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Baba’s Varenyky – A Story Of Love And Resilience

My submission to Vocal's 'Nourished' challenge

By Patrick XPublished 4 months ago 5 min read
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Baba’s Varenyky – A Story Of Love And Resilience
Photo by Christopher Farrugia on Unsplash

Before I jump into the challenge I thought it’d be best to add a few notes for context. Baba means grandmother in Ukrainian and varenyky is a type of Ukrainian dumpling that can be served savoury or sweet, depending on the filling. If you’re unfamiliar with varenyky, you may have tried Polish pierogi? To the best of my knowledge, they’re essentially the same thing. What I am certain of though, is that after 30+ years of taste testing, I’ve never met a varenyky or pierogi I didn’t like.

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The following words are the eulogy I wrote and shared many years ago at the funeral of my Baba.

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Some of us here today knew her as Olena, some of us knew her as Mum. But to her grandchildren and many others, she was simply, Baba.

Baba’s story is one of love and one of family.

Baba grew up in the war-torn Soviet republic of Ukraine in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. She was of peasant farming stock and lived through a time and place showcasing some of the worst horrors the world has known.

In 2001, for a high school project I interviewed Baba about her life and found out many interesting things she’d been through on her journey. Some of Baba’s stories were simply astonishing, some incredibly funny, some so sickeningly brutal they’re difficult to comprehend let alone repeat, and stories of people on opposing “sides” who risked their lives to save the life of their supposed enemy, because for them, sacrificing their own life was easier than betraying their own moral compass. Listening to Baba tell me her life story with such candour and sincerity, just to help me complete a Year 10 English assignment, is a privilege I’ll cherish forever.

Baba's early years in Ukraine were marked by unimaginable struggles. She witnessed the horrors of the artificial famine engineered by the Soviet government, a tragedy that claimed the lives of millions. I can still hear her telling me about the day her family awoke to find their animals slaughtered, and their land salted to ensure nothing would ever grow again.

During World War II, alongside her husband, Onufrij, Baba endured years of imprisonment and forced labor camps. Despite these harrowing experiences, as she recounted her life, there was no bitterness in her voice, only a sense of acceptance and gratitude for the hand she'd been dealt.

The only evidence I saw of Baba’s past hardships was her efforts to never waste anything, especially food. Baba would find a use for everything, nothing would ever go to waste. Food was one way in which Baba showed her love. I have fond memories of devouring all types of Ukrainian foods, but my favourite was always Varenyky, which Baba would spend a full day preparing in bulk for all her family to enjoy.

Despite all of the tough times Baba experienced, she never spoke of Holodomor, concentration camps or the war, the journey with thousands of others to Australia in search of a better life, arriving in a foreign country with no money and no grasp of the English language. She never harboured any bitterness. Instead, she was the embodiment of love, generosity, and selflessness. She only had love to give to all those around her. I remember her most as the most altruistic, generous, giving and loving person I’ve known. The fact that Baba didn’t talk about the bad things, always considered herself lucky and was grateful with her lot in life is testament to her inner strength and her love of life and love for those around her.

If God has put a more loving, selfless and strong person on this earth, then I am yet to meet them.

I love you Baba. Your spirit lives on in our hearts. We will never forget you.

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The Recipe – Varenyky (with creamy mash potato filling)

(Full disclosure – this is my Baba’s recipe to the best our family remembers. It tastes almost as good as Baba’s, but mine tend to fall apart a bit more often, Baba’s never fell apart. But as I said earlier, I’m yet to meet a varenyky I didn’t like.)

Ingredients

For the Dough:

- 2 cups all-purpose flour

- 1/2 teaspoon salt

- 1 large egg

- 1/2 cup water (Luke warm, but not hot)

For the Filling:

- 2 cups mashed potatoes (I always mash mine with butter, milk, sour cream and salt to taste)

For Cooking: (This is only if you want to fry them, I much prefer them boiled only)

- Butter

- Chopped onions (optional)

Instructions:

1. In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. Make a well in the center, add the egg, and gradually mix in the water. Knead the dough until it's smooth and elastic, then cover it with a damp cloth and let it rest for 30 minutes.

2. While the dough rests, prepare the filling. Mix the mashed potatoes, season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Roll out the dough on a floured surface until it's thin… I’d say around 1/8 inch (0.35cm) thick. Use a round cutter or glass to cut out circles about 3 inches (7.5cm) in diameter.

4. Place a spoonful of the potato filling in the centre of each dough circle. Fold the dough over to create a half-moon shape and seal the edges by pinching them together.

5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the varenyky in and cook until they float to the surface, about 2-3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain.

6. Personally I don’t bother frying, but I know some people do. If it’s your first attempt and would also like to try some fried, then in a separate pan, melt butter and sauté chopped onions until they are golden brown.

7. Serve the varenyky hot and a dollop of sour cream.

8. I don’t know many other Ukies outside my relatives who do this, but we always put some butter in our bowl on top of the varenyky and let it melt a little, then add sour cream on top.

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My Affirmation for anyone willing to give Baba's varenyky a go...

As you savour this comfort food, know that you are not only enjoying a staple of Ukrainian (and other Eastern European) cuisines, but you’re honouring a legacy of strength, love, forgiveness, gratitude for everything we were blessed with, and the resilience that Baba bestowed upon our family. Varenyky are more than just a meal to me - they’re a symbol of the enduring power of love. They remind me that whilst we don’t always get to choose the circumstances that unfold during our journey, we all have the power to choose how we respond to them. So, chose love.

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PS. If you’re a varenyky enthusiast, please share your favourite filling, or how your recipe differs from mine.

PPS. If you’re in Australia, I’d love some more recommendations on where to buy the best varenyky!

humanityvegetarianrecipehow tohistorycuisineCONTENT WARNING
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About the Creator

Patrick X

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