody help? Still in Pittsburgh, John
The wafers are called oplatki. My parents were Slovak and we also had these on Christmas Eve with honey,,,from our church.
I thought it was Easter but it may have been Xmas. Thanks.
For the record, I don't think any of these traditions mesh with something called "Xmas".
I too grew up in Western Pennsylvania with a Slovak background. The wafers you are asking about are called Oplatky and are referred to as Christmas wafers. We ate ours before our Christmas Eve meal with honey. Our church sold them. I have not seen these in years but my brother and I were in Eastern Europe last fall and happened to come across these wafers. They really brought back some memories. We visited Bratislava when we were there but could not find any of the foods we were brought up on! I have a Slovak-American Cook Book that is edited by The First Catholic Slovak Ladies Association which is located in Beachwood, OH.
I am 1/2 Czech 1/4 Mexican & 1/4 Brazillian. My great grandmother played an instrumental roll in my upbringing. Pork, dumplings, & Saurkraut. But she cut the saurkraut with cabbage. It was so good, never so tart you can't eat it. I'm a vegetarian now but my Grandma still makes dumplings and I make Kolacki (no hachek on the english keyboard) every year. So much wonderful food! I'm hungry now!
I love your article and recipe about your Slovak roots. I was raised on kielbasa, kapusta, pierogi, golombki and Polish rye bread by my parents of Polish/Ukrainian descent who were proud first-generation Americans. We had the requisite garden and berry bushes. My mother canned and froze fresh veggies from our garden. We ate canned, home-made fruit cocktail all winter long. I could go on. Your article evokes good memories. Please write more often.
Here is your article.
I am originally from western PA, too (Erie) and I grew up on sunday dinners like this. Erie is a really ethnically rich town, and heavily influenced by Slovak cuisine. Thanks for the trip down memory lane and the great recipe!
My father's grandparents came from Slovakia and settled originally in PA coal country (Bentleyville?) before moving to Stratford, CT. My mother's parents came from Slovakia and settled in Bridgeport, CT. Last I heard, there was still a Lutheran church in Bridgeport that offers a Mass in Slovak.
I was the only one of my five siblings that learned all the recipes from my mother, who got them from her mother. My older brother has learned some now, too, and I'm teaching my younger sister. I also have three Slovak cookbooks (in English), so they're out there. I know one can be gotten through Amazon. I think the other two are local small-press affairs (I know one is from Bridgeport).
not sure if this is Slovak but I thinks its called Cevapi ( we called it mystery meat sandwich) little sausages with gravy and onions stuffed in a pita shell topped with goat cheese served with a dark German bear. found this gem on my first tour of Bosnia normally served from a cart or a small window on the street, this is street food and it was a lot better then the MRE the Army was serving us daily
I agree, the Army definitely needs to incorporate more dark bear into their MREs. Rawwrrr! :)
Brings back memories of growing up in Auburn, NY, where the Bodnars ran a small corner store down the block. Any relation?
I'm not familiar with the Bodnar's old store. Where was it? I'm still in Auburn.
There is a terrific Slovac Cook Book out there that contains contributed recipes from slavik women all over the mid-west.
I wish I could recall the name of it but it has many of the dishes that I grew up with. My favorite ? Kolac, that wonderful cookie that melts in your mouth..Yum, Yum! My mother gave all of her girls a copy. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving.
My mom has that cookbook....I told her to dig it out to find out the name.
Was it a green book? First Catholic Ladies Association....they still sell them.
Where can one find the cook books. Any titles or sources you could provide?
I'm in Seattle – but Pittsburgh born, the South Side. I learned to make pierogies from scratch – with potato and sauerkraut filling. Boil them, serve with plenty of butter and overcooked (nearly burned) onions. Pigs in a blanket, stuffed peppers, halushki...none of that can be found out here. I still make my own pierogies, tho.
This is one of the reasons I love living in Indiana, PA! Thanks, John Bodnar. Go IUP!
I miss this cooking. Raised in South Fork, PA, just outside Johnstown.
I'm second generation Ruthinian, so's I suppose that counts in this ethnic group - yup! Grew up with the same diet! The gardening specialty is garlic, not just any, but the one bulb my great granmother brought from Uzohod (Vallecky Lazy) in 1889. My family settled in Johnstown PA same as most all of the above growing that same smallish, red&white garlic bulb (very pungent and flavorfull) for the past 122 years. I have 220 decendents of that same bulb planed righ now, also taught to me by my father.
the recipe definitely has elements of Slovak cooking but using egg noodles instead of making your own "haluskI' (which is a term for the pasta component, not the whole meal itself) essentially makes this "egg noodles with some other stuff" and not "haluski". I'd say that 20 years in Slovakia makes me qualified to make this call. Look up a recipe for haluski and substitute that for egg noodles and you got yourself a real Slovak dish.
Haluski, Walnut Bread, Poppy seed Bread, huge garden, fruit trees, and a smoke house. You just took me back to my childhood in the Pacific Northwest where my Slovak family settled to be coal miners. Grandma continued to cook on the woodstove, in preference to her electric oven. I still remember the warmth and the smells of cooking in that kitchen.
My husband is 2nd generation Slovak and most of his relatives are from Eastern PA (Hellertown to be exact). My mother-in-law hasn't passed down many recipes except GUMBOC. These are potato dough balls filled with lekvar (prune or plum) boiled and then rolled in butter/sugar/nuts. My husband has fond memories of his grandmother serving Halsuki and now that I have the recipe I will have to make it for his birthday at the end of the month. THANKS!!
Wow! I can't believe how many people are commenting from Pittsburgh area! I was from Eastern PA but moved to a town about an hour and a half north of Pittsburgh right on the border of Ohio. So many of us from PA reading this! :P
oh... so pittsburg steelers fans are reading this? i'll type slower and use more one syllable words.
Let's face it, Mickey. Pennsylvania is really two states–and you live on the wrong side. Yinz can keep your cheese steaks.
i will admit to this:
people from out around pittsburg are some of the kindest, most good natured, hospitable people i have ever met in the whole world.
but what is with piling all your food onto one sandwich....
Whatever - stop with the intrastate rivalry! I was born in New Castle in western PA and grew up in Nanticoke in northeastern PA - both sides have their good and bad issues but anyplace in PA has better food, kinder people and a better lifestyle than most other places in the US. I live in Texas now after two decades in Boston and NYC and I still miss the Poconos and dream about the deep fried pierogies and potato pancakes at Jones' in Harvey's Lake. . .
do you live in youngstown or new castle? its the best place to live!
Also, forgot to mention steamed cabbage sauteed in butter and onions with dumplings and sour cream. Wow I just gained 3 lbs thinking about this.....
Grew up in Youngstown, Ohio and went to a slovak catholic grade school with many slavic friends (I'm Italian) – oh how we enjoyed kielbasi, kolachi, haluski, pieroghi and fish on Fridays – never could get used to the pigs feet in gelatin tho. Recently I was lucky enough to reconnect with a grade school friend – invited her for a large Italian meal (her request) and she brought me 3 homemade nut kolachis – I was so excited and must admit that I ate all three of them pretty much by myself. What a treat!
I'm 68. We grew up in Cleveland's west side, blue collar family, mother of Czech descent. Grandmother died before me so I never got to know a lot of these delicious-sounding foods. But mom made pigs feet and I loved them. Ate stuffed cabbage a lot and still love it. We had a 'fruit-bin' in the basement where mom over-wintered cabbage, root vegetables, etc. What I wouldn't do for some of her pigs feet now!! Brings a smile to my face.
I also grew up in Youngstown (part Slovak, part Italian, and a few other things as well), and fondly remember the church ladies making pierogi every Friday. My mom's kolachi recipe is one of my dearest treasures, and they are always a hit when I pass them out during the holidays as finding this sort of food done right outside of northeast OH/western PA is difficult at best. With all the great food around when I was growing up, it is amazing I don't weigh 300 pounds!
Great article and the picture is making my mouth water. Although I'm of German/Irish descent, I make a mean haluski. In fact, my haluski has become a staple at our church fish fry and summer festival in Pittsburgh. Like Polish Princess, I also cook my onions and cabbage in real butter and add it to my noodles. I've never tried the carrot or sour cream, but need to give that a whirl. Yum!
I'm from Kittanning, east of Pittsburgh. We all grew up on these dishes, and still do. I taught myself to make perogies. I never tried haluski with carrots, either, but I don't think it would be bad! I never met a potato or head of cabbage I didn't like!
Lots more about Carpatho-Rusyns at http://www.c-rs.org . Rusyns in America also have a cultural center/museum, http://rusyncenter.blogspot.com . Would encourage the author and all others to check it out, especially if like "Ukiegal2009" your roots are in the Carpathians.
I don't know much about the food, but some time ago, I saw "A Serbian Film" and really enjoyed it.
Grew up in Trenton,N.J. speaking Slovak before English. Used to read the Jednota with my Baba. I enjoyed haluski,pierogi and gnocchi like pasta with cottage cheese, cabbage, and browned butter. Likes the 24 egg cheese roll made in a gauze sack,black mushroom soup, baked dough balls served with browned butter, honey, and poppy seeds. Pastry filled with lekvar,or cheese or honey walnuts smelled great. Check out the Slovak-American cookbook for some nostalgic recipes. Loved "loksha" like nan cooked atop the coal stove and served buttered or rolled with cottage cheese.
The eggy cheese made in the gauze (cheesecloth) is called Sirok (pronounced SID-ook). I make four or more batches every Easter for my family. Nutroll and Poppyseed roll, Pagac, Paska, etc. The haluski I know refers to the little potato-based noodles, not the whole dish. I'm SO glad my mother taught me to make all this stuff before she died.
the egg cheese is also known as Hrudka or Hrutka, depends on what part of Slovakia even what village!
The FCSLA cookbook is the one I think many are talking about. Published by the First Catholic Slovak Ladies Association and a standard wedding shower present in Western PA and North Eastern Ohio. Check out their website and you can order it
It's nice to share with folks of your own ethic background and to keep the culture of your heritage alive, isn't it? And who thinks that a grandma who still speaks her native tongue whenever she can and speaks broken English isn't quaint and cute? Well then why all the vicious verbal attacks and barbs on Hispanics for the very same things that you hold so dear for yourselves? Some people in this country make me sick to my stomach. And no, I'm NOT an immigrant of any sort, in case you wondered.
Slavic minorities have been the target of pejorative as well – ever heard of a Polish joke? Regardless, the bitter and defensive nature of this comment seems unwarranted.
Jorge.............if I had a nickle for every time I heard a polish "joke" ( I am polish) I would be a millionaire so quit your griping...............
Slavs, Italians, Irish were all discriminated against when they came to the US through Ellis Island and they took low level jobs as coal miners, steel workers, dock workers, garment workers, and the like. My grandfather was a coal miner and a steel worker with a 4th grade education, yet in the next three generations, his great grandaughter graduated from Harvard with an MBA in business, another received her doctorate in genetic research and another received a doctorate in physical therapy. And the young men in our family did okay too – pharmacists, psychologists, eye doctors and business owners. So you see Jorge, every minority experienced some level of discrimination, but still rose up to experience the American dream through the generations to follow – the same I'm sure will happen with hispanics – they are paying their dues like our families did.
i have never heard a phone message that said press one for english, press 2 for polish".
"Some people in this country make me sick to my stomach."
Funny, sometimes you make me sick to my stomach. Fair trade I'd say.
Yes, but MY ancestors came here from Europe and assimilated to this country, the did not expect this country to bend to their will. THAT is the difference, Jorge.
And I might add they came here LEGALLY.
I would say they DID expect this country to bend for them...since most Americans are not speaking Cree, Navajo, Pawnee, and Shawnee etc. these days.
Yes, Paula, but we are not living in a country where Cree, Shawnee, Pawnee, etc. are not the internationally spoken language of commerce and the language spoken by most U.S. citizens. The European settlers came here from all sorts of countries and learned to speak English because that is what was spoken here. And BTW, I am 1/8 American Indian (yes, I don't prescribe to the Native American, etc. PC jargon). If I want to speak that language, I will go to a PowWow and do so. I can't order a Subway sandwich using it, however, and I don't have a problem with that. It's called assimilation, and people who come to this country should do so, they should not expect everyone in this country to bow to them.
"The European settlers came here from all sorts of countries and learned to speak English because that is what was spoken here." -kasey. So you flunked American History. Got it. Paula's point was that settlers didn't learn the language of people who were already in this country. European settlers brought the English language to this country. It's also clear you failed your reading comprehension course, too.
LBNL, the claim about being (some small fraction) American Indian is what people claim when they can't make a good argument any other way. Just take your claim, fold it in four sharp corners and shove it. Nobody, but children buy or even care about that nonsense. You're trying to make a point and you fell back on something childish. KUTGW.
so paula, have you truned over the deed to your home to the tribe that used to own the land it was built on?
Well said, Jorge! Kudos! Since when is tolerance and sharing of different cultures a bad thing?
Oh, it's just Jorge, the pizzed off Puerto Rican stranded in Georgia complaining about the US again.
It's really two reasons:
1 – Every immigrant group goes through the same process of being picked on, usually by whichever group just finished going through it. The "Hyphen American" fraternity has always been committed to hazing.
2 – There has never been a single immigrant group as large as Hispanics before. (Except possibly Germans in the late eighteenth century.) This leads to fears that the Hispanic population will not assimilate into the American mainstream. There was never a time when (if there had been automated phone services) one would have had to press one for English and two for Slovak. To put it another way, having aa population that is 25% foreign born is much less threatening if that 25% is made up of twenty groups, none of which constitutes more than 3% of the population than if your population is 25% foreign born and that 25% is made up of twenty groups, one of which represents more that 20% of the population. (Yes, I know that Hispanics are not a monolithic group, but, to most Americans, an indigenous Bolivian and an Argentinean whose great-granparents immigrated from Italy and Germany in the 1880's are both "some sort of Mexican" as long as they speak Spanish.)
Oh thank-you for this article! Growing up in Pittsburgh in the '50-70s, this type of food was often served in my familial circles. It's comfort food to me.
When my children were growing up in Bavaria, we had a wonderful au-pair from Slovakia. Ena grew up about 50 km away from where my grandfather was born (she recognized the village immediately. He emigrated to the US in 1905). When I cooked dishes like this, it brought tears to her eyes, being 19 and just a bit homesick.
Please do more articles on dishes such as this.
And don't forget to add the caraway.
Being of Serbian descent, I am familiar with this recipe. Also love stuffed cabbage rolls and pierogies! Miss Western PA. Grew up just northwest of Pittsburgh. Little town called Ellwood City.
ha! my wife is from Elwood City, Going there is like taking a trip in a time machine.Great place!
I have cousins in Ellwood City! Small world
I spent a year in Slovakia about the time it split from the Czechs, and this article brought back memories. My very first impression on arriving at the train station in Bratislava was a smell that was a mix of cooking cabbage and coal smoke. My favorite food memory was my colleague’s home-made sausages.
I never tasted haluski until I moved to the suburbs of east Pittsburgh after marrying a Catholic Italian/Slovenian husband. It was at his family's church that I first tasted it from a giant roaster they used to dish out the delicacy for its festival. Many a church and football concession stand offers this dish, and I've grown to love it. I make it at home with cut cabbage that's been slightly boiled, then sauteed with onions and medium egg noodles drenched in butter until it's cooked down. Makes me hungry thinking about it.
Are you still in the Pittsburgh area? I'm in the North Hills. Would love to get together!
I grew up in the coal region of Eastern Pa and it seemed like almost everyone was some Eastern European. Our family is originally from what is now SE Poland but we consider ourselves Ukrainian. I love haluski and it surely is comfort food. However we make it without carrots. During Lent it became a weekly meal. I always say the smell of cabbage and onions cooking in butter is the smell of home and happiness :)
My grandparents on my mom's side were Czech. My grandmother made such great food – cabbage and noodles (like this recipe), stuffed cabbage, cottage cheese and noodles, veg soup and homemade donuts. Unfortunately she never learned to write or read English and no one bothered to get her recipes! Big Mistake! what I wouldn't do for some of her food now!
Thanks for the memories, John. :) I grew up in North Eastern PA in a Slovak/Lebanese/Irish/German household. Haluski, pierogies, kibbah, homemade hummus and kielbasa are all comfort foods from that little melting pot that is Pennsylvania.
And where's the halupki and pierogi recipes???
Dziękuję! My husband's out of town and I just bought a big head of cabbage to make haluski while he's gone, perfect timing! He swears he can still smell it days later but it's worth it. I don't use any water cooking the cabbage and onion, I slice them both thinly and cover and cook slowly in some butter, it doesn't get as limp and doesn't smell as much (as if that's bad!) It's even better if you make your own drop kluski to use instead of bought noodles but I haven't ever used sour cream so I'm looking forward to the results. Thanks for sharing! I've been a vegetarian for years but that lovely picture with the kielbasa made me go UMMMMM! But where's the horseradish???
Wow, that looks and sounds awesome!
sounds heartwarmingly delicious