Cooking, Food and Drink, Recipes

Friday Food and Drink Post: Cultural Appropriation Edition

The topic for this week was inspired by the following fine paragraph from this Ricochet post on September 25, 2019 about the media meltdown surrounding Donald Trump’s phone call with the President of Ukraine. (Whatever his name is. “Z” something. Just like me):

Why not speculate on a different hypothetical situation? “The whistleblower says the Ukrainian president gave President Trump his grandmother’s recipe for pierogi. If true, that would be cultural appropriation.” At least it’s creative. Much better than trying to strain bites of truth from the sewage of the Democrat media reports.

As many of you know, I’m a true-blue, green-card carrying Brit, married to a man of 100% Polish extraction. I grew up in West Africa, and have lived most of my life in the United States. Cooking is one of my many hobbies, and I’m good at it (or so I’ve been told); but, to quote Socrates,”the unexamined life is not worth living,” so I have spent the last twenty-four hours examining my recipe boxes (pictured), and finding them seriously problematic and disturbing.

And now it is time for me to confess. To give what we, in this household, call “The Dobby Speech,” after the pathetic little house-elf in the Harry Potter books who’s always weeping copiously, pointlessly blaming himself for whatever happens (most of which he had nothing to do with), and banging his head against the wall.

My recipe boxes are a cesspool of cultural appropriation. Half of the cards in them are from my mother-in-law. I stole them from her after she died. I suppose I should have buried them with her, or perhaps burned them all as a mark of respect. Instead, we have been enjoying her pierogies, kielbasa, kiszka, Christmas holly cookies, and a family favorite she called “red steak and gravy” (perhaps not so culturally appropriative, those last two) without her for the past twelve years. Greedy. Selfish. Shameful. Woe is me. (Shouldn’t that be “woe is I?”)

Then, there are the cards and torn-out pieces of newspapers and magazines that I’ve accumulated from my lifelong efforts to re-create the flavors and smells of my childhood, of places I’ve traveled, of foods I’ve savored and wanted to share: Jollof rice, groundnut chop, poutine, green papaya salad, macaron, balti, tiramisu. And the weird things (I know, spoken from a place of cultural superiority and certain privilege) that can sometimes be found in my refrigerator after one of my trips to the ethnic food shops in Pittsburgh’s Strip District (no, not that kind of “strip”). Things that look, and smell, like they might be rotten but, actually, aren’t. Things that those who love me immediately throw out when they come across them, because they’re afraid of them, and they’re sure I can’t possibly know what they are, or that they’re even there, or that if I ever did, I forgot about them long ago.

And the things I grow because I either can’t buy them fresh, or because they’re so expensive when I do find them: kaffir lime, sundry hot peppers, unusual vegetables I’ll try at least once, all sorts of herbs, any odd ingredient, native to anywhere, that catches my fancy and that might thrive in the garden, even if just for the season.

Don’t you think it’s time you checked your own food privilege, and admitted your favorite guilty pleasure of a culinary specialty you stole from another culture and which you have no right to eat, let alone enjoy? Please share your favorites, and include a recipe if you have one. “Privilege shared, is privilege halved,” as they say. You’ll feel better, and it will go a long way towards mitigating your sin.

Meanwhile, I’m off somewhere to bang my head against the wall. After that bit of self-correction, perhaps I’ll assay a nice meal of tripe and onions, followed by spotted dick. Pretty safe, I think. Anyone care to join me?

Bon Appetit! (Whoops.)

PS: To get started–Grandma’s Pierogi Recipe:

2 cups flour (about 8 oz)
2 eggs
Lukewarm water

Mix flour and eggs, then add water, a spoonful or so at a time until you have a firm dough. Knead till smooth (I usually bung it in the old Kitchenaid and let it rip with the dough hook for about five minutes. Not authentic, but it works.)

Divide into two parts, and roll each into a long rectangle on a floured board. Put heaped teaspoons of filling along one edge, a couple of inches apart. Fold the other long edge over top, and press down with your fingers in between and at the ends to make little dough pockets.

Now, here’s the trick: take a glass, and cut out the pierogi with the glass. Or, you can use a knife, and then primp the edges with a fork. Glass is easier, and I have fewer leaks when I do it that way. Take the remaining dough from both pieces, clump together and roll out again.

Cook in boiling water for a couple of minutes till they float to the top. We like to saute them in butter (with some onions); some people prefer them just boiled.

Fillings: mashed potato with grated cheese mixed in; sauerkraut; ricotta or pot cheese mixed with an egg yolk and some diced, sauteed onion if you like it; shredded cabbage boiled for a couple of minutes, then sauteed with chopped onions and mushrooms; you can also fill with fruit–cherries, blackberries, or with homemade apple butter.

We usually make them with mashed potato and onion filling, and fry in butter with some onions until golden. After the main course (wherein they usually accompany kielbasa and sauerkraut) we have pierogies for dessert, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. They are surprisingly good this way.

Pro Tip: Keep the filling as dry as possible. Those made with ricotta or pot cheese may get a bit wet; if that happens, drain before putting it on the dough.

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