Growing up as the granddaughter of Polish and Italian immigrants, it’s not surprising that food has been a huge part of my life. This, combined with the fact that I was born and lived in Pittsburgh for my younger years, has resulted in many food experiences that tie me to my ethnic background and fill me with a sense of gratefulness and respect.
In my family, food is a love language. I have many fond memories of being at my Ciocia Bebe’s house and being stuffed with homemade pierogies fried in butter until I could barely move. To her, they weren’t just food. It was like love and kindness were stuffed inside of those delicious filled dumplings.
On the Polish side of my family, nothing says “I love you” quite like the sharing of oplatki on Christmas Eve. Those thin, tasteless wafers stand for the love and care that we all feel for one another. Each person gets a small rectangle of the unleavened bread and goes around the room breaking off small pieces of the others wafers, wishing them a merry Christmas and good fortune in the coming year. This beautiful tradition has been continued down the generations and is a reminder of our heritage.
It’s the same on the other side as well. To me, Christmas brings thoughts of hand-pressed ravioli, minestra maritata (wedding soup), hand-rolled meatballs, and freshly baked cannoli and pizzelles. I realized that I honestly wasn’t sure what the average American family ate on Christmas until Googling it as I wrote this post! For my family, Christmas is a celebration of culture and food passed down from generations.
I lived in Pittsburgh for the early years of my life before moving to Virginia. Almost all of my extended family remains there, which means that I have spent a good part of my life traveling back and forth. Pittsburgh’s multicultural heritage is shown through its food and rich ethnic traditions. The Strip District is a wonderful example of the melting pot of cultures that make the city unique, with its variety of customs and cuisines.
One example of a tradition that both sides of my family (all living near Pittsburgh) share is carried out on New Year’s Eve. Sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, and kielbasa are served and thought to bring good luck. This is what I have eaten every year for as long as I can remember. Although my immediate family is not able to travel to Pennsylvania as often as we used to, we have still upheld this tradition. In times like these, when we are not able to be with our extended family, food still connects us.
A dish that I have eaten countless times throughout my life is called kluski z kapusta, or noodles and cabbage. This cheap, simple meal, passed down by my Polish grandmother, is an example of one of the many ways that the culture and traditions of the generations before me continue to stay alive. You can find the recipe below.
KLUSKI Z KAPUSTA
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 4 cups chopped or sliced cabbage
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. pepper
- 1 package (8 oz.) egg noodles
Melt butter in a large skillet. Add onion. Saute until soft. Add cabbage. Saute 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Stir in salt and pepper. Meanwhile, cook noodles in salted boiling water as directed on package. Drain well. Stir noodles into cabbage. Cook 5 minutes longer, stirring frequently.
Throughout my life, food has been much more to me than just something to eat. It has been a way to give and receive love, to carry on tradition, and to remember those who came before me. One day, when I have my own family, I know that I will continue to carry on this delicious language of love.