Monday, October 15, 2007

Drumroll please...

A long, long time ago....

Once upon a time, before fairy tales started with similar beginnings, there lived a family in the foot hills of the Carpathian mountain range.

There was the industrious father, Alexander, the loving housewife, Anna, and eight beautiful children: Olga, Michael, Arnold, Bela, Herman, Margaret, Louis and George. And while they lived amidst a modest group, the father was a successful entrepreneur and a good provider for the family.

Growing up their children knew the meaning of a dollar(or maybe it was a crony), the importance of being a decent citizen, and the value of family. This family knew of the outside world, even visited the big city Budapest on occasion. But they were much happier at home, in their tiny little enclave called (don't laugh, it's the truth) Butyan (yes, it is pronounced butt shine, and no, I kid you not!).

The days were long and lazy, although the children worked hard keeping the house and milking the cows. The oldest boy was a local scholar and was the first in his family to get a degree in teaching and begin honing his skills at the local school. The girls were quickly becoming great cooks in their mothers footsteps, and the boys often helped in the kitchen when they had finished their studies.

The entire family had a solid work ethic that transcended any clock that they might consult. And at the end of a week there was nothing more special that sitting down for the Sabbath meal, relaxing among family and enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Friday dinner was always a special one. Anna and her daughters would create feasts of stuffed cabbage, cholent, and the family favorite chicken paprikash. Her dumplings were the talk of the town and the pride of her family.

It was on these peaceful Friday nights the Kleins believed that all was well with the world. For a while at least.

Anna became ill and the oldest daughter Olga was called on to take care of the family while her mother was on bed rest. Business remained steady for Alexander but the daily talk around town was of imminent danger from the west, Germany.

I could write on and on for hours, detailing the way Olga might have sewn buttons from rose colored silk brought home from her fathers business trip, or the way she might have come to perfect the most delicious Cacoash. But the truth is, we will never know.

In 1944, Olga along with the rest of her family (except her mother who had since passed) were boarded onto a train and taken to the place that would disband her family forever. She was first sent to Bergen Belsen and finally to Auschwitz. Michael, Bela, Herman and her dear father Alexander were taken from her, no one knows exactly how or when they passed. But she never forgot where she came from and the magical dinners that used to pull her family together once a week.

Years later a blessed woman emerged from an international travesty stronger and more brave than anyone could imagine. Bedridden and frail, Olga cheated death and recovered in Sweden. Luck wouldn't begin to describe the fate that brought her back in touch with her brother and led to her subsequent move to the United States.

Olga brought many things with her on that trip to the United States in her little suitcase on that rocky boat. She brought courage enough to last a lifetime, passion enough to burn a hundred fires, love and gratitude for her family that would stand the test of time, and she brought culinary skill beyond belief.

I know this story because she is my Olga, she is my grandmother, and it is because of her that I love to cook. She has healed with her soup, cured with her kugels and given us comfort with her paprikash. She is my secret treasure, revealed to you...the world. And it is for her that I will forever bless the food that is set in front of me, and the loved ones that I am blessed to share it with.

And there you have it. The tool whose real name will remain unknown has been used through the years, passed down through our family, now living in our tiny apartment in the middle of New York City, and is responsible for the most delicious, authentic and heartwarming dumplings that have ever graced a chicken paprikash.

So congratulations all! Most of you guessed it correct. One lucky winner may find something else gracing their inbox, but anyone who guessed dumplings (in whatever language) was correct and is the lucky recipient of the most delicious chicken paprikash known to man.

Happy eating!


Anonymous said...

You never cease to amaze me. This story was your most delicious recipe yet. A recipe filled with love, commitment and family. It doesn't get any tastier than that. Thank you for making my heart so full and satisfied!
Nancy B

katiez said...

What a wonderful story; lovingly told. How lucky you were to have known her!

Colleen said...

I love your phrase "she is my secret treasure." That's beautiful and so wonderfully well written. It gave me chills and totally invites the reader in. Lovely.

Anonymous said...

you are so freakin adorable!
<3 g

david mcmahon said...

What a wonderful post.

Yes, saw your comment on my blog about contacting me off-blog. No worries at all. Just leave me a comment on my blog with your email address and I'll get back to you in the next few hours.

And congratulations on the 100th post....

Manggy said...

What a beautiful story (I got a little sad, though...). Jewish people are extremely rare here in the Philippines, I've never even met one. Your grandmother is an extremely strong-willed person!

Peter M said...

A charming story. Family is family, people don't forget that.