An Interview With My Grandmother

(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2012 Cynthia Shenette) In December of 1953 my grandmother, Antonina (Bulak) Szerejko, gave an interview to the local paper in which she talked about her family traditions at Christmas.  I remembered seeing the newspaper clipping with the interview years ago, but I didn't know what happened to it.  I was sad to think that perhaps it had been lost, but didn't serendipity strike!  I found it a couple of weeks ago as I was sorting through the last two boxes of items from my mother's house, and just in time for me to write about the interview for the 113th edition of Carnival of Genealogy!  While I can't reprint the exact text of the article for copyright reasons, I can present quotes, information, and one of my grandmother's recipes which was included in the article.

A Gathering of Family

"He's the one that eats me out of house and home."

My mother, Christine (Szerejko) Shenette, as well as her sister and her family, and my mom's brother who was in college in Indiana returned home for Christmas.  I had to laugh at the quote from my grandmother about her son.  My nine-year-old son eats constantly.  My husband and I joke that we are both going to have to get part-time jobs when he hits his teen years to make extra money to keep him sufficiently fed.  Apparently a hollow leg runs in the family!

Wigilia Supper

"We finally gave it up, because it was too much to do with a big Christmas dinner to fix the next day--too many dishes to wash and the children got restless sitting through all the different courses."

As long as my great-grandfather, Antoni Bulak, was alive my grandmother continued the tradition of Wigilia on Christmas Eve.  Wigilia is a feast of seven, nine, or 11 courses.  Many Poles celebrate Wigilia today.  Dinner involves an uneven number of courses, and there must be an even number of people at the table.  An extra chair is set in case a stranger, symbolic of the God Child, appears at the door to join the family for dinner.  Christmas Eve day was a fast day.  Courses included pike with horseradish sauce, baked sauerkraut with yellow peas, and other fish and vegetable dishes.

Passing the Oblatek

"It means that no matter what corner of the world you are in, the family ties are still strong.  On Christmas Eve we pass it around and wish each other a good year to come.  If there are any disputes or hard feelings in the family, that's the time they are made up."

The oblatek is similar to a communion wafer and is stamped with holy pictures.  My grandfather's family in Warsaw sent the oblatek every year.  I will admit to getting a bit teary when I opened a card earlier this year from my grandfather's family in Warsaw who I reconnected with in 2010.  Inside the card was an oblatek!   Despite all that time and distance, family ties and traditions remain the same.

Polish Mushrooms

My mom use to talk about the delicious mushrooms from Poland that they ate during the holidays.  She said they were very expensive so my grandmother would only use a few and then only on special occasions like Christmas and Easter.  According to the interview the mushrooms were purchased at a kosher delicatessen, and she said they had a unique flavor "something like steak."  She also said that my grandfather Adolf Szerejko, who was originally from Warsaw, used to spend summers with relatives in the country during his childhood in Poland.  This information was new to me.  Apparently he had fond memories of mushroom hunting in the woods during his summer visits with the family.

Christmas Marzipan

"In Europe they don't have candy on the counters the way we do here, so we made marzipan at home to hang on the Christmas tree.  My mother was afraid of using coloring, I remember, except for the juice of carrots or boiled onions--she thought it might be poisonous."

One of the best things about the interview is that it includes a number of my grandmother's recipes.  I don't have any of her written recipes so this was a particularly exciting find.

Marzipan (Marcypany)

1 pound almonds, blanched
1 pound powdered sugar, 
2 tablespoons rosewater
vegetable coloring

Grind blanched almonds very fine.   Combine with sugar and flavoring. Cook until mixture leaves sides of saucepan.  Add coloring, if desired. Roll out like piecrust until one-fourth inch thick.  Cut in small hearts or other fancy shapes.  Decorate with cherries or other glazed fruits.  Place in warm place to dry.

These are used instead of candy and hung on the Christmas tree for the children.

I was thrilled to find this clipping.  It's almost like my grandmother knew I was looking for it and led me to the right spot to find it just in time for this COG!

While my grandmother was never much of a drinker she loved creme de menthe and did treat herself a couple times a year to a grasshopper.  It's my tradition to have one during the holidays, partly because I love grasshoppers and partly because they remind me of her. So here I am with my grasshopper as I finish up my COG post on New Year's Day 2012.

Cheers!  Here's to you Gram, and thanks.

Submitted for the 113th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.

Other Posts You Might Like:

The Stories My Grandmother Told Me
Photo Story: Grandma and Grandpa Meet -Wordless Wednesday
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun...
My Family Tree: A Literal Interpretation


Jasia said...

OK, this was a terrific post. How fortuitous it was for you to find that clipping just in time! I was really enjoying the memories but when I got to the marzipan recipe I got over the top excited! I feel like I just have to give that recipe a try (next Christmas). Have you tried it? I love marzipan and I know my family would love it too. Thanks so much for sharing your memories and recipe in the COG, Cynthia!

Kristin said...

I really enjoyed your grandmother's comments and then your comments on them. Nice.

Cynthia Shenette said...

Jasia - Thanks so much for your comment! I really was excited to find this article. I never knew about the marzipan. I can't imagine I will ever make it myself, but if you do decide to make it, I'd love to know how it comes out! The best part of the article includes my grandmother's recipe for pierogis which I did not have! I am definitely going to give that one a try. I also have more from this interview that I am going to write about for Easter! Stay tuned!

Cynthia Shenette said...

Kristin - Thank you so much for your comment! The article really was an exciting find. Besides the info on Christmas traditions I also learned about my grandfather visiting relatives in the country. This information was new to me. Who were they and where did they live? I can hazard a guess. I'll write about it in a different post. A great find all around!

Anonymous said...

It's funny how often serendipity strikes ;-) I hope you make the marzipan and post photos. tTHappy New Year!