Thursday, March 19, 2015

THE PA MELTING POT: Carpatho-Rusyns or Carpatho-Russians

The Melting Pot:  A look at the evolution of food in southwestern Pa.  Part 3 – B Carpatho-Rusyns

Who were the Carpatho-Russians or Carpatho-Rusyns?  

There are 1.2 million people of Rusyn origin in Europe which includes the area of the Carpathian Mountains: Bulgaria, Poland, the Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Romania, Austria-Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia=Herzegovina, and a former Russian state.  Since they didn’t have their own country (although they had their own language – Rusyn) when they immigrated to the US they used their country of origin so it is difficult to tell which Poles, which Bulgarians and those from the countries above were really Carpatho-Russians.  We can guess that that there are about 620,000 Americans who have at least one ancestor of Carpatho-Rusyn background.

The most famous American of Carpatho-Rusyn descent was Andy Warhol, the pop artist, photographer, and filmmaker who attended the Byzantine Rite Catholic Church in Pittsburgh's Rusyn Valley aka the Four Mile Run (in the Oakland/Greenfield area).  In Pittsburgh the top 10 Rusyn/Russian zip codes contain 1.75% to 8.2% Russians and/or Carpatho-Rusyns.

Although the vast majority of Carpatho-Rusyns who came to the US before World War I left small villages where they worked as farmers or as livestock herders, they found employment in the eastern PA coal mines but even more important for the Carpatho-Rusyns was the growing steel industry of the Pittsburgh area.  The steel mills employed most Carpatho-Rusyns who lived in western Pennsylvania and neighboring Ohio.

By 1920, nearly 80 percent of all Carpatho-Rusyns lived in only three states: Pennsylvania (54 percent), New York and New Jersey. This settlement pattern has been retained by the descendants although many have migrated to the surrounding suburbs.

According to the Ambridge Connection Website there are 60,000 people of Carpatho-Rusyn background in western Pa. There is an annual festival held in August in Ambridge, Pa.  There are also festivals in Uniontown and Erie. If you count the 16 ethnic groups from the Carpathian Mountains 22% of Uniontown’s and 17% of Pittsburgh’s population is made up of these groups. There is a Rusyn-Carpathian Society in Munhall, PA and a radio broadcast every Sunday at 2:30 pm which is also available on the Society’s website.   

CUISINE:   Since the Carpatho-Rusyns lived in so many different countries their cuisine is a mélange from those countries:  

Halupki (Russian/Ukrainian dish made of rice, beef and pork encased in cabbage drizzled with a thin, sweet tomato sauce),   Haluski/Halusky (thick, soft noodles or dumplings cooked in the Central and Eastern European cuisines and served with cabbage and onion), Pirohy/Pierogie (Slovakian dumplings of unleavened dough – first boiled, then  served with melted butter or various toppings, or then fried with onions – traditionally stuffed with potato filling, sauerkraut, ground meat, cheese, or fruit), Pulnina/Manzat pâinii (Slovakian/Romanian veal loaf), Kielbasa (Polish sausage), Borscht (Russian/Ukrainian beet soup), (Studenina (Polish jellied pig’s feet), Kislaya Kapusta (Russian sauerkraut), Latke/Latka (Russian/Ukrainian/Polish potato pancakes), Paska breads and Pagach (Rusyn/Russian pizza which is dough spread with potatoes and cheese or sauerkraut and baked in butter).  

Beer, wine, juices, and carbonated water/flavored sodas, Slivovica (plum brandy) and Borovicka (gin) are popular.

Desserts include Cheregei/Ponchiki/Paczki (Slovak, Russian/Polish filled and/or not filled donut – filled use classic flavors like strawberry, blueberry and custard), Rusyn Multilayered Tortes often filled with apricot and 
Mák rolích (Czechoslovakian poppy seed rolls).

Christine Willard, a native of western Pennsylvania, researches and blogs about the food unique to western Pennsylvania. She currently resides in North Carolina. Her blog is www.ThePAMeltingPot.com.