Over the years, I made stuffed cabbage many times, yet it took me so long to perfect it. I'd add a little of this, and subtract a smidget of that. It was good but not like Baba's. I experimented with different types of meat, regulated the amount of rice, and chose a variety of seasonings. Seems as though I got closer to perfection with each attempt, but something was always lacking. My family loved it, but I knew I had to do better next time.
I can honestly say that in the last twenty years, I make stuffed cabbage the way Baba did. I don't know how it all came together, but who cares! The recipe I've included in today's blog will get you close to Baba's dish. With time and practice, you'll reach the high standards Baba set way back when. I promise.
Baba took Wednesdays off so to speak. Having completed the weekly washing and ironing, she focused on doing errands, and spending more time in her kitchen. Of course, Baba attended Mass as usual. Afterwards she might walk down to Eighth Avenue to pick up a coffee cake at the Blue Bonnet Bakery, stop in at Judy’s Nut Shop to chat with a friend and buy a few popcorn balls, one of her favorite treats.
Upon returning home, Baba fixed herself a cup of coffee, ate her toast, and decided on what she’d make for dinner. Since my grandmother never froze meats, she’d almost always need to take a trip to Paul Utes’ Grocery Store on Ravine Street. She never worried if she had enough money on hand because Paul kept a book for each one of his customers. After ringing up their purchases, he’d write the date and amount in their book, and add it up. Normally Baba paid a few dollars per visit to keep the balance reasonable. I think Mr. Utes was one of the first owners to utilize the credit card system long before it came into vogue. The only difference with his way of doing business was that he never charged any interest.
The Polish word for stuffed cabbage is ‘Golabki’. In Slovak, we say, ‘Halubki’. No matter how you say it, stuffed cabbage was one of our family’s all-time best dishes.
Baba filled her huge soup pot with water, added a pinch of salt, and allowed it to reach a boil. She’d core a head of cabbage and drop it into the pot. As the leaves separated, she’d pull them out, and place them in a colander to cool. While the cabbage was being softened, Baba filled a sauce pan with water, added a pinch of salt, and lit the burner. When boiling, she’d add a cup of rice, stirring until cooked.
Next Baba unwrapped the freshly-ground meat, placed it in the white pan used to make dough, seasoned it, dropped in an egg, and added the rice. With her two hands, my grandmother mixed all the ingredients together until she was happy with the consistency.
Finally Baba cut the hard vein off each leaf, scooped in a generous amount of meat, rolled it up, and tucked in each end. When all the leaves were stuffed, she’d line them up in her electric roaster, pour a can of diluted tomato soup over them, and let them bake for two hours.
Baba peeled the apples, quartered them, removed the cores, and then cut each into smaller pieces. She’d then fill a large saucepan with 1/4 cup water and add some cinnamon, sugar, and vanilla. Once the apples were soft, she’d put in a pat or two of butter and a tablespoon of cornstarch to thicken the mixture. After simmering for a few minutes, Baba turned off the burner and let it cool.
Flour with baking powder, egg, sugar, and milk were the ingredients Baba used to make her dough. Afterwards she’d cut the dough ball in half, setting aside one portion in the refrigerator to be used later for the top crust. Because the dough was sticky, she’d flour the wooden pastry board Zedo had made for her before trying to roll it out. Sometimes it took her two or three attempts before she was able to transfer the bottom crust to a sheet pan.
Next Baba spread the apple mixture on top, careful not to make holes in the bottom. Finally she’d roll out the bottom crust and place it atop the apples, pinching the two dough sections together in order to avoid leakage.
Baba set her oven on 350 degrees, and when it was hot enough, she placed the sheet pan inside for approx. 45-50 minutes. Occasionally she’d check on whether or not the squares were done by poking a toothpick in the center. If the pick came out clean, Baba knew the dessert was baked through.While the baking sheet was cooling, Baba took powdered sugar and a spoon of hot water to make a thin glaze. When her internal radar alerted her, my grandmother smoothed it over the crust and her master-piece was complete.
I hope you will try some of Baba’s favorite Wednesday recipes. As a family we looked forward to every meal because we knew how much love and caring went into the preparation. We were never served anything that came out of a box or can. With Zedo seated at the head, we respectfully gathered around Baba’s kitchen table to share blessings, food, and conversation. We cherished this time together and were excused only when our plates were emptied and our stomachs, full.