Having had the privilege to travel to Slovakia many years ago, I know that while the food was not gourmet, I had some very interesting items. I remember the bean and meat soups being fantastic--truly first rate. Salads consisted of lots of colorful purple cabbage and corn. Potatoes were tasty. Poultry with velvety sour cream/paprika sauce can be sublime. I'm thinking now about how I might incorporate more of the foods of my heritage into my diet in a healthful way. After all, my ancestors were sturdy farmers. No one was skinny--they were barrel-shaped and strong because they needed to be. In the New World, and as later immigrants who were reviled by American-born citizens and other immigrants, they worked the steel mills and coal yards. As a privileged academic (Slovaks quickly became committed to educating their children), I don't need the starches and calories they did to get through tough weather and harvests, but there are certainly things I might borrow.
- The veggies most used: Roots (potatoes, carrots, radishes, turnips, beets), cabbage (green and red), onions and garlic. And tomatoes and cucumbers in the summer.
- Fruits most often eaten are grapes, stone fruits (cherries, plums, peaches, nectarines) and apples.
- Dairy tends toward sour cream and soft cheese: Greek yogurt and cottage cheese would be healthful subs.
- Meats are most often pork, beef and chicken with lightly fried fish on Fridays.
- Sauerkraut and pickled beets, berry jams are popular too.
- Paprika: Hot, Sweet and Smoked offer great color, flavoring and variety. Dill and caraway are also popular.
- Nut rolls and poppyseed rolls--Walnuts and chia seeds added to fruit and yogurt are a nice remembrance.
- Raisins--golden and dark, are popular too. So many uses for these.
- Honey--especially used at holidays
Every now and again, my mother will get the urge to make a pan of cooked lettuce with a light brown gravy. It sounds odd to the modern American, but it takes her back to her childhood watching her grandmother cook and eating in her kitchen. My mother still grows tomatoes and herbs and remembers her grandfather starting tomato plants under an old glass window--having collected the seeds from the fruit of the previous year. She also claims their cabbage roses were unlike anyone else's--her grandmother would put broken china pieces in the ground to feed the soil.
Think about your heritage and how the foods of your folks might feed both your body and soul. What did they eat? When? Why? What spicing was used? What occasions demanded special foods? You might not practice those same rituals, but certainly there are ways to revise and borrow and bring some of your personal history into your life daily. As a history teacher, I'm enjoying rethinking my family's origins and how I can keep them alive and make myself more healthy in the process.
Take a happy culinary tour of your own history! Lisabeth