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Memories of My Grandmother ‘Baba’

Introduction: In this article, Jessica Edwards shares memories of her grandmother, including her two favorite recipes and hand-made quilts and rugs. Jessica has had a lifelong interest in her family’s history – especially on her father’s side, which goes back to the first settlers in Pennsylvania, Jamestown and New England – and has documented and added more than 21,000 people to her family tree!

My memories of my maternal grandparents, George and Anna Petrak, are very strong even though they’ve been gone for more than 50 years. They lived through a difficult time raising their seven children that survived (there had been ten), sometimes each holding down two or three jobs as well as keeping up normal day-to-day existence.

The strongest memories I have are of my grandmother (we called her “Baba”), centered on her standing in front of her 1940s-style stove cooking the meals she knew we loved despite being in pain from arthritis. Her biggest gift was the love she shared.

illustration: woman cooking

I’ve inherited my grandmother’s love of cooking and making use of everything I can. Here are her two favorite recipes, that were passed down to me.

Kolatchki

Kolatchki (pronounced “KO-la-tch-key”) is a Czech cookie. It is mainly made at Christmas time but I have enjoyed eating it all year. Because of the limited sweetness and all of the proteins from the nuts and eggs, this is one cookie that might actually be fairly good for you!

Instead of nuts, other possible fillings include: poppy seeds, prunes, fruit pie filling, or preserves (keep in mind that the pie filling and preserves are not as nutritious).

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Ingredients

  • 1 lb. shortening
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 5 to 6 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 bag powdered sugar
  • 8 cups nuts, ground finely (I use walnuts usually but you can substitute your favorite nut)
  • water to moisten ground nuts and sugar

Number of servings: 4-6 large rolls or about 50 cookies

Instructions

  1. For dough: Mix all ingredients together in a LARGE mixing bowl, but only add 5 cups of flour until you see if the dough is still sticking to your hands (and the bowl) or not. If it is still sticking, slowly add the remaining flour until it no longer sticks.
  1. Take ¼ of the dough from the bowl and, using a rolling pin, roll out dough on a surface covered with powdered sugar (I put powdered sugar into a sifter and “sprinkle” the surface so it doesn’t have lumps) until dough is about ¼” thick. If cookies are desired cut the sheet into 2” squares; if doing a roll, then you’ll cut the sheet in half to make two rolls.
  1. In a saucepan, combine filling ingredients if doing nut, poppy seed, or dried fruit, adding just enough water to moisten the ingredients and enough sugar to sweeten to taste until mixture is warm – be sure to stir constantly!
  1. Spread filling on dough. If making cookies: place about a teaspoon full in center of cookie and fold up two (opposite) corners to center (can hold it in place with a toothpick if needed). If making a roll: spread the filling on each half-sheet, leaving about a ½ inch on each side with no filling, then roll one end toward you (like a jelly roll). Transfer to UNGREASED cookie sheet (you can also line the cookie sheet with parchment paper to save clean up).
  1. Bake at 300 degrees until golden brown (about 10-15 minutes for cookies, 20-25 minutes for rolls). Remove and let cool.
  1. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.
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Note: If not eaten in the first two days, store in the freezer as it can go moldy because of the moistness in it. Place the baked cookie rolls or cookies in freezer bags. When ready to eat, microwave the cookies for 15-25 seconds to defrost them.

Speidis

Speidis (pronounced “Spee-dees”) is a meat dish.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 lbs lamb (any meat can be used but my family prefers the lamb)
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup garlic
  • 1/4 cup oregano
  • 1/4 cup sweet basil
  • 1/4 cup dill weed
  • 1/4 cup spearmint
  • 3-5 cups water
  • 1-2 loaves of sliced Italian bread

Instructions

  1. Cut meat into 3/4 to 1” cubes.
  1. Mix 1/4 cup garlic, oregano, sweet basil, dill weed, and spearmint together in a small mixing bowl.
  1. In a 1-gallon container, layer meat and spices.
  1. Add wine, water, and oil to container.
  1. Place in refrigerator to marinate for minimum of 3 hours and maximum of 3 days.
  1. When ready to cook, drain liquid from container.
  1. Preheat broiler to 500 degrees or grill on a grill outdoors.
  1. Skewer the pieces on metal skewers and place pans under broiler for approximately 10 minutes, or on the grill until meat is medium to medium rare.
  1. Take a slice of Italian bread and wrap around the meat and gently pull the meat off the skewer and eat “hot dog style.”

Quilts & Rugs

Another memory I have of my grandmother is her creating a crazy quilt for each grandchild at his or her birth, and making “rag rugs” on a huge loom set up in her garage (the loom was as big as their car). I still have my quilt, even though at 56 years old it has grown tattered – and my cousin just uncovered a box filled with the rugs that are still pristine because her daughter packed them away and forgot them.

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I share these recipes, and stories of quilts and rugs, to pass on some memories to those that come after me. These memories teach them about my grandmother, yes, but also something about me and what I like to do. I’m paraphrasing an old adage: “If you remember someone who has passed on, then they go on living.” By passing on these memories it means both my grandmother and I will go on living long after we die. What things can you pass on about each relative you know/knew?