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Edible Nonfiction: Today's pick

Baba's Holopchi by Jo-Ann Samo

Christmas was always an extraordinary time when Baba was alive. My mother, aunt and I would gather a day in advance at the crack of dawn to make holpchi (cabbage rolls), a traditional Ukrainian dish. We'd file into my grandmother's basement to find countless cabbage heads bobbing in boiling water on top of an aged wood stove. 

In advance to our arrival, Baba started frying an aromatic blend of butter, onions, bacon and tomatoes for the sauce. In another pan, she'd brown the ground beef while the rice reached the ideal consistency for draining. Mastering perfection took plenty of mixing, tasting and seasoning. Once the filling was ready, she would take the sharpest knife and carve the cabbages with the artistry of Edward Scissorhands. 

At that point, it became a production line. Cabbage leaves were stacked until they were ready to topple over, beside them stood an enormous vat of ground beef and rice. A myriad of empty pots lined the table waiting to be filled. It seemed like a colossal task to take the largest and the tiniest leaves and turn them miraculously into flawless cabbage rolls.

There stood three generations, talking, laughing and telling stories. We all complained, except for Baba about how our backs ached from standing and rolling holpchi for hours on end. Even her pint size dog got tired of waiting for scraps to fall to the floor; eventually he'd doze off under the table.

At the end of the day, Baba had a wonderful feast waiting for us to indulge in after a hard day's work. The best part was when she came out with a bowl of Kruschiki, better known as bow tie cookies made with the biggest helping of love and a dusting of confectioners sugar.

Jo-Ann Samo is from Rosemont, QC

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