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Not long ago, my mother decided that she was hungry for holopchi, a dish that my grandmother used to make. It’s a labor-intensive dish, and one that’s long been a family tradition. My grandmother would make it once or twice a year, and if you were lucky, you’d get to take left-overs home.

Mom set a date and invited Dave, the kids and I, along with her sisters, to come over for an early dinner.

Holopchi is stuffed cabbage. There are probably a hundred ways to make it, as well as a hundred ways to spell it; but, there’s only one “right” way to make it, and it’s using my grandmother’s recipe. It’s one of the things she learned from her Austrian mother. Like many recipes in our family, there’s no “small batch” way to do it…you make enough for a crowd. Holopchi is essentially ground beef, sausage, onions, and rice, rolled into softened cabbage leaves. Bacon is tucked between the layers, boiling water is poured over it all, it’s covered and bakes for several hours.

When my grandmother would make it, you could smell it cooking as you walked up to her front door. Your stomach would be rumbling long before it was browned enough to serve with slices of warm, dark rye bread slathered in soft butter. You’d be starving, but you’d hold out, knowing how good those first bites would taste. Once my kids were born, I remember the dismay among my mother and my aunts at discovering that the little ones liked holopchi, too. It was bad enough that their kids liked holopchi. Now the grandkids, too? Less for them!

This morning, I was at the grocery store when my mother called. She said that the house was starting to smell good, and my mouth began watering.

Finally, it was time to head to Mom’s. Ben, with his new driver’s permit, drove…the speed limit, unfortunately!

We piled out of the car, and as Mom opened the courtyard gate, suddenly it was like I was back in my grandmother’s kitchen. The delicious smell of the still baking holopchi instantly triggered memories of the hours spent with with my grandmother while she cooked. Suddenly, I was crying. It was confusing, and sad, and wonderful, all at the same time. I miss my grandmother every day, but this reminded me of so much time spent with her.

Later, after we’d stuffed ourselves silly, and divided the leftovers to take home, my mom hugged me. She thanked me for shedding some tears…that meant she’d gotten it right. She sent us whole with a container of the precious rolls. I’m jealously debating whether or not I’ll be sharing them…hoping instead to make at least a couple of lunches worth out of them.

Tonight, I’m thankful for holopchi, for the memories of my grandmother, and for my wonderful mom, for bringing a little bit of her mother back to life on a sunny fall day.


I’m participating in #30DaysofThanks. If you’d like to join in, blog, Tweet or post a picture of something that you are thankful for each day in November. Be sure to use the hashtag, #30DaysofThanks