Ukrainian/Russian Roots

From: The Dansker Family Memories by my grandfather Sam Dansker

It is always terrible and disturbing to hear news about war torn countries. Learning about the horrific invasion of Ukraine brought up intense feelings of outrage and disbelief. I realized that this was especially difficult because these are my roots. This morning I received an email with an urgent update from the the World Union for Progressive Judaism from a rabbi that is presently in Kyiv.

My father’s family is from Russia; I have heard stories my whole life and this is what I know: the family was very poor, my grandfather had 9 siblings; they all made it to America except one child who died at the age of 3. They were devout orthodox Jews and were constantly under the threat of attack by Russian Cossacks, they were able to leave in 1914.

From The Dansker Family Memories

This week, I reread a memoir that a cousin helped my grandfather Sam put together in the 1980’s and this is what I have discovered: I knew that both of grandparents were born in Russia, but I never knew from what part of the country. Grandpa Sam was born in a small town in Ukraine called Bazalya, not far from Kyiv. I learned that in the 1900’s, Volhynia Province in Ukraine was part of the former Russian Empire that included Lithuanina and Poland. I learned that my great grandfather played the fiddle and that in addition to Russian, they spoke Yiddish. Between 1910 and 1914 all Jews were expelled from their villages; my grandfather was 13 at the time. They were lucky to have family in St Louis and passage was bought for their harrowing trip to America.

Cleaning out my vegetable bin, I was trying to decide what to toss out and place in our compost bin. In the back of the vegetable drawer was a sad bag of red beets with the greens rotted and an old ignored head of cabbage with the core starting to mold. I thought about our family before they left Russia and how food insecure they were; I didn’t want to waste any food. It was easy to wash away the old leaves and I decided a hearty Ukrainian Borscht would be the thing to cook!

It was interesting to me that this week the NYT Cooking Column said they were getting a lot of requests for Borsht recipes. Sam Sifton said in his article: “The letters are a reminder that cooking is a cultural act: a way to feel connected, to support, to acknowledge the world and perhaps to understand it better.” NYT Cooking

I listened to Bach Cantatas as I chopped up the vegetables; making the soup was deeply soothing and seemed to be best way to channel my thoughts and prayers for the Ukrainian people.

Ukranian Borscht

Ingredients:

1 stalk celery chopped

1 medium onion chopped

3 or 4 red beets- peeled and cut into small cubes. The beets are easier to peel if you cook them in a pot of water for about 20 minutes. Save the liquid they were cooked in and use in the soup pot. Make sure to wear an apron, this is a messy job!!

3 garlic cloves peeled and finely chopped

2 red potatoes cut into small pieces

1/2 head cabbage cut into thin slices

2 carrots peeled and cut into small pieces

2 bay leaves

Serve with chopped fresh dill and sour cream

1/2 small can diced tomato

honey to taste

1-2 tablespoons white vinegar to taste

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Serve with chopped fresh dill and sour cream– I used plain yogurt.

To Make Borscht:

Heat a large soup pot and add olive oil. Saute onions until soft, add garlic and cook briefly.

Add all other vegetables and other ingredients.

Cover ingredients with water, chicken or beef stock (use enough water or stock to come up almost to the top of the pot.)

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover pot and cook for about 2 hours.

Adjust seasonings.- add more vinegar or honey to taste. The soup is best if it sits for a day before eating to let the flavors meld together.

Serve with plenty of chopped fresh dill and a big dollop of yogurt or sour cream.

The soup is wonderful with fresh buttered rye bread!

ENJOY!!

My grandma Bella made a strudel that I have never seen elsewhere in Europe; Austria, Germany, Hungary or the Czech Republic. The pastry was not flaky, but more like a pliable soft dough that would be used for Rugelach. The dough was rolled out thin and I remember that it was filled with chopped dried fruit, raisins, walnuts and it was dusted with cinnamon sugar. I regret that I never made strudel with her. I went on a google search and found a Russian style mixed/dried fruit strudel. It sounds very similar and this will be my next baking experiment. Stay tuned!!

AND, as always, here is the “Tree of the Week”! I imagine that the caption is being read by a strong Ukrainian woman!

“Don’t Even Think of It!!”

Stay Safe and Warm!!

Author: Judith Dansker

Professional oboist and chamber musician- member of Hevreh Ensemble and Winds in the Wilderness, Professor of Oboe Hofstra University; observer of people, art and nature; passionate food and travel explorer.

8 thoughts on “Ukrainian/Russian Roots”

  1. Judith-
    So moving!
    We are continuing to track Macey’s family-
    They are from out there somewhere in the Pale-Ukraine??
    Does it matter??
    We are all searching for our roots and connections to families worldwide.
    Family and Humanity are an understood.
    How could we watch suffering and not feel angst?
    Thanks for your comments!
    G

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Brought me back to my mother’s stories of her Russian background, and denial it was Polish. Could it have been on the border: Ukraine? And memory of the bowl of borscht built on steaming, boiled red potatoes, the red of the beets and broth, the dollop[s] of cream cheese, the pink it created. The choice: mix it all and have pink soup with potato chunks, or gingerly cut through the sour cream to the potato with minimum force to keep the soup red and the potato/sour cream white? Oh, those little swirls of pink in the red.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. March 16, 2022
    Judith, our family background has similar origins. As a child, my mother, the youngest of 12 children, made it to America from the same general location as your family: an area that changed hands among Russia, Ukraine and Poland. I heard some of the details of how hard life was. Her father was a rabbi in the “old country.” And yes, like you, I loved her borscht and other Eastern European recipes, most of which, however, I do not have written down.
    Good health and good luck with your blog.
    Elaine Hecht

    Liked by 1 person

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