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Highlighting heritage with the power of food

A local heritage group is connecting youth with their culture - and some tasty dishes.
Little hands also got practise making the noodles, learning to operate the pasta rollers. (Kathleen Saylors/Grand Forks Gazette)

One Friday in April, nearly two-dozen kids were covered in flour in the USCC kitchen, as ladies taught the kids how to knead dough and operate a counter-mounted pasta roller.

A couple months after that, and some of those same kids were frantically shaking jars of cream, watching for signs it was becoming solid, while the bread dough they’d just finished working with rose before being popped in the outdoor oven at the Boundary Museum.

These days it can be tough to hold on to tradition, whether that tradition is a family dinner or a passed-down recipe, but one local group is using the power of food to connect local youth with their heritage and community traditions.

The Youth Heritage Group, run by Tammy Jacobs, meets one Friday per month from January to June. The informal group shows the kids traditional Doukhabor recipes, foods and traditions in an effort to keep the kid connected with their heritage in an age when it can be harder and harder to do so.

Jacobs said the group started three years ago, mainly as an effort to teach her own kids some traditional recipes. She started the group with Natalie Strukoff, and that first year the group welcomed about nine kids from USCC Sunday School classes once a month for cooking lessons.

“I’ve got two boys, and [started this] out of a desire for them to connect to their Doukhabor heritage. Both boys like cooking and are interested in Doukhabor food, so I thought ‘let’s get some people together and teach the kids to cook,’” Jacobs said. “I thought if my boys like it, there must be other kids as well.”

Over the next couple years, the group has grown to include more kids, anywhere in age from 5 to 15. Jacobs runs the sessions on Friday afternoons for six months from January to June from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The classes teach traditional Doukhabor recipes like making lapsha (egg noodles), voreniki (dumplings) and pyrahi (vegetable tarts). This year she’s working with Beth Novokshonoff, who volunteers her time to help teach the kids lessons while she focuses on the food.

Jacobs said the kids are shockingly enthusiastic about getting in the kitchen, and it’s a good way to convey the traditions and heritage of Doukhabor culture. These days, Jacobs said, there are fewer babas (Doukhabor grandmothers) cooking with their kids, and fewer families have the time.

“I think it is because they don’t have babas or the babas aren’t cooking like that anymore, and they want to learn that part. Cooking is fun for kids. That first year, we thought ‘what are we doing?’ But [the kids] all find their niche and they are happy doing it.”

This year, the group went skating and swimming in addition to learning to make lapsha noodles and bread. The last Friday session, the group went to the Boundary Museum (the former Fructova School site) to make bread and butter. Eating the warm bread, fresh out of the museum’s outdoor oven, with butter and homemade jam, was a highlight Jacobs said she’s been hearing about.

“This year was less food than in previous years, but we had different opportunities. They definitely want to keep the food, so we have borscht and pyrahi for next year,” she said. “I mean, my boys have me making jam next weekend because they loved the strawberry jam.”

Another popular session that drew a crowd was making lapsha noodles. Nearly two-dozen kids came out for that session (with more on a waiting list), and in addition to lunch, each took home a bag of noodles. The kids have tremendous pride in their heritage, and pride in sharing their efforts with their families at home.

“The kids are so proud leaving with that food, like ‘I made this and I’m taking it home to share with my family.’ A lot of times the kids say ‘wow I need to get mom to make this at home,’” she said. “How do you get kids involved? You do it through food.”

Jacobs said the USCC ladies are great with the help they offer, volunteering their time and the kitchen to the group. Many were present to help out, especially with the lapsha noodles, guiding little hands through the process of creating the dough, running it through the pasta roller, and drying the noodles.

This year for the first time the group had a sponsor, which eliminated the need for the kids to bring supplies from home for their cooking lessons.

“We had some donations in the first year, or I’d ask the parents to contribute. That was the first year,” she said. “Rob Ogloff sponsored this year, so we didn’t have to pay for cooking supplies. That has been really good. I don’t have to worry about who I’m going ask to donate this or that.”

Jacobs also credits many other community members who give to the group — the woodworker’s guild for instance, who gave and cut the wood doves the kids used for a lesson about peace.

“Everyone has been so accommodating, people are so accommodating when its for the kids,” she said.

The doves the group made were on display at the USCC Youth Festival held in Grand Forks last month, and that was another highlight for many of the students.

Over the years she’s been running the group there’s been increased interest, especially from grandparents who want to see grandchildren get involved. Eventually, she’d like to run a fall session, and maybe even a summer camp.

The group has a predominately Doukhabor connection, but Jacobs said its open to kids to learn about the heritage of a group so vital to everything Grand Forks is today.

“The kids were thrilled to be in a large group. The kids are connected because they have this commonality,” she said.

Cooking is a good way to start to involve kids in learning about culture, she said, because it is so central to Doukhabor life.

“Hospitality is big in Doukhabor culture. Food is a draw in any language, any culture,” she said. “[We highlight] caring, sharing, looking out for one another, the love — the basics of human kind.”

Highlighting their heritage continues to be important, Jacobs said, because it gives the kids a good grounding for the rest of their lives.

“It is their heritage, it is what they stand for, I think it’s their good grounding, a good way to live your life,” she said.

Another favourite activity this year was making bread and fresh butter at the Boundary Museum (formerly the Fructova school site). Kids learned how to shake the jar and check to make sure it was really butter - not whipped cream - before digging in to a snack of warm bread. (Kathleen Saylors/Grand Forks Gazette)