Jerri’s mother gave us a copy of the The Centennial Treasury of Recipes of the Swiss (Volyhynian) Mennonites shortly after it was published in 1974. Jerri is very fond of this cookbook because it contains recipes brought to Kansas from what is now a part of Ukraine by her grandparents and great-grandparents.
The book offers many variations of traditional foods. There is a chapter with seven different recipes for poppy seed rolls (Mak Kuchen), one of which Jerri follows pretty closely when she bakes hers as Christmas gifts every year. There are nine recipes in the chapter for peppernuts (Pfeffernüsse), none of which is as good as the one Jerri uses for the Pfeffernüsse she bakes for the holidays.
And in case you think that those Mennonite cooks brought only dessert recipes to the new world, the book has ten recipes for borscht including Russian and Swiss versions. There are 13 recipes for Beroggi (pronounced burr-AH-ghee), boiled dumplings or baked rolls filled with cheese, sauerkraut or beans and served as a main dish with a savory or sweet sauce.
When those Mennonite families emigrated to the United States, they brought with them the turkey red wheat that made Kansas the breadbasket of the nation along with seeds for the fruits and vegetables that nourished them throughout the year. Watermelon seeds from the Ukraine still produce big melons in Kansas, and their gardens were filled with onions, carrots, beets, potatoes, cabbages, cucumbers, dill and lettuce.
One wonderfully simple but delicious recipe passed down through the generations is cucumber slaw.
3 medium cucumbers, 7 to 8 inches long
1/4 cup chopped white or yellow onion
1/3 cup sour cream
1 scant T cider vinegar
3/4 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Wash and remove the stem and blossom ends from the cucumbers. Peel and slice them very thinly with a kitchen grater. Put them in a medium bowl and stir in the salt. Allow the cucumbers to rest ten to fifteen minutes to draw the water from the slices but do not drain them. Clean and finely chop the onion and add it to the cucumber. Stir in the sour cream, vinegar and a dash of black pepper. Let the slaw rest for a few minutes, then stir and taste it. Add more vinegar, salt and pepper as needed.
NOTES: People have different tolerances for salt, but as Jerri’s mom was fond of saying, “Cucumbers and potatoes always take more salt than you think.” How much you need depends on the size of the cucumbers, but start with at least a teaspoon of salt.
Some cucumbers are juicier than others. If you want, drain out a teaspoon or two of water before adding the sour cream.
Incidentally, this salad is also very low in carbs; a cup has only about three grams of carbohydrates.