My mother’s mother, my grandmother was born in Russia, in a predominantly German town called Strasbourg on the Black Sea. I grew up eating wonderful Russian food. Bidishki were always my favourite: squares of dough wrapped around ground hamburger, liver and onions and then deep-fried. They are sold like hotdogs on street corners there I understand. There were cabbage rolls and head cheese (no wonder I’m a vegetarian!) and home-made sausages smoked right in their back yard. But today, I remember her for her soup and noodles.
I went to Grama’s house often for lunch, my elementary school was just up the street and there would always be a steaming bowl of her signature soup ready for me. It was a transparent red broth, thin but with rich flavour. In the stock, she put a soup bone with a bit of meat and marrow, an entire stalk of dill, bay leaf, and whole vegetables, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, often picked from her own garden. When the broth was done, she removed the veggies and ate them. She might add a bit of barley, but there was usually nothing else in the soup. She always served French bread with it. No one, not me, not my mom nor any of her sisters, all great cooks (them not me), have been able to recreate that soup.
Sometimes, as a treat, Grama would add her homemade noodles. An egg, four tablespoons of flour, a dash of salt and enough water so you could pour the mixture into the soup, stir, and long thin noodles would magically form. Neither my mother nor I could ever master that trick, instead we plop the noodles in by the spoonful and make globbles, more like dumplings. I have since made them with unbleached or whole wheat flour and they are still delish.
I look back at the old recipe card and see Grama’s Noodles at the top and then in brackets old country, which is what she called her homeland. But there was a variation on the noodles, another recipe on the card, called Ribla. For this one you use more flour (1 1/2 cups), a teaspoon of baking powder and the same of salt. You moisten it with water, enough to hold together I imagine, although the recipe doesn’t say. My mother’s no help because it seems I copied the recipe off of hers. We’re both a little surprised that there are no eggs.
So mix everything up, form the noodles into cylinders or blobs, whatever you like. Then, get this (your cholesterol will climb just reading this), you put lard (I’m sure oil would be fine) and water into a pan and bring it to a boil. Then you slice onions, plunk them and the noodles into the pan, cover and fry for about 20 minutes. Keep turning the noodles and onions so they don’t burn. The Ribla get all crispy and brown. When you smell the onions, it’s done. You can eat them as is or plop them into soup as well. Mom says her fave was potatoe ribla soup.
Today we might question the healthiness of some of the items on Grama’s menu. But she had seven kids and had to be creative about stretching the food budget. It’s not that I want to make Ribla (although I am certainly tempted at this moment). It’s just the memory of my Grama. The good smells coming from her kitchen. Just being there with her. If I wasn’t feeling well, she would get me all tucked in with a blanket, cozy on the couch. I would watch soap operas all afternoon and she would keep the nourishment coming. How lucky I was to have a grandmother like her. Now I watch my mother doing the same grandmotherly things with my nephew, her grandson. And I see how he laps it up and loves being in that warm, safe place of grandmotherdom. How lucky he is.
And so a little poem, in honour of my Grama, who passed away many years ago, but who I remember with much love and gratitude on this day, her birthday.
Big fat blobs
Noodles in a pan
Crusty, brown sides
Burnt onion bits
Plopped hot into soup
The broth thin but fat
With the flavours of Grama