Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Seven Years of Food Posts

Haluski

Last week’s post on slumgullion was popular. Perhaps your favorite activity was to post what they called it in your house. Goulash was the winner. Others called it American chop suey, beefaroni, and Johnny Marzetti. Then there were the more creative names: “goop,” pasta fazool, chili mac, macaroni and meat, “slop,” casserole, “Beefy barfaroni” (my favorite), “glum,” “slum,” Johnzetta, “slumgush,” “garbage,” and wishbone special. One thing I’ve learned about these things is that there is no point in insisting on the “right” name. It is whatever you called it at your house!

Food posts have been among the most popular of the posts in this series. I thought it might be fun to go back over seven years and revisit some of my favorites — and yours. Here they are from earliest to the present. If your mouth is not watering when I’m done, I question whether you are really from Youngstown!

Food. This whole series began with this post on May 10, 2014. I had been blogging less than a year. I’d written one previous post about Youngstown that was so-so. I thought I would try one more. It was a general post celebrating all the good food in Youngstown. In a couple days, over 10,000 people viewed it–something I had not had occur before. It was shared in some Youngstown Facebook groups and went viral. It persuaded me to keep writing about Youngstown and especially about food. So from time to time, I’ve written about the dishes we grew up with. [The link to Recipes of Youngstown that appears here is expired. There is a working link at the end of this article.]

Canfield Fair Food. Did you eat and drink your way through the fair? We sure did. I remembered some of our favorite foods from DiRusso’s to Strouss’ Malts to Parker’s Ice Cream.

Christmas Baking. I remember some of the things we baked during the Christmas holidays and include a scrumptious picture of pizzelles, a family favorite.

Pierogies. Many of us had them every Friday, especially during Lent, and some of our moms worked at the church pierogie sales.

Kolachi. Another one of those holiday favorites. This page gets lots of visits every Christmas and Easter. I also discovered that what we call kolachi is call “nut roll” elsewhere, and kolachi is something very different.

The Cookie Table. Only Youngstown and Pittsburgh residents know what cookie tables are and there is an ongoing dispute over who was first. I arm wrestled a Pittsburgh colleague to settle this at a Youngstown wedding. Needless to say, Youngstown won! This has been the most viewed post on my blog.

Wedding Soup. I always love returning to Youngstown to get good wedding soup. And I discovered that the “wedding” doesn’t refer to the marriage of two people but rather of greens and meat.

Haluski. Like slumgullion, this is a favorite Youngstown comfort food–a few simple ingredients with lots of variations, and a satisfied tummy at the end.

Brier Hill Pizza. This is a Youngstown original. I go into the origins of Brier Hill pizza and include some videos from St. Anthony’s Church in Brier Hill.

Tomatoes. We were a city of gardens, and we grew all kinds of tomatoes and had all kinds of ways to use them. I still grow ’em!

Elephant Ears. One of my favorite foods at the fair are elephant ears. Buy one, stroll, snack, and share, and lick the cinnamon and sugar off your fingers! I even include a video showing how to make them!

Spinning Bowl Salads. In college, we loved to go up to the 20th Century for spinning bowl salads. After posting this article, Morris Levy, one of the owners of the 20th Century, sent me a recipe, which I added to the post. Make your own!

Chicken Paprikash. This is one we owe to the Hungarian residents of the city. There is a fun video, “Cooking with Oma,” that you have to watch!

Italian Food. I write about how hard it is to find good Italian food when you are away from Youngstown, the great sauces, and all the good places to get Italian food, especially mom’s or grandmama’s kitchen.

Fried Baloney Sandwiches. My dad used to make these–the poor man’s steak. There is a backstory on this post. Facebook blocked it and kicked me off for a day because its automated censor thought my original image of frying baloney was something else. Needless to say, I changed the image!

Slumgullion. Posted just last week as I mentioned, but already highly viewed. Another one of those easily made, inexpensive comfort foods.

Some of the links in these posts no longer are live, a big problem with the internet. One of the continuing sources of information and recipes about the foods of Youngstown is the Recipes of Youngstown series. Over the years, the location where you can buy these has changed. Now Recipes of Youngstown has its own website and the cookbooks may be purchased online and in-person through the Youngstown Clothing Co. We have all three and they are great!

Well, that was fun! Food never tasted so good as it did in Youngstown. It wasn’t gourmet, it was just good. I’m glad people are keeping that alive. Hopefully this post, and those linked to it will help do that as well. And I’d love to hear about other dishes I may have forgotten.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Slumgullion

Slumgullion, Image credit: Alleko Licensed by iStock

The temperatures are starting to get cooler. The sun is lower in the sky. It brings back memories of late afternoon, after-school tag football games at Borts Field. By the time I got home and cleaned up, I was starved! At least I thought so.

One of the favorite comfort foods mom made was slumgullion. It was also called goulash, American goulash, American chop suey, or if it came out of a can, Beefaroni. In Columbus, where I now live, there is a cheesier version, known as Johnny Marzetti from its origins at Marzetti’s Restaurant in Columbus. In both my family and my wife’s, it was slumgullion.

At its most basic, slumgullion used macaroni noodles (or penne), 1-2 pounds of ground beef, onions, and tomato sauce (or pasta sauce or marinara). Whereas Johnny Marzetti adds a thick layer of cheddar cheese and was baked as a casserole, you might sprinkle grated cheddar over the top of the dish after all the ingredients were mixed and you’d be set.

Basically, you boiled your pasta, while sautéing your onions (and whatever else you added, like garlic, celery, chopped tomatoes, and peppers) and then adding your ground beef and browning it, draining off the fat. Then you added your sauce and your favorite herb-spice blend, heat it all through, and then mix it in with your pasta, sprinkle cheese over it, warm it through if needed and serve!

Seasoning is where you really make this dish yours. You can go for a traditional Italian mix of Italian seasoning, oregano, basil, rosemary, and parsley. I’ve also seen versions of the recipe with taco seasoning, or Indian curry. I might add my condiment of choice, sriracha sauce to add some zip. This is one of those dishes where “season to taste” is the rule.

It was the perfect working class meal for those cool autumn evenings. It was simple to make, filling, and inexpensive and made the house smell wonderful. Chances are, sooner or later you would have dinner with a friend and then there was the dilemma of whose mom made the best slumgullion. If you were smart, you just said it was “real good” and kept your thoughts to yourself.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Pot Roast

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The roast on our stove, with an hour to go. Yes, we covered it after taking this picture.

It could be a brisk fall day when you were out playing touch football with your friends or a cold winter afternoon after you had delivered your papers. You come into a house pervaded by the savory smell of a pot roast simmering on the stove. You can’t wait to sit down to the dinner, and mom tells you it still has an hour to go.

That’s the smell driving me wild as I write this post, that has been filling our house all afternoon. Just before writing, I took the picture above, having helped my wife chop potatoes, carrots, and onions to cook for the last hour or so–only an hour more to endure of having my mouth water before we get to sit down and enjoy melt in your mouth meat with all the fixings. Maybe writing this will distract me.

This is another one of those perfect working class meals–hearty, filling, and inexpensive. The pot roast was an inexpensive cut of meat, a chuck roast or shoulder roast, tenderized by those hours of slow cooking. Potatoes, carrots, onions, flour, salt and pepper, garlic and other seasonings like thyme (we use a spice mix that includes marjoram and cinnamon as well). We use a half and half mix of water and beef broth, which brings out the meat flavor.

We start by dredging the meat in a mix of flour, salt and pepper, and then browning it in a pan. Then we put it into our cook pot covering the meat with our mix of water and beef broth and seasonings to simmer for three to three and a half hours on our stove top. (Some bake in their ovens.) Then we add the potatoes, carrots, and onions, and some additional seasoning and cook for another hour. We don’t like to add these at the start because we want them tender, not mushy. We split the servings and have dinner ready for the next day as well.

The basic test of doneness is the meat is fork tender–you can cut it with your fork. What’s Cooking America recommends that the internal temperature of your pot roast should be 180° F.

It is amazing how smells bring back memories as well as make your mouth water and your stomach growl. I think of all those times I came home to those savory smells, and remember my mom who had to think up dinner every day.

Well, the roast is about ready so I better stop. Have I made your mouth water yet?

I suspect there are as many ways to do a roast as there are readers of this post. Would love to hear your special tips!

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Fried Balogna (Baloney) Sandwiches

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Fried balogna sandwich. Photo by: bnpositive [CC BY-SA 2.0} via Flickr

What could be more working class Youngstown than fried balogna sandwiches? It is the essence of simplicity on a budget. It packs a lot of calories (not necessarily healthy ones) in a compact package. All it takes is a skillet, a little bit of cooking oil, balogna slices, good old American processed cheese slices, white bread, and some mustard. Sure, you can get a lot fancier. You can substitute buns, different condiments, and so forth. I’ve seen recipes with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pepper slices, mayonnaise, pickles, pickle relish–even potato chips. You can add a fried egg, kind of the poor man’s sausage egg sandwich! My favorite sandwich topping is mustard, pickle relish, and dabs of sriracha sauce. But I digress…we didn’t grow up with sriracha sauce! Or you can keep it simple.

A few tips I’ve picked up. Frying the balogna on both sides twice gives a nice crunchy edge. You may want to add some seasoning (your favorite) and/or pepper to bring out the flavor. Slicing the balogna from the edge toward the center helps prevent the “pucker” you see in the picture above so that it fries more evenly. I like the bread toasted which seems a complement to the fried balogna. Good old fashioned yellow mustard seems the most authentic but I’d go with your favorite condiment–or skip it altogether and enjoy that fried taste of the balogna–so much richer than out of the package. You can melt the cheese on a slice for the last 5 seconds–more and you have a mess–or you can just put it on afterwards. Fried balogna sandwiches are the epitome of freedom and simplicity.

It’s funny how we delighted in such simple things. I loved when dad would make fried balogna sandwiches. I suspect mom did too, because it was a break from cooking. First the kitchen smelled heavenly, then the sandwich took you there. I suspect there was a time when you could feed a family of four for a buck–and we loved it.

It was not the stuff of a steady diet. But for a Saturday lunch or Sunday evening light meal–a weekend treat–it was perfect.

I suspect you have lots of memories (hopefully good ones) of fried balogna sandwiches. I’d love to hear them. How did you make them? And do you still?

Thinking about this post has had me eyeing that pack of balogna in the fridge all day…

Review: The Living Temple

the living temple

The Living Temple, Carl E. Braaten and LaVonne Braaten. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2016 (originally published in 1976).

Summary: A theology focusing on our physical bodies as dwelling places for the Spirit of God and the implications for the food we eat, including the problems of processed, chemical-laden foods full of empty calories.

This is a book I wish I had read in 1976 when it was first published. It might have led to amendments in my own diet much sooner. More than this, it might have led to a more thoughtful perspective on one thing we all have in common, our bodies. What the Braatens offer in this brief work is a theology of the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, countering the incipient Gnosticism and other worldly spirituality that the church has been dealing with throughout its history. It is not from Christianity which throughout its scriptures attests to a healthy body-theology, but from Greek Dionysian myths that the idea of body as evil comes to us. Sadly, over-spiritualized versions (and maybe over-intellectualized ones) deny our embodied existence, and lead us to a sad neglect of our bodies.

Much of the neglect that the Braatens focus on concerns the food we eat. While food cannot make us ritually and spiritually unclean, it certainly can pollute and deplete the temple of the Holy Spirit. They focus much of their attention on chemically treated and supplemented food and highly processed foods like white bread and white sugar. Presciently, they speak of a growing movement toward healthy, organically grown foods in which groceries would be forced to give over more space to organic foods.

They also see a connection between our care for our bodies and our care for the earth. They write:

“We are to our individual bodies what the whole body of mankind is to the earth. Our attitudes regarding our bodies reflect and express the way we look at the world around us. It is downright silly, for example, to fight for clean air in the city and then suck cigarette smoke into our lungs. We must learn that we are dovetailed into the world. We simply die without day-to-day communion with the vital systems of the good earth. Good body ecology is the key to the renewal of the earth on a global scale” (p. 67).

I do wish this work could have been revised rather than simply re-printed. It suffers in places from what is probably outdated nutritional advice. Yet some things, like the concern about nitrites, are right on target and only now being addressed. At times the authors make sweeping statements railing against big business without substantiation. Yet their fundamental case concerning the food processing industry, the values of organic foods and moving away from a meat-laden diet, path-breaking then, is increasingly common wisdom. In sum, they still get more right than wrong.

Christians are just discovering a theology of our embodied life and working out the implications of this in various areas of self-care. What makes this book so interesting is that it anticipates by forty years work only now being done and articulates both theological grounds and concrete action, and with remarkable brevity. Wipf & Stock is to be commended for bringing back into print this pioneering work.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — Italian Food

spaghetti-with-meat-sauceIt is surprising to me how many Youngstown people I run across in my travels and there is one question we always ask each other sooner or later: “Have you found any good Italian food where you live?”

I was reminded of this because I ate recently at one of the Italian restaurant chains. Actually, the food was decent, pretty good red sauce, cheeses, and pasta. But it was nothing like what we could find at dozens of places around Youngstown when I was growing up.

Where was the best Italian food in Youngstown? My best guess is that most people would answer, “my mama’s kitchen.” And if not that, it was probably a grandmother, or an aunt who knew how to make that good red sauce, moist and flavorful meatballs over pasta cooked just the right length of time. I remember a time in college when we were hanging out at a friend’s house whose mom was making us home made spaghetti. The smell of that sauce simmering just about drove me nuts! But the wait was worth it.

As my wife and I were comparing notes about good places in Youngstown to get Italian, she reminded me that most of the time, we didn’t eat out that much growing up, so it just made sense that the best place to get good Italian was at home. And even if not, you didn’t say that to mom! Chances are, someone’s mom in the neighborhood made good Italian, and you could probably wrangle a dinner invite!

Of course, there were many good places to go for Italian. In fact, any self-respecting cook in a neighborhood bar probably made better Italian food than you can find in many big cities in this country. In downtown Youngstown, there was the Ringside and the Italian Restaurant. On the North side, there was Avalon Gardens and you could get good spaghetti at the 20th Century.  Over in Smoky Hollow there was the MVR.

On the South side my wife and I used to go to Palazzo’s when we were dating (I also took my senior prom date there in high school!). Of course there were many other great places like the Elmton, that served pizza, but also a full menu of good Italian. There was also Antones, that opened up several other restaurants in the area eventually. And there was the favorite hangout of many in the Uptown area, the Pizza Oven.

Recently we had a speaker at Ohio State who ate at the Royal Oaks while researching an article on Youngstown. I was glad to hear the Royal Oaks was still going strong. He loved it! He even mentions it in his article on “A World Without Work.”

On the West side, we used to go to Michaelangelo’s, Marino’s and Lucianno’s. Then there was the strip between Niles and Warren that had a number of good places — Alberini’s, Cafe 422, Abruzzi’s, just to name a few. We have friends up north of the city, and we often run over to Muscarelli’s in Sharpsville, PA for some good Italian.

I suspect you are reading this and saying, “but what about…?” From reading Classic Restaurants of Youngstown I’m aware that there were a ton of other great places, many that lived and died before I ever got to them. Perhaps you know of some of these places. I’d love for you to tell the story of your favorite Italian place, or even that Italian grandmama who made the best red sauce ever. Just leave a comment here (or even a recipe!) and it will also become part of the story of good Italian food in Youngstown!

Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — Mama’s Kitchen

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Part of the Recipes of Youngstown Committee. From left to right: John Heasley, Bobbi Ennett Allen, Keith Evans, Ernie DiRenzo, JoAnn Donahue, Patty Gahagan Ruby, and Bobbie Snyder Chalky. Photo courtesy Cheryl Staib-Lewis.

One of the most wonderful memories of growing up was to walk into the house at dinner time and to smell those wonderful smells emerging from the kitchen. It could be the herbs and special ingredients in mom’s spaghetti sauce, or the fried onions and garlic in the dish with sausage and peppers, or the delicious smell of that roast that has been simmering for hours and is so tender it melts in your mouth. For many of us in working class Youngstown, the kitchen was our favorite room of the house.

Then there are all those special occasions–holiday baking or the week-long frenzy that goes into the perfect cookie table. There are all those big family gatherings–the perfect turkey, or ham or New Year’s Eve calamari. Some of us have inherited those favorite recipes and others of us wish we had.

There is a chance to bring back all those memories, and all those delicious smells and tastes. Bobbi Ennett Allen and her Recipes of Youngstown crew are hosting “Memories of Mama’s Kitchen” on May 7 from noon to 4 pm at the Tyler History Center, in conjunction with Mother’s Day weekend. Bobbi and her team will wear old-fashioned aprons, offering tastings of 30 recipes from Recipes of Youngstown. You will have a chance to see the 1948 Youngstown Kitchen exhibit at the Tyler. There will be a basket raffle, a 50/50 drawing and a grand prize raffle. All this is being done with the hope of reaching the $50,000 goal for the Recipes of Youngstown Kitchen that will be dedicated at 2 pm. Cookbook sales, previous tastings, and pierogi and Brier Hill pizza sales have them oh-so close.

Of course both the first and second Recipes of Youngstown  will be available for sale. We have both and have bought a number for friends and family from Youngstown. They make great gifts. Your Youngstown friends will love you!

So, if you are anywhere near Youngstown on May 7, make sure to take in this event, the culmination of efforts that began when a group of friends created a Facebook group and began sharing recipes. And if not, you can always buy  Recipes 2 here and support the Mahoning Valley Historical Society’s Recipes of Youngstown kitchen..

 

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — My Bucket List

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The Butler Institute of American Art (c)Robert Trube, 2014

I’ve been thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. One of these is to plan some time hanging out in Youngstown. One of things I’ve realized writing these posts is that while I have a lot of good memories of Youngstown, there are a number of things I haven’t experienced, or checked out recently, or that are new since I’ve spent much time in Youngstown. There is a great post on the Defend Youngstown blog of 50 Things To Do in Youngstown. It’s a great list that reflects how rich Youngstown’s ethnic and cultural life still is. Here’s the “bucket list” I came up with, at least my top ten:

  1. Dorian Books. I’m a bookstore junkie if you haven’t noticed. I love to write reviews of indie bookstores I come across in my journeys and this one looks interesting.
  2. I want to get to the Arms Family Museum of Local History and the Tyler History Center. I’ve never visited the Tyler and visited the Arms Museum back in college days before I realized how much I like local history.
  3. The Royal Oaks has come up so often as the quintessential Youngstown bar. Not being an east sider, I never got there. Their ribs sound incredible.
  4. The Youngstown Business Incubator sounds like a fascinating place. Jim Cossler must be the ultimate networker because he’s even connected with me on LinkedIn. Gotta meet this guy.
  5. I’ve had many Brier Hill pizzas but never one from St. Anthony’s. I’d love to see this place and what the Brier Hill neighborhood is like these days.
  6. I want to buy some Mill Creek Maple Syrup made by the Rocky Ridge Neighbors. We love tasting maple syrups from different areas but have never had any from our own. Of course some meandering around the park would be in order as well!
  7. You can’t understand your Youngstown heritage without understanding the steel industry. The Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor is relatively new and sounds like a great place to learn about that heritage. Another museum for the history junkie!
  8. You gotta get some good Italian food in Youngstown. I haven’t been to Cassese’s MVR since the ’80s. Hope they are still good. Any other recommendations?
  9. We’ve been wanting for some time to get a good pizza at the Elmton. Every time I hear of people from Y’town going there, my mouth waters!
  10. A visit to the Butler is like seeing old friends and making new ones. One of my “old friends” is Robert Vonnoh’s In Flanders Field-Where Soldiers Sleep and Poppies Grow.

That’s my bucket list and probably reflects my own quirky tastes. For others of you not living in Youngstown, what’s on your bucket list? For those who do live in Youngstown, what would you recommend that I’m missing (it was tough to choose just ten, which will take a couple visits at least I suspect)?

Like what you see here? You can check out all my other Youngstown posts by clicking “On Youngstown” on the blog menu.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Top 10

This is the time of the year where people are posting all sorts of Top Ten lists for 2015, and so I thought you all might enjoy seeing what were the top ten “Youngstown” posts in 2015, based on number of views. I will just give the topic for each post without the “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown”. Each topic is linked back to the original post. Enjoy!

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The Open Hearth Bar on Steel Street, Photo by Tony Tomsic, Special Collections, Cleveland State University Library

10. Neighborhood BarsWritten on the occasion of the closing of the Boulevard Tavern, I reflect on how bars were a rich part of the fabric of neighborhoods in Youngstown.

9. PierogiesOne of the staples of Friday night dinners during Lent. Numerous churches in the area sold them as fund-raisers.

8. SleddingI posted about a number of the places I went sledding growing up and you added memories like “Suicide Hill.”

7. The Three “F’s” of ChristmasJust posted. If you didn’t see it, can you guess what they were?

WHOT Good Guys6. WHOTDo you remember the Good Guys, who we not only listened to on the radio, but met at dances and WHOT days at Idora Park?

5. Brier Hill PizzaYou know you are from Youngstown if you know what a Brier Hill pizza is. I throw in some history and videos in this one!

4. Boardman RollercadeA favorite hangout for many of us growing up. Many of you shared memories of the Kalasky family who ran the place.

3. Front PorchesYour response to this one surprised me! So many shared memories of sleeping out on porches on summer nights or watching TV on the porch.

2. The Cookie TableAnother of those “you know you are from Youngstown if” kinds of things. Most people, other than those from Pittsburgh, don’t even know about this tradition, and nobody does it better!

And the top post of 2015, drumroll please….!

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Kolachi or nut rolls. By Hu Totya (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

1. Kolachi. We love these nut rolls, even though it takes a lot of effort to make them. And consistent with last year, a food post was the top post once again. We do love our food if we are from Youngstown!

I’ve loved interacting with so many of you on Facebook or on the blog. You’ve made writing about our home town such a blast. Happy New Year!

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Three “F’s” of Christmas

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Our nativity scene from my wife’s family

This will be my last new “Youngstown” post before Christmas. I thought I would take a few moments to reflect on the three “F’s” that defined Christmas for many of us who grew up in Youngstown: faith, family, and food.

Faith was important in many of our families. It was “the reason for the season.” It was about remembering the birth of Christ. We had Advent calendars in some of our families building our anticipation of Christmas eve and Christmas day. Many of us grew up dressing up as shepherds, wise men, or Joseph or Mary as we retold the story of the nativity. Some of us remember candlelight services concluding in candlelit darkness singing “Silent Night.”My wife remembers midnight masses where at midnight the baby Jesus was placed in the nativity scene at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church.

Family gatherings were big in Youngstown. On my wife’s side, her father and his brothers all lived in the same part of town (Brownlee Woods and Poland) and the brothers would go from one house to another over the course of the holidays. I remember gatherings at my grandparents as a child with cousins from Texas and a living room full of people gathered around the Christmas tree (after we had gathered around the dining room table). We still have that table and buffet in our home, it having passed from my grandparents to my parents to us. Boy, my grandmother could cook, and I’m reminded of her whenever I see these pieces of furniture.

And that brings me to food, the third big part of any Youngstown Christmas. There were all those cookies  and candies–snowballs and rum balls, bow ties and clothes pins, pizzelles and kolachi, iced sugar cookies and peppermint bark. There was often a big dinner–a ham and sweet potatoes, or roast chicken or turkey and mashed potatoes. The challenge was often saving room for the next family gathering.

Faith, family, and food were important themes not just at Christmas but throughout the year in working class Youngstown. Faith wasn’t something you “wore on your sleeve” in some kind of showy way, but it was always a part of life. Families were hardly perfect, but somehow there for you when the chips were down and at any big life event. And good food (often accompanied with plentiful drink!) marked any celebration.

As I close, I would love to hear your memories of faith, family and food at Christmas. And I want to extend my own wishes that this upcoming holiday will be filled with all of the best for you! Merry Christmas, Youngstown!