Monday, 7 January 2013

Family Traditions the Ukrainian Way

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Last night we were invited to experience a family tradition with my sister-in-law's family - a Ukrainian Christmas.  Last night was their Christmas Eve, so we travelled out to her parents' home on the other side of the city and were embraced by their family to experience something completely new for us.  The tradition Christmas Eve meal consists of 12 dishes - we managed to barely squeeze in the six that were served to us.  
After a traditional blessing spoken in Ukrainian and then English, which included the Lord's Prayer and their Hail Mary, the meal began.
We had kutya to begin with.  This is a pudding made from wheat berries, poppyseeds and walnuts.  My SIL's mother remembered that one of our children can't eat nuts so these were served separately.

Then came borscht.  I'm not a fan of beetroot, having grown up only with the tinned stuff, but this soup was absolutely delicious.  Fresh beetroot is a whole different ball game!
The borscht was served with mushroom-filled dumplings they nickname "little ears".

Next we had fish.  Unlike tradition we were served rockling that had been pan fried and then baked in a beautiful tomato sauce.  This was Mr Busy's all-time favourite part of the meal!

Cabbage rolls came out next.  These were stuffed with a rice filling.  Delicious!

Finally we were served the famed and oft-praised vareniki.  These are pictured above - potato-filled dumplings served with mushroom gravy, and if you're game, butter and onions.  We skipped the onions, but the vareniki was everything my SIL has raved about over the past 17 years!

The whole evening was about this meal.  It began around 7pm and ended around 10.30pm, with a fruit platter for dessert.  Given that it is summer here we sat at carefully-set tables outside - the weather was perfect! 

Mr Busy was apprehensive about all the new foods he was going to be presented with, but he coped fine, eating almost everything in full.  There were one of two things that either got left or were passed on to Dad.  I feel very privileged to have been embraced and included in this long-held tradition that has shaped my SIL.  I asked her a few weeks back why their Christmas is so much later than ours.  Her fast quip was that "Europeans are very hospitable - you can't start eating til everyone arrives.  The wise men took a while to get there so we wait".  The truth is that it is based on the older Gregorian calendar, but she had to go home and ask her Mum to be sure!

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