Cooking Up a Storm
By Jim Nedelka
While we wait for the answer to the end of the pandemic, we’re baking and cooking like never before, honing our abilities while bravely trying new recipes.
How much sourdough bread have you eaten since this pandemic began?
My dad’s mom could cook up a storm. Marie Grolich Nedelka was American-born of Czech heritage. She grew up on the corner of East 81st Street and York Avenue in a building replaced in 1960 by the Mitchell-Lama apartment house.
A 100 years ago this month, May 1920, Nana turned 15. Her future husband, Franck Nedelka, an apprentice tailor, arrived from Bohemia in September of that year and was processed through Ellis Island; he would turn 18 in mid-October. The two met while he was taking English lessons at PS 158; on June 5, 1926, they were married in Jan Hus Presbyterian Church’s former Sanctuary on East 74th Street. Their partnership produced three sons - my dad, Frank Jr., their eldest, and his two brothers, Jack and Jerry – as well as a successful tailor shop and dry cleaning business in Flushing, Queens.
Like all good cooks of her era, Nana Marie learned at the elbow of her mom, Antoinette (“Baba” to all of us great-grandkids.) Nana’s tactile skills as a seamstress enabled the kneading of the smoothest dough, the crimping of the tiniest details into piecrusts. Her sense of smell and her taste buds clued her in tandem to add the right amounts of “a little bit of this and a pinch of that” to achieve the “just right” aromas, textures and flavors.
Thus, in celebration of what would have been Nana Marie’s 115th birthday, here for your quartering-in-place dining (and maybe some dancing) pleasure, her recipes for potato dumplings (bramborové knedlíky) and her sweet-and-sour cabbage (sladké a kyselé zelí.) When I sought out this recipe in 2010 ahead of our celebration of the 90th Anniversary of my grandfather’s arrival in the States, everyone pointed me to my Uncle Jack; he was happy to oblige but my request also prompted a chuckle.
“You know,” he told me while ticking off the steps, “my mother kept her recipe file in her head. She never wrote anything down. So, one day I asked if I could watch as she made the dumplings and sweet-and-sour cabbage. I wrote everything down as she went. We sorta guessed about some of the measurements!”
Aside from the Idaho potatoes (“They’re the firmest,” Nana always maintained) feel free to “flex” the measurements! While a traditional Czech supper would include a piece of roast pork to complement the knedlíky and zeli, potato dumplings go with anything! They are especially tasty for breakfast – fried or boiled – served with scrambled eggs and some ham, bacon or sausage…or just by themselves!
Jim Nedelka is a Ruling Elder here at avenue church. If you, or someone you know, is in need of a meal or some groceries “to tide them over,” the friendly folks at the Urban Outreach Center are here to help as best they can.