November 13, 2017
I really don’t remember my Slovak grandmother doing much cooking. By the time I was old enough to pay attention to who was cooking, she was mostly just making the occasional pot of soup.
My grandparents owned a semi-detached house and Uncle Frankie and Aunt Mary lived next door. Although they had separate front porches, they shared a back porch. Going back and forth was easy.
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Aunt Mary kept my grandparents well-supplied with food. My Aunt Ann pitched in from time to time as well.
My grandparents were really keen on soup. I guess when you’re raising a family of seven sons through the Great Depression and its aftermath, on a steelworker’s income, preparing filling and budget-friendly food becomes a necessity.
After the early 1960s when my Uncle Gusty moved back to the United States from Japan with his wife and their children, all seven of my grandparents’ sons lived in Johnstown with their wives and children. Most of us would visit on Sunday afternoons arriving sometime after lunch and leaving before dinner.
Very frequently a large pot of soup would appear for anyone who needed a little something to hold him or her over till dinner. Often it would be potato soup or sour mushroom soup (made with dried mushrooms and spiked with a little vinegar). My father talked longingly about a sour cabbage soup called kissel which nobody was making any longer.
Other than soup, baba (sometimes written bubba), and sweets at the holidays, I don’t remember eating much at my grandparents’ house though I do remember my grandfather and my uncles consuming a fair amount of beer, and, on special holidays, shots of whiskey.
Most of the Slovak food that I ate was at home or at one of my uncle and aunt’s houses.
Chicken Paprikash is considered a Hungarian dish but it was common on the Slovak side of my family. My grandfather was born in 1890 in a small town, Nitrianske Sucany, not too far from Bratislava, in what is now Slovakia. My grandmother was born a few years later. In 1909 when my grandfather came to America, he left what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Slovakia did not exist as a country. Food diffuses with cultural contact (think about the popularity of Spam in both Hawaii and Korea which can be traced to the presence of the US military). I suspect that’s how Chicken Paprikash became something made by my Slovak grandparents.
My version of Chicken Paprikash is a combination of my mother’s and my Aunt Ann’s. When I went to look up the recipe to make in preparation for this blog I discovered that I had never written it down! Luckily I remembered just how to do it.
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