Last week out of nowhere, I started craving cabbage rolls. Holupchi, as it’s known in Ukrainian, is a dish I’d never once prepared on my own, but one wrapped up in fond memories from my parents’ kitchen, and my grandparents’ kitchen before that.
After perusing several recipes, I returned to this one from Taste of Home, (with a couple of tweaks) and set to work. It wasn’t until a couple of hours later, when I’d sat down to savor the first bite, that I understood where the seemingly random craving had come from.
On this day 26 years ago, I came home from school to the news that my Baba had died.
The same woman who sat proudly, then clapped loudly, when I finished my one line contribution as Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in our 3rd grade production. The one who tucked me in many a summer night in the cool back bedroom of her Canadian farmhouse – the one my brother and I always fought over for its funky green light emitting from the antique, scarf draped lamp shade. This old soul – this lady – who had made the miles from Manitoba to Alabama dissolve over the years through her long, conversational letters, was gone.
“Hope these are worthy of your memory, Baba,” I thought, trying my first bite.
Holy Holupchi. I might have eaten two in record time.
The dish that graced the tables of at least three generations of Gusnowski women, and a favorite when my Baba, Sophie Gusnowski Cybulsky, wanted to serve her husband and sons a taste of summer in the coldest of Canadian winters.
Using cabbage from my Gigi’s garden, kept in cool cellar storage where it stayed between 33 and 40 degrees until she needed it, Baba would mix ground beef with rice, wrapping each roll with care, and then top them with her freshly canned tomatoes.
A favorite dish for which my dad served as sous chef from the time he was 5. And made for us first as a way to honor Baba and Gigi on their long visits South, then later on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, a culinary remembrance and cultural tribute. I’ll be making them again – often.
Hope you’ll try them too!
Filling enough on their own, these cabbage rolls also pair well with Pan Seared Pork Chops. Enjoy!