KT: “There are a couple recipes that I have memorized and these three I learned from my grandmother, so your great-grandmother, who I am almost sure learned them from her mother. Your great-great grandmother came from to America from Russia, so that would make sense.”
Me: “Where did you first learn them?”
KT: “I have memories of learning them from her when I was probably around your age, maybe a little younger, when she lived out in Lancaster. I learned how to make piroshki, and both hot and cold borscht from her. My mother knows how to make them too, so I’m sure I also made them with her, but I distinctly remember make them in my grandmother’s little kitchen with her.”
Me: “What are the traditional dishes called and how do you make them?”
KT: “Well piroshkis are kind of like little loaves of bread that are fried and filled with meat and rice. Your dad likes when I make those the most. My favorite is borscht. I know how to make both hot and cold borscht, which are kind of similar. They are both made with beats and cabbage, just one of them is a cold soup and one is a hot soup.”
Me: “How do have the recipe, is it hand-written or is it in a cookbook?”
KT: “I might have them written down somewhere, but I just have them memorized, so I never need to look up how.”
KT is a 59 year old woman from California. Her, her mother, and her grandmother have all lived here for most of their lives. Her great-grandmother immigrated from Russia and brought these recipes with her, which have been passed down the generations. She has the recipes memorized, so does her mother and grandmother. Usually, she or the other women in the family make all the meals, traditional or otherwise, for family gatherings. She still makes these recipes regularly. I have eaten all three of these dishes that she has prepared, but I do not know how to make them. She told me this in an in-person interview that I recorded and later transcribed.
These three dishes are traditional recipes from Eastern Europe that have been collected and stored matrilineally. Cooking holds a special significance because it is a way to stay connected to older family members, a person’s culture, or enjoy foods that remind a person of their family/childhood. It is something that is often taught to a younger family member by an older or more experienced family member. Usually, these recipes are shared (especially in the 21st century) when a person is first entering young adulthood. Cooking is often viewed, especially historically, as a part of the domestic sphere which regulated it to a women’s role in the household. This means that much of traditional cooking is preserved through the women in a family line or culture. We can see the structure of domestic ideologies of Eastern Europe through the preservation of cooking as a female role, even into the 21st century. Many of these recipes also have spread and gained popularity. Often, different Eastern European countries will have the same dishes by different names. However, these dishes have also gained popularity in several non-eastern European countries due to Russian diaspora. The countries have collected the dishes as their own, often under a significantly different name, when at various times in history huge swaths of the Russian or Eastern European populations left and settled in new areas, such as is the case with my informant’s great-grandmother in the United States.