Our Life magazine was established by the Ukrainian National Women's League of America and from 1944 till 2018 it was used as a forum by the women from the Ukrainian immigrant community to discuss such issues like national identity, professional development, and daily life challenges. Throughout that period the magazine’s reporters and authors have almost continuously contributed to the magazine’s cooking section where they shared recipes, practical advice on adjusting the Ukrainian cooking traditions to the American way of life, grocery shopping tips and learning the new cooking methods. For the Ukrainian women the cooking section has offered much more than a collection of exiting and practical recipes. Cooking traditions have become one of the ethnic markers through which outsiders identified and viewed Ukrainian culture. The seventy-seven years of magazine’s history reflect on development of home-cooking in Ukrainian households in the US – from preserving the national culinary traditions to following the local food fashions.    

 

The magazine was first published in 1944 which coincided with the third wave of migration from Ukraine; the majority of Ukrainians who later on settled in the US were processed through displaced persons (DP) camps. Although the third wave emigres have formed financially independent communities which were culturally and socially distinct, Ukrainian cuisine has quickly adjusted to using the local produce like oranges, turkey meat, citrons, and the new types of fish – it started to adapt and shape its own history. 

Together with exchanging recipes for varenyky with cabbage filling, lazanki which is a type of traditional East European pasta and chopped cutlets the readers have exchanged tips on how to use US food stamps and convert the measuring system. This is when the Ukrainian immigrant community was first introduced to such products like frozen dough, ketchup, oranges, condensed soups and fresh vegetables delivered in the winter time in commercial walk-in coolers. Ukrainians began to adjust to the local food culture like having roast turkey for Thanksgiving and snacking on sandwiches at picnics.

 

Ukrainian cuisine in the US right after WW2

Ukrainian food culture which regulates everyday and festive cuisine, cooking methods, traditions of hospitality and table manners has truly come a long way. Its development is reflected on the pages of Our Life magazine published by the Ukrainian immigrant community. 

As Ukrainians have settled into their first decade of life in the US they have gradually stopped relying on food stamps and have fully adapted to their new way of living. However, Ukrainian homemakers have kept their cooking skills and customs which has helped continue traditional recipes. Starting from as early as 1950’s Our Life is promoting an English language cookery book co-authored by Natalia Kostetska and Lidia Burachynska. The authors have regularly shared their culinary knowledge through publishing recipes and cooking tips. Both authors had an important advantage – along with being skilled homemakers they also received training in journalism and were professionally involved in the culinary field. The Ukrainian readers in the US were waiting impatiently for the book’s release, hoping that it will help solve one the most pressing issues in cooking Ukrainian-style, that is converting the system of weights and measures to the US standard. It was a popular cookbook and was re-published several times.

In time the Ukrainian recipes slowly adapted to the existing new technologies and products, like gelatine, yeast, baking powder, and tomato paste. Food presentation standards also have changed; Ukrainians also have adapted to the new culture of everyday and festive hosting and alcohol consumption. The 1952 third issue of Our Life magazine has recommendations on what wine to serve best with borshch, pies, and holubtsy. The recipes include such new and exquisite products like artichokes, lobster, and oysters. 

In the 1950’s the US is going through developing its own food culture and culinary fashions, food fairs and cooking shows are growing in popularity. Our Life magazine follows the trend and tries to engage more with the readers by adding a new section called “A glimpse at the local cuisine” where the authors compare cooking styles, food presentation techniques and cooking methods prevalent in the American and Ukrainian cuisine. Much of the articles follow the subject of table manners, sending out invitations, hosting children’s parties and different menu templates depending on a type of festivity. For Ukrainians afternoon tea became one of the most peculiar types of social activity associated with eating. It was organised on a less grand scale and the guests were served just tea with jammed and buttered toast. At the most the afternoon tea menu could include layered tomato sandwiches and sweet treats. 

The US food fashion of the 1950’s has popularised recipe competitions, food photography and culinary competitions between chefs, where the participants competed in such skills like creating edible food décor. The first 1957 paska baking competition followed this trend. The event helped revive some of the Ukrainian baking traditions like baking paskas, korovais or other types of ritual pastry but on a much larger scale it helped mobilise the Ukrainian community. For many women it served as an opportunity to apply their talent and extend their social circle. The festive pastry competition was organised the following year – it helped popularise and visualise elaborate Ukrainian cooking traditions.

 

Back to basics – developing the cooking terminology  

Different interpretations of the same dish and mixed up terminologies continue to affect Ukrainian cookery of today. It was viewed as a pressing issue by the Ukrainian immigrant community and caused many heated debates on the pages of Our Life magazine between the contributing authors and the readers. Do you continue to use the original Ukrainian terminology and call a roll of pastry a zavyvanets or go for a local name and call it a strudel? Or perhaps a Swiss roll? 

Following these heated discussions, the magazine has introduced a new section on the cooking vocabulary, which has proved to be a powerful tool in clarifying the Ukrainian American cooking terminology. The section has introduced its readers to the history of the original and borrowed Ukrainian dishes and cooking methods; offered Ukrainian translations of the English language cooking terms. The cooking vocabulary was initially developed by Halyna Zhurba. Sometimes the readers were genuinely upset by the use of different names and cooking techniques. The magazine section mobilised the discussion which has revealed a plethora of curious stories from the culinary past of Ukraine. Here’s an interesting example:

 

“Although I am one the magazine’s male readers, I still allow myself to flip through the pages (I just love the introduction – O.B.). I find it rewarding because I discover precious “gems” never seen before. For example, in volume 4 the article on “chopped meat sausages” says that the meat has to be minced. But this will make the sausages minced instead of chopped.” 1 

 

The same dish has often been known by several different names so in the late 1950’s the most active readers began to describe in letters the types of food popular in Ukraine before WW2. These letters show that many Ukrainian homemakers have kept, recorded and recreated from memory many of the family recipes. Some of the recipes were repeatedly tested in American kitchens and the readers were happy to share their new cooking experience. It became evident that some of the overseas Ukrainian culinary history has to be revised: 

 

"I recall seeing those old tattered hardcover notebooks, which contained culinary secrets written in faded ink. Only some have kept those notebooks, because it’s not something you would you take on such a long journey. They were replaced by different notebooks, the ones composed on a journey. They have been compiled during the war, and are filled with newspaper cut-outs or cooking tips on small pieces of paper with notes written in shorthand. But now they are totally obsolete! Today we have but several minutes to prepare a meal." 2 

 

Collecting and cataloguing the recipes

The magazine collected old-time recipes as part of its comprehensive policy to revive Ukrainian traditions and as a result many dishes were adapted to the modern way of life. “Our favourite dishes like borshch, holubtsy, varenyky, and pies have grown in popularity and are renowned for their delicious taste. But the recipes are complicated and one does not always have the time to cook,” – wrote one of the magazine readers. It becomes evident that borshch, holubtsy, varenyky, and pies have become signature dishes of Ukrainian cuisine overseas.

The need to catalogue and record Ukrainian recipes was in part determined by a larger culinary trend which could potentially drive out of existence the Ukrainian cooking traditions in the US. In the 1960’s the US was swept by a new food craze – eating canned instant food. As a result, many Ukrainian recipes were cooked using store-bought pre-packaged products. At the time nobody could have imagined that in several decades pre-packaged food would lose much of its initial appeal. 

Be as it may, starting from the 1960 the food trend in the US is shifting towards fast food. Our Life is publishing its most popular quick recipes of Ukrainian dishes and follows the American culinary fashion. In that period the magazine offered many tips on how to modernise Ukrainian cookery. The recipes included a quick “tomato and vegetable soup” and creamed crepes, where traditional Ukrainian pancakes were dressed with the newly available instant cream straight from a packet. This way the magazine was trying to popularise Ukrainian dishes among the new generation of Ukrainian Americans. 

At the same time the magazine has applied consistent effort to preserving some elements of the Ukrainian cooking traditions. The magazine has launched a competition on old family recipes which “the Ukrainian community of women are trying to preserve (…) on the pages of this magazine”. The magazine has also published themed questionnaires to collect folk recipes to celebrate Easter and Christmas.   

 

On the new and old festive occasions and dishes of Ukrainian Americans 

With time the festive culinary traditions of Ukrainian Americans have changed. In mid 1960’s Ukrainians start to celebrate Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, and Graduation Day. To celebrate these occasions, the magazine publishes annual recipes from the Ukrainian old-fashioned cuisine and their modern adaptations. These holidays became very popular with the Ukrainian Americans. The magazine advises to bake biscuits, cakes and pliatsky, a type of sweet flat cake. Some of the most popular recipes included a recipe for a coffee cake, mini dry biscuits, and sweet fruit brews. Ukrainians celebrated Thanksgiving with roast turkey and American pie.

However, Christmas and Easter have remained important family celebrations. For generations the festive menu has never changed. Ukrainians celebrated Christmas with rolled pastry, kutia, uzvar, borshch, holubtsy, jellied fish, honey cake, and poppy seed cake. Easter was celebrated with wheat paskas and cheese paskas, crackers, patties with various fillings, smoked meat and roast, kovbasa and  of course, krashanky, single coloured boiled eggs. Curiously, but Ukrainians from the big cities were willing to travel for miles in order to find the right type of soft cheese to make cheese paskas

The magazine included more material on home-baked biscuits, festive dishes and recipes to celebrate different occasions but the number of everyday recipes was on a decrease. 

With the advent of 1970’s the recipes are presented differently – the cooking process is described in more detail and includes descriptions of kitchen equipment, step by step instructions are used and the portions are calculated for two. It accurately reflects the existing social change – the young people are moving out of family homes to live independently, as a result they need detailed cooking instructions, including the Ukrainian recipes. The magazine is slowly shifting the culinary focus. Abundant salad recipes together with easy-to-do breakfast recipes are replaced by signature dishes similar to the ones you would find on a restaurant menu; more recipes include chicken meat, the number of recipes using beef and pork is significantly reduced.

 

Perestroika and its impact of food culture

What connection could there possibly be between a culinary section of a US based magazine and political sea-change on another side of the world? But there is one. In the late 1980’s the culinary content is not as varied as it used to be. Most cooking ideas are on snacks and cakes. Compared to the previous material published by the magazine the subject of culinary history was discussed on a much lesser scale. The Ukrainian immigrant community was much preoccupied with its own future, the widening gap between different generations of women and differences in opinion. Besides, the Soviet Union has introduced a policy of glasnost which created more opportunities for establishing connections with Ukrainians in Soviet Ukraine and across the world, as a result these topics took centre-stage.

In 1991 Ukraine has proclaimed its independence and now Ukrainian Americans could freely visit the land of their forefathers. The magazine introduces a new section where the readers can share their travel experiences and stories, including their culinary experiences and recipes they picked up while traveling across Ukraine. The section also includes recipes by Daria Tsvek.

Even though the readers almost stop reminiscing about the history of Ukrainian cuisine, the culinary section continues to exist, albeit as a simplified version of itself. In the early 2000’s the section “Our Cooking” is rebranded into “Bon Appetite”. The new name reflects on the emerging culinary trend, which focuses on the flavour.

 

On how Ukrainians use their culinary history to fundraise  

The Ukrainian cooking traditions in the US were preserved by the multitude of women who exchanged recipes, catalogued them and recreated cooking techniques from memory. It included not only folk recipes but also original recipes developed by trained chefs and master-chefs with professional expertise and experience. It was done under the auspice of the Ukrainian National Women's League of America which organised exhibitions and fairs and ensured media coverage of the events. Ukrainian traditional cuisine is still used by the Ukrainians overseas to organise fundraising events. Organising charity dinners and Sunday buffets, selling Ukrainian home baked goods at exhibitions and fairs – all serve to preserving Ukrainian cooking traditions in the US and help generate financial support for the UNWLA, Ukrainian Museum and other agencies. In 2000 the Ukrainian community in the US has successfully launched a fundraiser which helped provide Ukrainian primary school pupils with a free glass of milk and a bun. 

 


 

References:
1. “Our Life” 1956, #7
2. “Our Life”, 1955, #9 

 


 

Illustration: їzhakultura / Covers of Our Life Magazine and front pages of newspapers from the Ukrainian National Women's League of America website