Penwhisk

Food with a Slice of History

Category: Holidays

Kozunak

Kozunak

Kozunak (image by Penwhisk)

The list of ingredients in my grandmother’s Kozunak, the sweet bread she baked on Holy Saturday before Orthodox Easter, was as follows:

First, civil disobedience.  (I will explain this one later.)

Second, raisins that had arrived in a package from my uncle, an enemy of the Bulgarian communist state, who lived in West Germany.

Third, my grandmother’s legendary skill in the kitchen.  The kneading, done in a particular way to produce the light, thread-like texture of the buttery dough, took hours on end.  My grandmother braced herself weeks in advance for this exacting baking task, like a wrestler in anticipation of a rigorous match that would consume all her stamina and will.  My mother would not even dare attempt to make Kozunak.

Finally, white flour, eggs, butter, yeast and milk.  These ingredients tested my grandmother’s ability to secure foodstuffs during the hungry years of Communism.

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Mother’s Day Story

A basket with pastries in the form of little peaches

Image courtesy of an acquaintance

A dear acquaintance emailed me this snapshot, which brought to my mind a story about Mother’s Day that’s waited to be told.  The image reminded me of a home-made pastry that used to fill me with longing when I was a child.  On birthdays, my schoolmates would bring these little peach-shaped cakes as a special treat for the class.  I would follow the tray with my eyes while it was passed around the classroom.  My mouth would water and, when it was finally my turn, I would carefully lift a peach and place it on a napkin in front of me.  The sugar crystals would stick onto my fingers and I would lick them first, before I picked up the little cake once again to carefully examine it.  The color captivated me.  My mother never used food coloring and I couldn’t even imagine how it worked.  How was it possible for someone to make a little cake that looked like a peach?  In my mind, one must be able to work magic in order to conjure a flawless fruit, perfectly ripe but free of the slightest sign of decay.  When I would finally put the little cake in my mouth, the sponge would be soft and sweet.  The two halves of the fruit were attached with some jam, which tasted even sweeter.  When I was done eating the treat, I would smack my lips in honor of the class-mate who had a birthday.  I was elated whenever someone would bring a tray with these home-made delights to share with the class.  It was even better than having a birthday myself. 

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A graduate student’s first Thanksgiving celebration in the United States

Image courtesy of Cala on Unsplash

Thanksgiving wasn’t part either of my childhood or adolescence.  Neither does the idea of making a turkey, which I believe requires considerable talent and skill, tempt me.  I do have a soft spot for Thanksgiving in my heart though and await this holiday with childlike excitement.

The first time I ever heard of Thanksgiving was in a short story “Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen” by the writer O’Henry.  In the story, a homeless man is generously fed, first by two well-off New York ladies and then, by an old gentleman. Both the homeless and the gentleman end up in the hospital, the homeless from overeating and his benefactor from starvation.  I could well relate to the idea of not having much to eat.  In communist Bulgaria, where I grew up, grocery stores had empty shelves and  common folks lined up for staples such as flour, eggs, and milk.

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