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Inherited Recipes: Memories of Albina’s Lithuanian-American Kitchen

By Kathleen Rose Kahn
(with inputs from Justin Eli Kahn)

Albina B. Kasmer was born in Lyon Mountain, a hamlet in Standish, in Clinton County, New York, in 1919, to Alex and Mary Kaskey. She died aged 92 in Seekonk, Massachusetts. She graduated from Manchester High School and the Hartford Academy of Hairdressing, before beginning to work as a beautician in 1939. In 1944, she married John S. Kasmer, eventually making her home in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, where she lived for 49 years. She retired from Milton Bradley (Hasbro) in East Longmeadow after working there for ten years. Albina loved music and cooking. She was an avid traveller, enjoyed dancing of all kinds, especially polka, and found relaxation in gardening and playing the piano. She was caring, vivacious, and had a genuine curiosity about the world. She was proud of her Lithuanian-American heritage and her recipes are a testimony to that. She married into a Polish-American family, and together the family tried to assimilate into American culture and society. However, the three recipes that I share with you – comfort food for me – harks back to their strong East-European roots.

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Ms. Albina B. Kasmer (Kaskey), 17 November 1919-10 June 2012

Albina, my mother, left these hand-written recipes for me, as a reminder of where I grew up and where I come from, and of course, where she came from. Some East-European dishes – such as the “kugela” – can be very labour intensive. I, however, can’t remember hearing my mother complaining about the work and the love that she had to put in for making these dishes for us. When I got married to Daniel Kahn in 1987, my mom baked our wedding cake.

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Albina’s recipe for her daughter’s wedding cake

My mom had spent the whole summer before our August 21 date planning that pound-cake and making and freezing over three hundred “pierogis” for a casual buffet dinner for about 75-100 friends and relatives. Members of Dan’s family still marvel at the unique, delicious food we had at that meal.

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Dan and Kathy’s wedding-cake baked by Albina

Albina’s notebooks, filled with Lithuanian and Polish recipes, have stayed with me as memories of a different time.

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The recipe-book that Kathy inherited from Albina

Today, I make some of those dishes more frequently than the others. I am sharing with you three recipes that I inherited from my mom which are probably my favourites, and which are, perhaps, my son, Justin’s favourites too. Justin learnt about this side of his family and heritage when my mom first made some “kugela” for him. He might not have realised as a child what that dish meant to Albina, to our family, and to our culture, but he does understand his significance now. I see it in his eyes as he speaks fondly of his memories of his grandmother’s kitchen, and of the smell of the “kugela” when he had walked into Albina’s kitchen as a young boy.

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Kugela/Kugelis, also known as bulvių plokštainis, is a potato dish from Lithuania. Here is the recipe from Albina’s notebook in her own hand.

Kugela

Ingredients:
5 pounds (lbs.) of potatoes

1 large onion

1 cup oil (half corn oil + half olive oil)

5 or 6 large eggs

1 teaspoon salt

Procedure:

Saute onions until they look wilted. Peel and grate potatoes. Add onions and salt to the grated potatoes. Beat eggs and add to the potatoes. Place them on a baking tray (base needs to be oiled) and then bake at 375 degrees F or 190 degrees C for one hour.

Note:

If potatoes start to discolour while grating then heat three-fourths cup of evaporated milk and add to the potatoes. And then keep grating.

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Albina’s recipe of Lithuanian Cold Beet Soup, or Šaltibarščia

Cold Beet Soup

Ingredients:

3-4 good sized beets

1-2 lemons or ¼ cup lemon juice

1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar

Chives

Dill

Some grated cucumber

1 cup or more sour cream

Procedure:

Clean the stems and leaves of the beets. Keep aside. Start boiling the beetroots. Add the chopped stems and leaves when the beetroots are slightly cooked and then keep boiling until done. Grate the beetroots. Add the rest of the ingredients and some water (about 3 to 4 cups). Stir together. Serve when cool.

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Albina’s notes on the Custard Rhubarb Pie, a classic New England Dessert

Custard Rhubarb Pie

Ingredients:

1 unbaked pie-shell

3 to 4 cups chopped rhubarbs

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 cup of milk + sour cream + evaporated milk

3 tablespoons of flour

½ a teaspoon of salt

½ a teaspoon of grated nutmeg

A pinch of mace

Procedure:

Place rhubarb in pie-shell. Mix the other ingredients and pour over the rhubarb. Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes or 350 degrees F for 40 minutes.

Bio:
Kathleen Rose Kahn was born on 20 January, 1956. Raised in East Longmeadow, Western Massachusetts, Kathy studied organic chemistry at Southern Massachusetts University (now UMass Dartmouth). She also followed the Grateful Dead band on multiple tours during her early years, and lived in San Francisco for a time after college. After returning and working as a licensed massage therapist and alternative medicine practitioner on the South Coast of Massachusetts, she married Daniel Kahn in 1987. Kathy has helped to manage many gardens in the Providence, RI area after she moved with her family to Seekonk, Massachusetts in 1994. She has also volunteered at Greenlock Therapeutic Riding Center in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, which also connects to Kathy’s lifelong love of working with horses. Kathy has a keen eye for recipes and can easily process the endless bounty which her green thumb reliably produces from farm gardens. She continues to practice alternative medicine in the Providence area.

Justin Eli Kahn was born in December of 1988 in Providence, Rhode Island, during a prolonged nurses’ strike, and as the song “I’m My Own Grandpa” played on the radio. Justin somehow graduated from the prestigious Milton Academy, but couldn’t manage his affairs at Hampshire College for long enough. He mainly blames the spooks and the late great comedian Bill Hicks for that. A lifelong student of music, Justin is now a failed musician and songwriter, a fate he attempts to exploit in a busking act (and moderately successful SoundCloud page) known as “maasss”. Justin has lived in the Providence area for most of his adult life. Since 1October, 2019, he has been living in Kolkata, India.

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For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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