Growing up on the prairies, Ukrainian food was part of the local culture — whether perogies, smoky sausages or comforting, home-style cakes like this one.
By CINDA CHAVICH
Like many people, I've been thinking a lot about Ukraine and the Ukrainian people who are facing so much horror and hardship.
It is unbelievable to watch this unprovoked attack unfolding on the news each day, and frightening to think that the kind of peace we all expect in the world is so very fragile.
I grew up on the Canadian prairies where so many eastern Europeans, especially Ukrainians, migrated over the last century, many to escape war and build a better life.
All of that Slavic culture is woven into my DNA, especially the traditions of making and sharing special dishes with family and friends.
The comfort of simple, familiar food cannot be over stated.
I pulled out my treasured copy of Savella Stechisin's Traditional Ukrainian Cookery and found this recipe for honey cake, a lovely spice cake that is a true, never-fail keeper.
I feel a connection across the generations with Stetchisin, who used her food writing to document an important part of western Canadian history and culture, and was an advocate for women across Canada.
Her book, published in 1957 in Winnipeg, is considered the definitive work of Ukrainian Canadian cooking.
Stetchison (née Wawryniuk) has been described as "an ethnocultural social maternal feminist" — she certainly was ahead of her time as a home economist and cookbook author. She was born in 1903 in Austrian Galicia (today known as Lviv province in Ukraine) and her family emigrated to Canada when she was nine, settling in central Saskatchewan.
Her biography is impressive — she married at 17, had three children, and in 1930 was the first Ukrainian woman to graduate with a degree from the University of Saskatchewan. She organized courses in the culture and cuisine of her homeland for young women, ran outreach programs for Ukrainian immigrants and lectured around the world, including in Western Ukraine (Polish Galicia) before it was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939.
She also helped establish the Ukrainian Women's Association of Canada (1926) and the Ukrainian Museum of Canada (1936), add edited the "women's pages" of the Ukrainian Voice weekly based in Winnipeg.
And for all this, she was awarded the Order of Canada in 1989.
Her book, Traditional Ukrainian Cookery, is a true culinary history of the region and the era, researched with the skill of a devoted journalist and historian. Whether it's the recipes collected from Ukrainian families or the stories describing Ukrainian celebrations and traditions (along with black and white photos and line drawings) it's a pioneering work.
Savella Stechisin died 20 years ago at the age of 98 in Saskatoon. She was an advocate of women's rights before women had the rights we enjoy today. She started a Ukrainian women's student group while in teacher training at the age of 20, taught young women public speaking and debating skills, and inspired Ukrainian Canadian women to take pride in their heritage.
She wrote about food and nutrition and health but was also an inspirational activist. Her book was reprinted 18 times and, today a first edition can sell for more than $500.
According to a memorial piece published in the 2002 Ukrainian Weekly, Stechisin's book "is considered to be the most authoritative book on Ukrainian cuisine and it is now being discovered in newly independent Ukraine where younger generations are studying their Ukrainian heritage after years of Russification."
That's a big job for a cookbook, but this is a culture and a cuisine that can't be erased.
NEVER FAIL MEDIVNYK (HONEY CAKE)
I followed this recipe for Honey Cake (credited to Mrs. H. Dershko in Stechisin's Traditional Ukrainian Cooking) to the letter and baked it in a silicone bundt pan. You can see how beautifully it turned out - and it was delicious, too.
If you're planning a bake sale to raise money for Ukraine, or want to comfort a new Ukrainian refugee, I think this cake is a perfect place to start.
1 cup honey
3 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup strong cool coffee
Grated rind and juice of 1 orange
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 cup chopped walnuts
Bring the honey to a boil and then cool it. Sift the flour with the dry ingredients twice. Combine the coffee with the grated rind, orange juice and vanilla. Cream the butter with the sugar. Mix in the honey. Beat the egg yolks until light and blend with the honey mixture. Add the flour, alternatively with the coffee. Stir in the nuts. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into the batter. Spoon into a buttered baking pan. Bake in a moderate oven (325 F) for about 50 minutes, or until done when tested (use a skewer to check). Remove the cake from the pan and place it on a cake rack to cool.
Honey cake is best if given a couple of days to "ripen" after baking. Then share it!