CNN photojournalist John Bodnar is a second-generation Slavic-American whose grandparents emigrated from Eastern Slovakia, and his mother’s Carpatho-Rusyn ethnicity is the prominent influence for his cultural and family traditions. Previously, he wrote about haluski, holupki and paska.
I’ve always enjoyed the Slovak food my mother and extended family prepares. We eat these dishes at every family gathering: weddings, funerals and holiday celebrations. We eagerly approach the buffet display to find the holupki and haluski that usually occupy the first few trays, but at the end of the tables are the treats.
Cookies and cakes dominate that section, but the pastry that has always delighted my palate is the kolachi nut roll. Kolachi (sometimes spelled "kolache") is the name often given to a standard type of Slavic dough-filled pastry. Our kolachi is rolled dough filled with a walnut mixture, but other families fill theirs with a poppy seed mixture.
My aunt Eleanor was always celebrated as the one whose recipe held the quality edge over the other family members'. Obviously, this unofficial title has been disputed, but I concede that hers had a slight advantage in my childhood memories.
But Eleanor’s health eventually left her unable to make the delicious kolachi. As her health was failing, she insisted that her daughter Renee learn her kolachi recipe and carry on the tradition and her legacy. My cousin Renee embraced her mother’s challenge, and carries, in my mind, the title for making the best kolachi nut roll.
CNN photojournalist John Bodnar is a second-generation Slavic-American whose grandparents emigrated from Eastern Slovakia, and his mother’s Carpatho-Rusyn ethnicity is the prominent influence for his cultural and family traditions. Previously, he wrote about haluski.
I’d like to introduce you to the Easter bread that we called Paska. It is a two dough bread that incorporates cheese and raisins, and the arduous process that can take up to SIX hours to prepare. There in no wonder that this bread was made only once a year. I can’t imaging how my grandmother, who had 10 children, could find time for anything, let alone spending so much time for baking bread, plus the rest of the meal preparation.
It will always be one of my favorite foods. I will occasionally make a small loaf, but it is never as good as Mom’s. When I visit her, frozen Paska is always “forced” upon me and I take it home with me. Outside the Easter tradition, it is amazing when toasted and covered with butter. Oh yes, did I mention Paska with a hot cup of coffee?
Get John's family recipe - Slovak soul food: Paska for Easter
More on Easter foods and traditions
CNN photojournalist John Bodnar is a second-generation Slavic-American whose grandparents emigrated from Eastern Slovakia, and his mother’s Carpatho-Rusyn ethnicity is the prominent influence for his cultural and family traditions. Previously, he wrote about haluski and paska.
When we were kids, stuck inside during a long, cold winter or seeking respite from the summer heat under a shade tree, my friends and I often played board games. These games could go on for quite a while, and we'd get to talking about sports and whatever else young boys think about. Eventually we'd get around to the topic of our favorite foods.
We all agreed that stuffed cabbage, known as holupki, was the best of all. Second to pizza, of course.
Everything tasted better when my grandma was around.
Growing up, we didn't get to see my dad's side of the family all that often, but I noticed at some point that all the food we ate in Grandma Kinsman's presence was exponentially more delicious. Later on, I came to realize that it wasn't due to some special grandmotherly mojo, but rather that she used real butter rather than margarine, and my family shopped accordingly when she was in town.
No matter the ingredients, I was predisposed to enjoy her cooking. I loved her and she loved me, her weird, short-haired, misfit granddaughter, even if the rest of the world wasn't inclined to. Seldom did I feel that love so strongly as when her yearly shipment of holiday cookies arrived.