I'm up late tonight protecting the shredded thread that connects me to my maternal great-grandparents who immigrated here from Slovakia. In other words, I'm making bobalky. (Pronunced buh-bye-kee.)
Slovaks (or, at least Slovak-Americans as far as I know) eat bobalky on Christmas Eve with courses of fish and mushroom soup. Bobalky are little tiny rolls that are air dried (for best results, I've found) until they're very hard. Then, they're dropped into boiling water for about five minutes and drained like pasta. We roll them in lots of browned butter and serve them with sauerkraut or, worse, poppy seeds.
My husband, whose ethnic heritage is Greek and Italian (also several generations removed), describes bobalky to his friends as "the boiled bread dish." But, to his credit, he eats it heartily. (Although, come to think of it, he eats everything heartily.) I, of course, love it. It's The Ultimate Comfort Food.
I can't quit making it. No bobalky = no ties to family history or Eastern Europeanism. Bobalky are the only thing I have left that make me a dash ethnic. The kitchen smells like my grandmother's did. The fragrant melange of sauerkraut, boiling dough, and stainless steel whisk me back to their Pittsburgh steelworker's home and makes me want to rummage in their freezer for Klondikes.
Without bobalky, I'm no longer ethnic. When we drop those links to our ancestral heritage -- or, when they erode, we become more about the place where we live. I think. That's what's mainly left. Who is part of our community. What kind of structure to we live in. What kind of groceries do we buy (or grow) and what food do we eat. The culture we have access to. What our streets look like. Where we can drive in our car within a day. Where we worship or not.
Really, what else is there if you as are many generations removed as I am from your ancestral homeland? Fourth of July Parades? The Tonight Show? Casseroles? Jazz?
I think this is why I hold onto bobalky. So I can avoid the tough questions about just what my culture is when the ethnic customs have been whittled away.
Boiled bread anyone?