About five years ago I researched my family history to determine if there was any truth to the family rumor that there was Chinese heritage on my father’s side. It turns out that my great-great-grandmother was illegitimate and the father’s name was listed as ‘not known’ on her birth certificate. So it’s still a mystery and my hope that I’d have a cause to celebrate some cultural diversity aside from Irish, Irish and Irish ancestry has been dashed.
When I met Dean I was thrilled to learn that his mother was born in Germany to a Ukrainian father and a Belarusian mother who’d escaped their homelands during World War II. It is as close to familial cultural diversity I am going to get, unless my kids marry a Danish architect or Vietnamese chef….one can only hope.
It’s fascinating to me hearing tales of their homeland and their time as newly arrived migrants to Australia. But the best part has to be hearing about the food; having Dean’s Baba and Guido telling us their secrets to a good cabbage roll (holubsti) or my favourite, potato dumplings, or varenyky as they are known in Ukrainian.
The demo starts and everyone leans in for a good look || Varenyky
Baba makes a huge batch of varenyky every couple of months. Making a great effort to ensure the spoils are spread throughout the family so we all get to enjoy these beautiful morsels. They are quite labour intensive for an 80+ year old. So rather than have her toil in the kitchen, I took advantage of a cooking class that her Church had conducted.
The Ukrainian Church in Adamstown has begun a series of classes to teach the young folk some of the more well known traditional Ukrainian recipes. The first class is for varenyky, which I jumped at the chance of attending.
When I walked in I was unsure if they would welcome a stranger requesting to take photos of their class, but they were fine with it. When I mentioned I was the grand-daughter-in-law of one of their parishioners, the welcome was made even warmer. Everyone knew Baba and began to tell me their connection to her. Some having been at the same migrant camp as her in the 1950s, another who lived around the corner from her and had only been at her house last week to have a cup of tea.
Mrs Brylynski & Mrs Bojko rest up after a marathon varenyky making session || The demo begins
Pinching in the potato filling. A technique that requires practice
As Mrs Bojko took us through the steps you could hear ladies in the audience whispering their variations “I add a little mashed potato to my dough to make it even softer” or “I only use milk for my dough, no water”. Just like any traditional recipe, there are always variations from family to family and it was so interesting to hear what each person did to make their varenyky the best tasting ones around.
The young ones learning the secrets to good varenyky
Olha arrived from the Ukraine several years ago is an expert at making varenyky || Sharing tips with Mrs Bojko
Cooking up a large batch for everyone to taste
When I popped by Baba’s a few days later to tell her about the class, she pulled a crockpot from the stovetop and opened the lid. Inside was a batch of freshly made varenyky.
“But I would have helped and taken photos of you making them if I knew” I scolded.
“Not with the way my hair is right now”. She urges me to take some to eat there and then. Of course, I couldn’t say no – they are too delicious. As I bite into the first varenyky Baba is quick to ask, “Mine are the best, yes?”
“Yes Baba, yours win hands down”. Of course she knew that already.
The next class at the Ukranian Church Hall (will be holubsti (cabbage rolls), Saturday 3 September at 2pm. Another class for borscht (beetroot soup) is on Saturday 8 October at 2pm. Payment is cash donation on the day. No need to book–just turn up.
Makes about 36
1 small brown onion, chopped finely
3 large potatoes
2 cups tasty cheese, grated
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Heat a small fry pan over a medium heat and melt the butter. Add the chopped onion and stir until soft and golden. Put aside.
Put on a medium-sized saucepan of salted water to boil. Peel the potatoes and chop into large pieces. Add the saucepan and cook until just soft (test with a knife). Once cooked, drain the water away and put the potatoes back in the saucepan and on a low heat, stirring to dry out the potatoes as much as possible without them sticking to the bottom of the pan, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and mash the potato with the cheese until well combined and creamy. Add some milk if the mixture is too dry. Mix through the cooked onion and add salt and pepper to taste.
Other ideas for addition to mashed potato include cottage cheese, bacon, mushroom and sauerkraut.
2 cups plain flour
½ tsp salt
1 medium egg, whisked lightly
1/3 cup water, at room temperature
1/3 cup milk, at room temperature
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and form a well in the centre. Add the egg, water and milk to the well and stir together with a spoon to form a dough. Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth, about 5 minutes. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rest for 15 minutes.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until about 1mm thick. Cut with a glass or pastry cutter into rounds about 50mm in diameter. Take a teaspoon of the filling and place it in the centre of the round. Fold the round in half so that the filling is contained at the centre and you end up with a semi-circle shaped pillow. Seal the rim by pinching the edges together. Make sure the edges are sealed correctly or the filling will be washed out during cooking. Repeat the process until you have used all the dough. Any dough cut-out remnants can be re-rolled to make more rounds.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Drop the varenyky one by one. Depending on the size of your pot, you may need to cook the varenyky in two batches. After you drop them in, the water will stop boiling for a moment. Give them a gentle stir to lift any off the bottom of the pot and prevent them from sticking together. The water will soon come back to the boil and the varenyky will float to the top. Boil them for a further 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with a perforated spoon ensuring they are drained well and place in a bowl. Coat them with melted butter and toss gently to coat evenly. Enjoy immediately.
A chinwag over a bowl of varenyky outside the Church Hall.Share this on: