Tag Archives: eastern european

Russian recipes – Piroshkis, Borscht


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.

Mikulás Day

Main Text: 

Mikulás Nap (Saint Nicholas Day) in Hungarian tradition is celebrated annually on December 6th. 

Background on Informant: 

She was born and raised in Hungary, but moved to the United States in 1997. She is knowledgable of her roots and has lots of wisdom to share about its’ cultural traditions. She grew up with the traditions of Mikulás Nap as a child and continued to practice it with her own children. 


She explains: 


“Mikulás is the Hungarian ’Santa Claus’ but it is also a reference to Saint Nicholas (Miklós or Mikulás). On every December 5th, children are told to put out shoes (boots usually) in front of their house, windows, or even in more modern times their rooms. 

Then by the next morning on December 6th, which is Mikulás Nap (Saint Nicholas Day), good children wake up to find chocolates, small toys, and sometimes even money in their shoes, while the bad children get “virgács” which is like twigs wrapped in red paper as their punishment (kind of looks like a small broom)— it’s supposed to be a reference to ‘Krampusz’ who is this devil-elf hybrid creature. But no one really ever gives their children it even if they deserve it. My mother always told me I would get it, but she never would, she got me the most delicious treats. 

No one really practices “virgács” anymore and ‘Krampusz’ is not associated with Hungarian Christmas culture anymore either. In more modern times, I usually use the American Christmas Stockings to place small chocolates and tiny presents for my children, and then the next celebration after this is our Christmas (‘Karácsony’) on December 24th.”


I loved learning about the traditions of Mikulás Nap and understanding the origin of the holiday and how it has shifted from tradition customs to a more modern version. It’s interesting to see how Hungarian tradition as well as other Eastern European cultures have this precursor holiday ahead of Christmas. Having also grown up with practicing this mini-holiday in my own traditions, I learned a lot about ‘Krampusz’ who has played a large of role in the past, but has now become outdated in modern customs yet very much active in pop culture. I also had never heard of the “virgács” and assuringly most parents tend to treat their children with rewarding gifts rather than punishments on this day. 

As St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, it is without a doubt that this ‘Father Christmas’ treats his children with blessings. I also love how this tradition hasn’t really spread far from Eastern Europe traditions and that it never caught on in the Western world as much as the other traditions such as ‘Santa Clause’ and Christmas as a whole. But overall, I was able to learn more about this tradition and the importance it continues to play in Hungarian culture, and its preservation that I would say will continue to last a long time. 


For more information check out: 



Kennywood Russian Festival

Every year at the local theme park in Kennywood, Pittsburgh, there would be a Carpathian-Russian festival to celebrate heritage and go to the theme park. My grandfather often took his family because of the celebration involved and because of the community they were a part of, which was largely Slovakian.

My grandfather cannot remember if it was the park that started these festivals or if it was his community that decided to have the festival. They would be held at the picnic tables at the park, and there would be polka music always played by a live band and traditional polka dancing. The food that was often cooked was kielbasa, perogies, which are similar to ravioli, but have potatoes and cheese inside of them and foods more traditional to the Slovakian population. My grandfather also mentioned that they had poliopkis, similar to pigs in a blanket.

Other groups that would have similar picnics at Kennywood were the Italians and the Polish. The Irish did not as much, as they had a separate festival during the fall that they gathered and celebrated their Irish culture, although it became more commercial and was held at an amphitheater just outside the city. Kennywood festivals were special in that many people usually didn’t even ride the rides, they just paid the general admission fee to get in, (you could purchase single tickets to ride the park rides), and eat the good and participate in the celebrating.