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 Pinto Guira making guiramaking a mandalaplaying mandolin

New York Folklore Vol. 4. Nos. 1-4, 1978
Utica Project Issue
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Vol. 4, Nos. 1-4, 1978

Elizabeth Goldstein and Gail Green

Cooking has long been an important female activity, its skills and secrets passed from mother to daughter. Today, the work of food preparation has moved out of the home and into the processing plant and fast-food restaurant. Women spend less time in the kitchen, and ethnic and festive foods are increasingly purveyed by specialists. Yet in some communities, groups of women—folk cooks, if you will—continue to provide traditional foods which are culturally and spiritually important in their communities. We came upon an example of this kind of activity when we met the ladies of the Rosary Society in New York Mills, New York. These Polish- American women support St. Mary’s Catholic Church by selling pierogi (filled dumplings) and babka (sweet bread), two foods common on Polish-American tables and popular for holiday meals.

For three weeks before Christmas and three weeks during Lent the ladies devote themselves to manufacturing these foods from scratch and selling them by the thousands. As we observed and worked with them in their kitchen in the basement of St. Mary’s School, we came to know that the value of pierogi and babka lies beyond their palatabi1ity. These foods carry cultural and ethnic associations. Likewise, the work itself is an act of symbolic as well as culinary significance for the ladies. Through their labor they express and affirm the values which have shaped their lives....

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