Thursday, April 29, 2010

May Day Baskets and May Pole

May Day is Saturday.  It brings back many wonderful memories of my childhood, growing up in South Dakota.  I will talk about that later.  First, I want to share some information I found out about May Day.

I did not realize that May Day is a traditional holiday in many cultures:  Europe, England, Finland, Ireland, France, Scotland, Germany, Russia, and in this country.  I talked with someone who was raised in Hawaii and she told me, "Oh, yes, we celebrated there too."

May Day falls exactly half of a year from November 1.  It marks the end of winter.  In the Roman Catholic tradition, May is observed as Mary's month.

The tradition of  "the giving of May Baskets" is fading in popularity.  However, when I was a child, my mother and I made little baskets out of wallpaper scraps, cupcake papers, or cardboard.  We would fill them with candy or homemade cookies.  In late afternoon, she let me go to our neighbors' houses and I would put the basket by the door, knock, and run away.  I used to make little baskets with my children and they would do the same thing.  This tradition ended with their children.  There are just too many other things going on in our grandchildrens' lives. 

May Day is best known for its tradition of dancing the Maypole and crowning a Queen of May.
The only time I witnessed a "dancing around the Maypole" was when I attended a German Russian Heritage Fest in Redwood City, CA in 2002. I am guessing the pole was 12 feet high and it was decorated with flowers at the top.  The dancers each held a streamer and did a circle dance around the pole weaving in and out with the other dancers so that the different colors formed a pretty effect on the pole. 

A old tradition of the dancers was that the woman used the May Pole dance as an opportunity to show off their handmade wardrobe.     

May Day has been a traditional day of festivities throughout the centuries.  It is associated with towns and villages celebrating springtime fertility and revelry with village fetes and community gatherings.  Since May lst is the Feast of St. Philip & St. James, they became the patron saints of workers.

In rural areas of Germany, bonfires and wrapping of maypoles were held the night before May day when young people used this opportunity to party.  May 1, is also celebrated by the delivery of a tree covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before.  The tree is typically from a love interest, though a tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike.  In America, the may basket is left at someone's door, the giver rings the bell and runs away.  The person receiving the basket trys to catch the fleeing giver.  If caught the person gives them a kiss.  Sounds like a lot of fun.  Kids don't know what they are missing.

So, happy May Day to you and yours.  Think about keeping the tradition alive.  Make some May Baskets with your kids.

God Bless

Friday, April 23, 2010

Writing Our Family Stories

A week from today, we are driving to Fresno, CA.  On May 1, there is a German Russian Heritage Fest and I will be one of the presenters.  I am doing a session on "Writing Your Family Stories".

Many of us are working on our family trees (pedigree charts).  We are into Genealogy, which is going back in time as far as possible finding our family of origin.  We have a deep appreciation for our past.  I take it even further than names, dates, and places, because I have a passion for writing stories.  I feel strongly that writing family stories is a part of our quest to learn more about who we are.

In my family, we had our storytellers, those who knew "how it used to be".  They could remember many details about family members and happenings.  One in particular was my Aunt Liz, my mother's sister.  I refer to her as the "Mother Goose" in my life.  What a treasure she was.  She never learned to read or write, but she had every recipe and story imprinted in her mind.

I encourage all of you to write down your family stories.  On holidays we search our minds and shopping malls for that perfect gift; something to express our love.  I believe the perfect gift is the gift of story.  It is a gift that has meaning and lasts forever, and is cherished.  Writing down my family stories has transformed my life.  I'm still learning about my ancestry.

One of my favorite quotes is by Eileen Silva Kindig.  She says, "Storytelling is a psalm of praise and thanksgiving for the love and connection of family.  Stories are the heart and soul of our culture.  They give us hope and help us set goals for ourselves."

I hope you will set this goal for yourself and write a story.  If we keep the stories going, we will not lose our heritage.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Happy Easter - Frohe Ostern

Happy Easter.  Yesterday, I worked on Easter dinner preparations.  I have never made this bread before.  I could have just picked bread up from the local grocery store, but that is not "living the German Russian Culture".  So - after I read pages 97-104 from the book "Mennonite Foods & Folkways from South Russia" Volume1 - Norma Jost Voth, I said the Russian ritual prayer, "Bog na pomotsch" (God help me) and proceeded to make this "Paska" bread.

"Paska" is a rich bread, based on the Hebrew word for Passover.  Folk tradition said the future could be predicted by how the Paska turned out.  Paska was made in huge batches.  Recipes called for 60 eggs, and up to 150 eggs per batch.  The recipe I used is 1/8 of an original recipe which called for 24 eggs.


1/3 cup lukewarm water
1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup butter
3 eggs, separated and beaten
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
Grated rind of 1/2 lemon
5 cups flour

Add yeast and 1 tsp. sugar to 1/3 water - allow to bubble.
Heat half-and-half.  Stirr in butter.  Cool
Separate eggs.  Beat whites until stiff.  Set aside
Beat yolks, add sugar - beat until thick
Stirr into lukewarm milk mixture
Fold in egg whites
Gradualy add flour
Knead dough by hand. Place in greased bowl and cover
Let dough double in bulk
Punch down.  Divide into 2 equal parts for round loaf
Place in greased pan or use coffee cans  (I used coffee cans)
Let rise.  Bake 350 for 30 minutes

Remember: the special ingredient to add to the bread is the Russian prayer asking for God's blessing and help in making the bread.

Icing: 1 Tbsp. butter, juice from 1 lemon, 1 cup powdered sugar

The Russian women would decorated their loaves with colored candies, paper flowers, or candles.  Or they would make stiff dough shaped like a cross, flower, bird, and other motifs and place on the loaf before baking.

If you are interested in learning more about Paska, I recommend you read the book I mentioned above.  My cousin and I recently discovered that our Grandfather John, who was born in Sarepta, was confirmed in Insel, Krim - Crimea - Black Sea.  This is southern Russia.

You may be asking yourself, "Why is she using a Russian recipe?"  Our German ancestors had contact with Russian citizens.  Some of our young woman went to cooking school in the homes of Russian women.  Many of our foods are similar to Russian foods.

May your Easter be blessed with family, friends, and love.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday - Recipes for Schnitz Suppe und Grebble

Memories, what wonderful memories, I have of our family celebrating Easter in our German Russian home.  I remember Easter season being special, particularly to my mother.  She was always busy in the kitchen preparing those special "foods".  Mother thought it great fun to put together baskets for my brother and me.  She would fill them with candy and hide them somewhere in the house.  We always went to church on Easter Sunday.

Because I have many wonderful memories of growing up German Russian, I wish to preserve and share my culture with my family and my friends, who are curious about my customs and traditions.  This BLOG is a unique way to pass along: recipes, history, folklore, language, crafts, family stories, and of course, how we celebrated our holidays. 

I feel it is my way to honor, respect, and show gratitude for what my parents, grandparents, and fellow German Russians taught me and because of their good example, ingrained this culture deep in me.

Spice of Life - today we use cinnamon and allspice in our recipe.

Schnitz Soup

16 oz. (2 cups) dried fruit  (raisins, apricots, cherries, prunes, plums, blueberries, cranberries)
3cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
Bring to boil.  Simmer 5 minutes.  Set aside several hours. Drain liquid.
Add half & half.
Note:  If you like it thicker, add 4 tsp tapioca or use cream.
Sprinkle extra cinnamon and allspice on top it you like.

It is good warm or cold.  ENJOY


3 eggs (beat)
Mix in: 1/2 cup sugar and 1 cup sour cream
Mix separately:  1 cup buttermilk, 1 tsp baking soda, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt
Add to sugar and sour cream
5 1/2 cups flour - make a soft dough


Heat cooking oil.
Roll dough out on floured surface.  Cut rectangles, cut 2 slits in middle of rectangle and twist.
Drop in hot oil.  When golden brown on one side, turn and brown the other side.
When cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar

Thursday, April 1, 2010

North Dakota State University added my book to their online bookstore

Today, my life is SPICED!! thanks to Michael Miller, Director & Bibliographer - Germans from Russia Heritage Collection (GRHC) North Dakota State Universities Libraries.  My book "A Stranger to Myself" is listed in their bookstore website.

I must stop clicking on the page - Oh, but it is so much fun to see my book.

Tomorrow is Good Friday and I will prepare Schnitz Soup and Grebble just like my mother did every year for the Good Friday supper.

I will post recipes.