My Ukrainian Grandma’s cookies by Sue Robin, Los Angeles, California

War, again, or is it still? Certainly, there are the family fights, the neighborhood arguments, and the political morass that seem as eternal as the light over the Torah, but now Russia has invaded Ukraine yet again.

 I would not be here had the Tsarists not carried out the pogroms in Ukraine in the late 1800s. Three of my grandparents were born in Kyiv and escaped as refugees then. Now, Putin and his army are wreaking havoc and my heart weeps for the loss of life and the insanity unleashed by those whose desire for power and greed is more precious to them than life itself.

My Grandma Minnie spoke Russian, Ukrainian, Yiddish and English, though she never learned to read English. She swam in the Atlantic Ocean every morning until her last few years and marched in support of Social Security with a large group of Gray Heads in the 1960s. She was the matriarch with seven daughters and two sons. I am named for her first husband and apparently have his blue-gray eyes. Now, I search the photos of the Ukrainian people on the march, looking for a hint of whence I came.

Grandma’s cookies, a staple, in my childhood, my son’s childhood and now my grandchildren’s childhoods, were from a recipe from Grandma Bessie, also from Kyiv. It was not a written recipe. She showed me what to put in and taught me how to feel the dough for the right consistency. A Shitterayn— a Yiddish word for cooking by instinct and taste — recipe, if you will. A little of this and a little of that. I watched carefully and began to decipher the code.

As a student in the 1950s, I was taught to hide under my desk, only learning later what a useless act that would have been had there been a nuclear attack. The powers that be named that a cold war. The fear those drop and cover drills provoked in the ‘50s rose quickly to the surface with Putin’s incursion.

It is difficult to see the positive in the photos of Russian troops encircling much of Ukraine, but there are glimmers of hope. The European Union and the USA have banded together to aid the Ukrainian people, and to create sanctions that will prove a financial nightmare for Russia. The neighboring countries are welcoming and providing care for the thousands of fleeing refugees. The Russian people are protesting and, unfortunately, being arrested as well, but continue to do so despite that risk. Some Russian soldiers have punched holes in the gas tanks of their transport vehicles, slowing the progress. Chef Jose Andres and the World Central Kitchen are right in the thick of things, feeding those in need. I think of him as the Mother Teresa of the culinary world.

Most of us can only do small things to show our support. Perhaps a small donation to the World Central Kitchen, the Red Cross, or say a prayer. Or maybe bake a batch of my grandma’s cookies and with each bite hold the image of sweetness and peace returning to the home of my ancestors.

Grandma’s Cookies

3 eggs
3/4 Cup of oil
1 Teaspoon baking powder
1 Cup Sugar
4 Cups of flour

More flour as needed for consistency to form ball and roll out.
Roll out to quarter inch and cut out cookies.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

5 Comments

  1. What a tragic world we live in. Thanks for another poignant and heartfelt writing! My father’s father also was born in Kyiv and came to the US in the early 1900’s due to the pogroms.

    I contributed to World Central Kitchen yesterday, but you have inspired me to do so again today.

    Thanks for all that you do!

    Be safe and be well.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My mother Minnie (Manya) was born in Ukraine/Russia and after her father was killed in a pogrom she came with her mother, grandma and two sisters on one of the last boats to arrive on Ellis Island before US politicians restricted immigration from that part of the world. I look at the frightened children and their mothers making the terrifying journey from Ukraine to safety and think of them. How lucky I am. I hope we can once again be welcoming to refugees…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Sue Robin’s response to this terrible Ukrainian tragedy, telling of her connection to it, is so powerful! It is touching to learn how she was coached by her grandmother in making Grandma Bessie’s wonderful cookies! Thanks so much for posting this special, loving and very sad essay.

    Liked by 2 people

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