Alaskan Russian Foods

As many of my readers are aware, I was born and grew up in Alaska, living in five different communities. The “city” where I was born was Kodiak, on Kodiak Island, where the Russian influence can still be felt in the culture, religious practices, and surnames of the Native Alaskans living there. While Kodiak is near the top of the Aleutian chain of islands creating the Southwest panhandle of the state, the Southeast panhandle–where I spent most of my childhood–also felt Russia’s hand and can be seen in the architecture of the old Russian Orthodox churches in Sitka (the capital under Russia) and Juneau (the current state capital). However, the Native Alaskans of the Southeast panhandle were more religiously influenced by the Presbyterian, Catholic, Lutheran, and Salvation Army churches.

Russian Church, Kodiak, Alaska

St. Michael’s Cathedral, Sitka, Alaska

(For more views of beautiful Russian Orthodox churches
in Alaska–onion domes and all–click
here.)

Two wonderful Russian dishes I remember eating as a child were pirok and kulich. Pirok is a fish pie that my mother would make as a simple, filling main dish, using canned or fresh Alaskan salmon. It is especially tasty topped with a tomato-based cocktail sauce, such as what you would eat with shrimp. Kulich is also known as Russian Easter bread, and is a delicious treat, made sweet from candied fruit and heavy with many eggs (made of course, to celebrate the end of Lent and self-denial). Dad was usually the one who made kulich, and our favorite way to eat it was lightly toasted with lots of butter! In fact, just thinking about it makes me want to haul out my breadmaker and make a loaf this weekend to eat with Easter breakfast!

I believe the following recipe is from Alaskan Cookbook for Homesteader or Gourmet by Bess Cleveland; Berkeley, California: Howell-North Books, 1960.


PIROK
Pastry for double-crust pie
2 c. cooked rice
1 onion
3 hard-boiled eggs
1 can salmon or 1 lb. fresh salmon, deboned
salt and pepper to taste

Line pie with pastry. When steaming rice, add 1 chopped onion. When done, mix with canned salmon, including juice. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Put 1/2 rice and fish misture in unbaked pie shell. Press quartered hard-boiled eggs into mixture, top off balance of rice and fish. Cover with piecrust, seal edges well and cut steam vents. Bake 1/2 hour (1 hour for fresh salmon) or until well browned. [A temperature is not given; I cook mine at about 425° F.] This is a dish brought to Alaska by the early Russian colonists, and was first made with salt salmon.

Traditionally, the kulich dough was braided, then baked. However, when Dad made this, he would bake it just as he and Mom did our sourdough-raisin bread: in greased coffee cans, creating a nice round load, easily sliced and able to fit into a standard toaster. While the sourdough-raisin bread, which was our everyday bread, was made in two-pound coffee cans, the kulich, more of a dessert than a sandwich bread, was usually baked in one-pound cans. I am adapting my Mr. Coffee bread-maker’s recipe for a one-pound dried-mixed fruit bread, which yields a similar result.

KULICH

1 egg plus enough water to equal 1 c.
2 c. + 1 T. bread flour
1/2 t. salt
2 T. honey
1 T. dry milk
1/2 c. bran cereal
1/2 c. chopped candied mixed fruit
1/2 c. raisins
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. yeast

Place ingredients into your breadmaker according to its suggested guidelines and use the Whole-Loaf (as opposed to Dough) Sweet Bake setting (setting 8 on Mr. Coffee breadmaker). Yield: 1 one-pound loaf.

Alaskan Russian Foods

As many of my readers are aware, I was born and grew up in Alaska, living in five different communities. The “city” where I was born was Kodiak, on Kodiak Island, where the Russian influence can still be felt in the culture, religious practices, and surnames of the Native Alaskans living there. While Kodiak is near the top of the Aleutian chain of islands creating the Southwest panhandle of the state, the Southeast panhandle–where I spent most of my childhood–also felt Russia’s hand and can be seen in the architecture of the old Russian Orthodox churches in Sitka (the capital under Russia) and Juneau (the current state capital). However, the Native Alaskans of the Southeast panhandle were more religiously influenced by the Presbyterian, Catholic, Lutheran, and Salvation Army churches.

Russian Church, Kodiak, Alaska

St. Michael’s Cathedral, Sitka, Alaska

(For more views of beautiful Russian Orthodox churches
in Alaska–onion domes and all–click
here.)

Two wonderful Russian dishes I remember eating as a child were pirok and kulich. Pirok is a fish pie that my mother would make as a simple, filling main dish, using canned or fresh Alaskan salmon. It is especially tasty topped with a tomato-based cocktail sauce, such as what you would eat with shrimp. Kulich is also known as Russian Easter bread, and is a delicious treat, made sweet from candied fruit and heavy with many eggs (made of course, to celebrate the end of Lent and self-denial). Dad was usually the one who made kulich, and our favorite way to eat it was lightly toasted with lots of butter! In fact, just thinking about it makes me want to haul out my breadmaker and make a loaf this weekend to eat with Easter breakfast!

I believe the following recipe is from Alaskan Cookbook for Homesteader or Gourmet by Bess Cleveland; Berkeley, California: Howell-North Books, 1960.


PIROK
Pastry for double-crust pie
2 c. cooked rice
1 onion
3 hard-boiled eggs
1 can salmon or 1 lb. fresh salmon, deboned
salt and pepper to taste

Line pie with pastry. When steaming rice, add 1 chopped onion. When done, mix with canned salmon, including juice. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Put 1/2 rice and fish misture in unbaked pie shell. Press quartered hard-boiled eggs into mixture, top off balance of rice and fish. Cover with piecrust, seal edges well and cut steam vents. Bake 1/2 hour (1 hour for fresh salmon) or until well browned. [A temperature is not given; I cook mine at about 425° F.] This is a dish brought to Alaska by the early Russian colonists, and was first made with salt salmon.

Traditionally, the kulich dough was braided, then baked. However, when Dad made this, he would bake it just as he and Mom did our sourdough-raisin bread: in greased coffee cans, creating a nice round load, easily sliced and able to fit into a standard toaster. While the sourdough-raisin bread, which was our everyday bread, was made in two-pound coffee cans, the kulich, more of a dessert than a sandwich bread, was usually baked in one-pound cans. I am adapting my Mr. Coffee bread-maker’s recipe for a one-pound dried-mixed fruit bread, which yields a similar result.

KULICH

1 egg plus enough water to equal 1 c.
2 c. + 1 T. bread flour
1/2 t. salt
2 T. honey
1 T. dry milk
1/2 c. bran cereal
1/2 c. chopped candied mixed fruit
1/2 c. raisins
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. yeast

Place ingredients into your breadmaker according to its suggested guidelines and use the Whole-Loaf (as opposed to Dough) Sweet Bake setting (setting 8 on Mr. Coffee breadmaker). Yield: 1 one-pound loaf.

The 4th Edition of the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy is Posted

Jessica over at Jessica’s Genejournal, has just published the 4th Edition of the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy, which has a “carousel” theme, meaning submitters could choose to write about whichever topic they liked. To my knowledge, I have no ancestry from this part of Europe, but I wanted to participate and so submitted a post in the series about my great-grandfather’s service in the American North Russian Expeditionary Forces. Four other geneabloggers wrote a total of seven more articles, making this the largest CCEEG so far! I encourage you to go read these interesting posts.

The 5th Edition of the CCEEG will be on traditional dishes of Central and Eastern Europe and the deadline for submissions is March 21st. I’m excited about this because once again, this Frisian-Dutch-English-Scots-German-French gal gets to submit a post to the CCEEG! Many of my readers know that I grew up in Alaska, and there is to this day, a definite influence of Russian culture in that state, including some great food! I’ll be sharing two favorite Russian recipes from my childhood!

The 4th Edition of the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy is Posted

Jessica over at Jessica’s Genejournal, has just published the 4th Edition of the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy, which has a “carousel” theme, meaning submitters could choose to write about whichever topic they liked. To my knowledge, I have no ancestry from this part of Europe, but I wanted to participate and so submitted a post in the series about my great-grandfather’s service in the American North Russian Expeditionary Forces. Four other geneabloggers wrote a total of seven more articles, making this the largest CCEEG so far! I encourage you to go read these interesting posts.

The 5th Edition of the CCEEG will be on traditional dishes of Central and Eastern Europe and the deadline for submissions is March 21st. I’m excited about this because once again, this Frisian-Dutch-English-Scots-German-French gal gets to submit a post to the CCEEG! Many of my readers know that I grew up in Alaska, and there is to this day, a definite influence of Russian culture in that state, including some great food! I’ll be sharing two favorite Russian recipes from my childhood!

11. The Railroad Front


In Russia’s Fields

In Russia’s fields no poppies grow
There are no crosses row on row
To mark the place where they lie
No larks so gayly singing fly

As in the fields of Flanders.

We are the dead. Not long ago
We fought beside you in the snow
And gave our lives, and here we lie
Though scarcely knowing reason why

Like those who died in Flanders.

At Ust Padenga where we fell
On Railroad, Kodish, shot and shell
We faced, from just as fierce a foe
As those who sleep where poppies grow,

Our comrades brave in Flanders.

In Toulgas woods we scattered sleep,
Chekuevo aid Kitsa’s tangles creep
Across our lonely graves. At night
The doleful screech owl’s dismal flight

Heart-breaking screams in Russia.

Near Railroad bridge at Four-five-eight,
At Chamova’s woods, our bitter fate
We met. We fell before the Reds
Where wolves now howl above our heads

In far off lonely Russia.

In Shegovart’s desperate fight,
Vistavka’s siege and Seltso’s night,
In Bolsheozerk’s hemmed-in wood,
In Karpogor, till death we stood

Like they who died in Flanders.

And, Comrades, as you gather far away
In God’s own land on some bright day
And think of us who died and rest,
Just tell our folks we did our best

In far off fields of Russia.
–Anonymous

When we last saw my great-grandfather, William Bryan Robbins, who served in Company I of the 339th Infantry of the Polar Bear Division in the American North Russian Expeditionary Forces, he was recovering from influenza in or near the port city of Archangel (Arkhangelsk), North Russia. He was then sent to the railroad front at Obozerskaya.

Bryan wasn’t the only one recovering from the flu. As he and his comrades from Company I and those from Company L detrained from the railroad cars at Obozerskaya Station, they formed columns of two. The men were shaky and weak from illness, poor food at sea, and probably from fear. Most had not encountered warfare, and just outside the village they could see that the communists had recently blown up a bridge. Major Charles Young, a stickler for regulation and known for caring a bit too much for his own personal safety, called a meeting of officers. A French officer ran up and pointed out the obvious…that the destroyed bridge and shell holes nearby were evidence of a recent attack. Young gave orders for the troops to disperse to the nearby woods to gain cover.

The geography of this area can best be described as a huge river delta of 250,000 square miles, punctuated by small forests and stands of scrub pines. When the men hid in the trees at Obozerskaya, they were up to their waists in swamp water. Later, meeting up with their French guides, who were drying out their clothing over fires, the Americans began to copy them, but were commanded to stop by the major, who strictly ordered that there would be no fires under combat conditions. This was only the beginning of terrible physical and psychological strain the ANREF soldiers would endure over the next few months, battle being only one of many factors.

Small encampments of log blockhouses were made along the length of the Railroad Front, an area of about 125 square miles encompassing both sides of a 17-mile stretch of railroad which eventually led to Moscow, some 900 miles to the south. These encampments were named after the nearest “milepost”; in Russia at that time, distances were not measured in miles, but in versta, the singular being verst. A verst was equal to about 3,500 feet, just a bit more than a kilometer. Bryan’s enlistment record indicates that he was involved in “battles, engagements, skirmishes, or expeditions” at Verst 466 on 10 September and 16 September 1918, as well as one at Verst 445 from 31 March through 12 April 1919. Photos of some of the blockhouses and winter scenes can be viewed at this site, and there are some videos clips and previews available at YouTube here.

What was interesting to me as I researched this was the international aspect of this expedition. There were French, British and Royal Scots, Italian, Canadian, and Serb troops spread across the province. Among the American troops were numerous Polish immigrants who barely spoke English as well. Many had probably immigrated to the United States to avoid war and poor economic conditions in the first place and somehow found themselves back in Eastern Europe, in life-and-death struggles of survival, once again. Although these were the American North Russian Expeditionary Forces, the British had first say in all things. British lieutenants would pull major’s pips from their pockets and give orders to American and French captains, who had no choice but to comply.

With terrible living conditions (poor food, clothing, lodging, and medical supplies), one of the worst winters on record, unbearable political stress and a weak chain-of-command, it was a wonder that the men didn’t break sooner. Added to all that, of course, was the danger not only of the enemy–the Bolshevik–but also terrorist attacks from civilians with communist sympathies. Stay tuned for the next episode, “Part 12: Mutiny!”

Other posts in this series:
1. A Polar Bear in North Russia
2. The Family of Angelo and Lula Robbins
3. Bryan and Marie – A WWI Romance
4. Bryan Gets Drafted
5. Basic Training at Camp Custer
6. Getting “Over There”
7. Bryan and King George V
8. To Russia, with Influenza
9. A Letter from Mother – 25 Sep 1918
10. A Letter from Father – 7 Oct 1918

11. The Railroad Front


In Russia’s Fields

In Russia’s fields no poppies grow
There are no crosses row on row
To mark the place where they lie
No larks so gayly singing fly

As in the fields of Flanders.

We are the dead. Not long ago
We fought beside you in the snow
And gave our lives, and here we lie
Though scarcely knowing reason why

Like those who died in Flanders.

At Ust Padenga where we fell
On Railroad, Kodish, shot and shell
We faced, from just as fierce a foe
As those who sleep where poppies grow,

Our comrades brave in Flanders.

In Toulgas woods we scattered sleep,
Chekuevo aid Kitsa’s tangles creep
Across our lonely graves. At night
The doleful screech owl’s dismal flight

Heart-breaking screams in Russia.

Near Railroad bridge at Four-five-eight,
At Chamova’s woods, our bitter fate
We met. We fell before the Reds
Where wolves now howl above our heads

In far off lonely Russia.

In Shegovart’s desperate fight,
Vistavka’s siege and Seltso’s night,
In Bolsheozerk’s hemmed-in wood,
In Karpogor, till death we stood

Like they who died in Flanders.

And, Comrades, as you gather far away
In God’s own land on some bright day
And think of us who died and rest,
Just tell our folks we did our best

In far off fields of Russia.
–Anonymous

When we last saw my great-grandfather, William Bryan Robbins, who served in Company I of the 339th Infantry of the Polar Bear Division in the American North Russian Expeditionary Forces, he was recovering from influenza in or near the port city of Archangel (Arkhangelsk), North Russia. He was then sent to the railroad front at Obozerskaya.

Bryan wasn’t the only one recovering from the flu. As he and his comrades from Company I and those from Company L detrained from the railroad cars at Obozerskaya Station, they formed columns of two. The men were shaky and weak from illness, poor food at sea, and probably from fear. Most had not encountered warfare, and just outside the village they could see that the communists had recently blown up a bridge. Major Charles Young, a stickler for regulation and known for caring a bit too much for his own personal safety, called a meeting of officers. A French officer ran up and pointed out the obvious…that the destroyed bridge and shell holes nearby were evidence of a recent attack. Young gave orders for the troops to disperse to the nearby woods to gain cover.

The geography of this area can best be described as a huge river delta of 250,000 square miles, punctuated by small forests and stands of scrub pines. When the men hid in the trees at Obozerskaya, they were up to their waists in swamp water. Later, meeting up with their French guides, who were drying out their clothing over fires, the Americans began to copy them, but were commanded to stop by the major, who strictly ordered that there would be no fires under combat conditions. This was only the beginning of terrible physical and psychological strain the ANREF soldiers would endure over the next few months, battle being only one of many factors.

Small encampments of log blockhouses were made along the length of the Railroad Front, an area of about 125 square miles encompassing both sides of a 17-mile stretch of railroad which eventually led to Moscow, some 900 miles to the south. These encampments were named after the nearest “milepost”; in Russia at that time, distances were not measured in miles, but in versta, the singular being verst. A verst was equal to about 3,500 feet, just a bit more than a kilometer. Bryan’s enlistment record indicates that he was involved in “battles, engagements, skirmishes, or expeditions” at Verst 466 on 10 September and 16 September 1918, as well as one at Verst 445 from 31 March through 12 April 1919. Photos of some of the blockhouses and winter scenes can be viewed at this site, and there are some videos clips and previews available at YouTube here.

What was interesting to me as I researched this was the international aspect of this expedition. There were French, British and Royal Scots, Italian, Canadian, and Serb troops spread across the province. Among the American troops were numerous Polish immigrants who barely spoke English as well. Many had probably immigrated to the United States to avoid war and poor economic conditions in the first place and somehow found themselves back in Eastern Europe, in life-and-death struggles of survival, once again. Although these were the American North Russian Expeditionary Forces, the British had first say in all things. British lieutenants would pull major’s pips from their pockets and give orders to American and French captains, who had no choice but to comply.

With terrible living conditions (poor food, clothing, lodging, and medical supplies), one of the worst winters on record, unbearable political stress and a weak chain-of-command, it was a wonder that the men didn’t break sooner. Added to all that, of course, was the danger not only of the enemy–the Bolshevik–but also terrorist attacks from civilians with communist sympathies. Stay tuned for the next episode, “Part 12: Mutiny!”

Other posts in this series:
1. A Polar Bear in North Russia
2. The Family of Angelo and Lula Robbins
3. Bryan and Marie – A WWI Romance
4. Bryan Gets Drafted
5. Basic Training at Camp Custer
6. Getting “Over There”
7. Bryan and King George V
8. To Russia, with Influenza
9. A Letter from Mother – 25 Sep 1918
10. A Letter from Father – 7 Oct 1918

10. A Letter from Father – 7 Oct 1918

Hard to believe, but it’s been two months since I’ve written a post on the series of my great-grandfather’s service in Russia during World War I! On this Veteran’s Day weekend, I thought it appropriate to add another.

Read more about the American North Russian Expeditionary Forces at Footnote.com

On 7 October 1918, Angelo Merrick ROBBINS, Sr. wrote a letter to his son, Bryan, stationed in Russia with the American North Russian Expeditionary Forces. Unlike the earlier letter Bryan received from his mother, Angelo’s was chipper, cheerful, and patriotic:

Home in Muskegon, Oct 7 – 1918,

Dear Bryan,

Both your letters received today, that were written somewhere on the ocean. We were very much surprised to know you are going so far away, but we know that all will come out well at last.

You ask what news we hear of the war. Well, everything is panning out very well indeed and it is no longer anything of a question of time that the good old stars and stripes will wave over Berlin.

You know we keep posted as well as we can about the Great War. I have a fine wall map showing the lines of battle, sent by my company. You may rest assured that the U.S.A. is back of our boys every step of the way.

What a wonderful experience you boys must be having, and what a lot of the world you are seeing.

It is a great consolation to know that the “Devil-fish” of the seas has lost his grip, and his [power?] is rapidly passing away. Great honor and glory have been won by the Americans in France, and Lloyd’s Co. was and is now, in the thick of it. Thank God, he has so far escaped injury. They have been cutting the Boche’s lines to ribbons, and hurling the boastful Huns backward and every backward towards the Rhine. The crack Prussian guards have come to fear the furious attacks of the 125 and 126 Infantry of the good old U.S.A. And just as sure as God is in his heavans, just so sure the Germans will wish they had never been born, rather than to face a figure clad in khaki. And our armies on land and sea will be crowned by victory. During these times of world wide war, our hearts must not flinch, nor our courage falter. And, please God, the strife will soon be over, and our brave lads once more will hear the cheerful words “homeward bound.”

Muskegon lays a memorial monument for its dead. The corner stone is to be placed next

2
Monday. You must know many brave men from Muskegon have already paid “the great price.”

And, as Lincoln once said that “these honored dead shall not have died in vain, we hereby dedicate ourselves to the unfinished task.”

Of personal matters, there is not much to write. I am still traveling. Money comes in slowly, and debts accumulate. But far be it from me to complain of the battle for bread, when you all are fighting for the freedom of mankind.

I have been able to sell the car, a little cash, and notes. I have been able to buy part of my coal for winter, so we will not freeze, at least. Money is always handy when one has a family, to be sure.

Donald grows, both in body and in mischief. He is a fine little chap. Angie is improving in health, and is doing well in his studies. He says little about our absent ones, but I note a vein of seriousness in him, which is strange in one so young.

The home is just as you left it. We have a collection of war records, which we often play, and which, perhaps, make us more lonely, than they cheer.

Reva is the same. Alas, Eternity will tell the story. However terrible the inexorable facts, we learn to carry our cross, as did He of olden times.

Your mother will write to you, so I will close. Be of good cheer. He who cannot bear to see a sparrow fall, sits watch and ward over the destiny of man, and will eventually bring about smiles in the face of tears and heart-ache.

Again. Be of good cheer, and some day you will relate to us your wonderful experiences, on the other side of the world.

With unceasing love,
Your father

P.S. Greet the lads of your Co. with a hearty hand grip and “God speed” from me.

Quite a different tone from Father than from Mother, to be sure! Angelo must have known how important to morale it was to send an upbeat letter, even though, as I note, there was little actual cheerful news about the home life to be sent. Angelo, Jr. (Angie) appears to have been ill; perhaps he also had come down with the Spanish Influenza. The mention of Reva has to do with her mental illness; she most likely was living at Traverse City State Hospital in Traverse City, Grand Traverse Co., Michigan. The quote from Lincoln is from his Gettysburg Address, the scanned image of which is viewable for free at Footnote, here.

I’ve searched in vain online to find a mention or a photograph of the World War I memorial laid in Muskegon. If any of my readers can help me here, it will be much appreciated!

Other posts in this series:
1. A Polar Bear in North Russia
2. The Family of Angelo and Lula Robbins
3. Bryan and Marie – A WWI Romance
4. Bryan Gets Drafted
5. Basic Training at Camp Custer
6. Getting “Over There”
7. Bryan and King George V
8. To Russia, with Influenza
9. A Letter from Mother – 25 Sep 1918