Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Love Those "Piggies"

A while back, I posted a copy of an article I had published in a now defunct local monthly newsletter publication. That piece was titled "Wealthy's Reward." At the time I posted that article, I had said I was going to try to publish -now and again -other pieces I had published in that newsletter -"The West Branch Review."

Today, I decided I would post here another of the pieces from the newsletter. This one is one of my favorite pieces. And believe me, I do really love the "piggies" mentioned in this piece -one of my all-time favorite dishes, for sure. Hope you get the flavor in the piece of how I was raised too.

>Traitorous Taste-buds

By JenniferHill Ertmer

Published June 2004 – West Branch Review

I grew up in a very segregated society, not in the south, but right here in the middle of Pennsylvania, in the little coal-mining community I still call home – Grassflat.

No, it wasn’t segregated based on what most people think about when you use that term – not on race, but rather based on one’s ethnicity and religion.

When I was a young’un, one’s ethnic background and religious choices were of utmost importance to where I was allowed to go, who I was permitted to have for friends and playmates.

I grew up living with my mother’s parents whose origins were Swedish and they belonged to the Lutheran Church here with deep-set Swedish roots. Along the street where I lived, most of the other families were of similar ethnicity and the majority also belonged to the same church, thus making those children acceptable playmates and friends - at least according to my Grandmother’s stern standards anyway.

What my grandmother didn’t know was that her tomboy granddaughter occasionally ventured a little further from home and every now and again, even dared to play with other kids who were Slovak and, perish the thought, Catholic as well.

The exceptions to Grandma’s strict rules were the Bunyak’s just up the street from us, and the Little family who lived next door, or now and then, the Kuzilla family who lived across from my great-uncle down the street. These three families I think may have been the only Slovak/Catholics who met with Grandma’s approval.

By the same token, many of the other kids in town my age, but who lived in the Dobry Town or Pleasant Hill areas of Grassflat, probably had the same rules and regulations imposed on them that they were not to associate with those Swedish Lutherans either.

It was a stupid concept when you think about it later in life, and one that is typical of the ignorance people frequently exhibit in society. It is a classical case, I suppose you could say, of “institutionalized racism/prejudice.”

Although I knew pretty much the boundaries set by Grandma of who I could associate with, where I could go, etc., it took a birthday party when I was perhaps 8 or 9 years old to galvanize my own incentive to break free of this particular cultural stigma.

That party, given by Mrs. Kuzilla for her daughter Veronica, who was three years younger than I, was quite an affair. Unlike most birthday parties I was accustomed to at which the fare usually was cake, ice cream and something to drink, Mrs. Kuzilla had fixed what would be considered a major feast. It was at that party that my taste buds first met up with a dish that was to become a life-long favorite – pigs in a blanket, or “halupki”!

I came home full of stories to tell my Mom and Grandma about all the food there. But this entrée had definitely had a very, very lasting impression on me and I begged for months, even years, after for Mom or Grandma to please make “piggies.”

I finally figured out this dish was considered too Slovak or Polish for either Mom or Grandma to consider cooking, and the less said about it the better. But the experience started my taste buds on the road to degradation. As I got older, I had more opportunity to experiment with other foods and, hopefully, got a lot wiser about other “differences” too.

It was after one of my jaunts a little further from home than was actually permitted, and playing with a girl my age whose ethnicity was Slovak and who was also Catholic (to add insult to injury), and I was invited into her home, where her mother offered me some type of Slovak pastries she had just made that were absolutely to die for, when I realized one thing for sure. I had to keep that discovery to myself. I dared not reveal I had been consorting with the enemy, as perceived by my Grandma, and worse yet, had even dined with them!

To this day, I still remember the sweet goodies made by Vicky Little’s mom, Helen (Bunyak) Little, but I have no clue as to what they were called. All I know is they were deep-fried and absolutely fantastic.

So much so that now my mouth is watering just from the memory and I think I will surf an International website once more in hopes of finding a recipe that looks even remotely like these great morsels were!

This post has been brought to you courtesy of something I'm really going to need if I keep writing about food - the best diet pill.

*** A side piece of information about this article too is that had my Grandma ever known some of the things I did while playing next door with the Little family children, that house would have become permanently off limits to me, for sure! If I happened to be over there on a high holy religious day -one that required the kids to offer prayers upon prayers, Mrs. Little would herd me upstairs -along with her very large family group, and I was required then to participate in these prayer gatherings. I knew the Rosary and several of the prayers that were said over them probably just as well as did the Little kids and I'm sure that could possibly have led to cardiac arrest for my Grandma or my being completely banned from ever setting foot in their yard, certainly not their house, ever again. Fortunately for me, I had by that time, learned there are times when the less said, the better and I kept my big mouth shut about those things.


Travis said...

I never understood how we were supposed to learn to get along if we didn't interact with people who thought differently that we did.

I freely admit to my own prejudices, but I also understand that they are based on ignorance.

Mary said...


I was brought up completely the opposite way. We were taught to treat everyone equally, no made their race or religion. Dad would have whipped us had we made a derogatory remark about anyone and it was a good lesson.

Our neighbors were from the Czech Republic and had been in the camps during WWII. I remember seeing Mrs Ivaniko's number on her arm and asking about it. I was told to NEVER mention it and I never did. Of course today I know why, but at that time it was rather puzzling.

Oh, the food you described here has made me hungry and it's almost lunch time. lol.


Mary said...
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Sandi McBride said...

Our Grandparents have a lot to answer for, lol...great post!
My mother made the very best Swedish Meatballs in the world, she learned from our neighbor the very Swedish Doris Larsen in Washington DC...I've always loved her Lutheran church red Grandma would have had a conniption fit for sure! Us good Catholic girls at a Lutheran Church lol

Rolling said...

that u remember it this way is admirable - shows that you are one of those people in touch wth their lives in and out, Ms Sandi too, bec she too refers it in the same light take care Jenifer, and how are the kids doing, do we get a post abt the brood too?

terri said...

I guess the rules have changed a bit over the years. I was allowed to play with most kids in the neighborhood. The faith which their families practiced didn't matter. But some things are still the same. I still see a reluctance within particular religious faiths to allow its members to participate in other faiths without guilt.

Vic Grace said...

It was social class in my case, that prevented me associating with other children. If they did not have an accent like mine or were considered common or lower class I was not allowed to associate with them. I don't believe it was about colour, religion or race in our case but education and where one stood in the order of things. I remember in boarding school being pals with two daughters of a King or Chief of an African State, they had different mothers but the same father but that was okay they were of the upper class, but the girl who lived around the corner from my Aunt was off limits because she had a cockney accent although she was white and her father only had one wife. Mind you Roman Catholics were always looked upon with some disdain. Bizarre isn't it.

Paula said...

I really enjoyed your article, Jeni! Those were the times and I think a lot of people grew-up with similar restrictions. Don't tell your Grandma, but my house is full of those darn Poles. I always tell people that I'm only Polish by association, from marrying one!

Maggie May said...

Yes, that is how it was then. Everyone one was slightly suspicious about other people's background and faith.
I was brought up "sort of" Church of England and I had some Catholic friends.......... Well kids don't worry about these things do they?
Hopefully today, that kind of attitude would not happen (Though I rather think it still does.)

Beth from the Funny Farm said...

This post made me hungry mostly... =)

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