NEW YORK FOLKLORE
Vol. 4, Nos. 1-4, 1978
PIEROGI- AND BABKA-MAKING AT ST. MARY’S
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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