ONE @ 50: Ruthenian Lenten Fare

In honor of ONE magazine’s 50th-anniversary year, the CNEWA blog series, ONE @ 50: From the Vault, aims to revive and explore the wealth of articles published in ONE magazine throughout its history. This Lent, read about the foods experienced by Jacqueline Ruyak during her many visits to Ruthenian communities in Central Europe and Pennsylvania, as published in the January 2005 issue of ONE magazine.

Read an excerpt from “Ruthenian Lenten Fare” below, then read the full story.

There were many reasons I was looking forward to my first visit to eastern Czechoslovakia in 1991, but the cuisine was not one of them. Coming from a Slovenian-Slovak background, I was familiar with the region’s food, the wide variety of sausages, the predominance of pork. I am not knocking the food, but I was pretty sure of some of its limitations.

I am a vegetarian. For years I have lived in Japan, a country of ample culinary delights even for those, like me, who eschew meat.

I would not be so lucky in Eastern Europe, or so I thought.

Thankfully, I was wrong. Not long after I arrived, I came across byrndza, a rich sheep cheese. It is commonly served with halusky, potato dumplings not unlike Italian gnocchi. On another day, I was treated to bite-size perohy, pockets of dough commonly stuffed with potato and cheese, sauerkraut or even fruit or jam. Better known as peroghi, they are popular in my home state of Pennsylvania. One summer in high school, I worked for a local peroghi producer, but the varieties I discovered in Eastern Europe were unlike any I had ever tasted.

A volunteer at St. Mary’s packs bags of peroghi, all of which will be sold, in this photo taken in 2005. (photo: Cody Christopulos)

Over the years, I have made many more trips to the region, primarily to Slovakia (the eastern half of the former Czechoslovakia). Along with the previously described treats, I have happily subsisted on soups, potatoes and cabbage, the “king of vegetables,” according to the French who are said to know something about food.

One of my most memorable visits, on assignment for this magazine in the late 1990s, was to Tichy Potok, a small Ruthenian village in the hardscrabble hinterlands of eastern Slovakia. The Ruthenians are Slavs, typically Greek Catholic, from the southern foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.

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Jacqueline Ruyak, a freelance writer, frequently traveled to Central Europe on assignment for ONE.

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