Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Recipes of Youngstown Volume 3

Recipes LargeIt just could be that I am about the last person from Youngstown to find out about the latest addition to the Recipes of Youngstown series. I posted a picture last week of my “Youngstown library” which includes the first two volumes in the series, only to get a raft of comments about the latest addition to the collection. Volume Three is now available and may be picked up at the Arms Family Museum (if you can get to it with the Wick Avenue construction) or the Tyler History Center during regular hours (Tuesday-Sunday from Noon to 4:00 p.m.). You may also purchase copies for yourself and friends online at the Mahoning Valley Historical Society website. I just ordered mine.

As I’ve come to expect, the people behind Recipes of Youngstown Volume 3 came up with another great cause to support and some great ways to support it. On May 13 from 12-4 pm at the Tyler Mahoning Valley History Center, there will be a formal launch of the cookbook and a tasting event that will feature at least 30 recipes from Volume 3. Proceeds from the tasting and from cookbook sales both at the event and elsewhere will help establish a scholarship fund for veterans attending Youngstown State. Appropriately, the event is being billed “From Mess Hall to Mom’s Kitchen.”

Similar to other events this group has hosted, it will include the opportunity for tasting all these delicious recipes. You may purchase six tasting coupons for $5. There will also be a basket raffle and prizes, and a Best Cobbler Contest. Of course you will be able to purchase copies of Recipes of Youngstown Volume 3 (and probably the other volumes as well).

Here’s a list off of the Recipes of Youngstown Facebook page of the dishes lined up so far:

Johnny Marzetti
Shrimp Cocktail for a Crowd
Potato Pasties
Chex Mix
Homemade Italian Sausage
City Chicken w/ Mashed Potatoes
Baked Beans w/Kielbasa
Creamed Chip Beef on Toast
BBQ Smoked Pulled Pork Sliders w/Coleslaw
Ham & Bean Soup w/ Corn Bread
Sloppy Joes
Banana Bread
California Onion Potatoes W/Green Beans
Bolony Salad Sliders
Bean n Greens
Potato Pancakes
Chicken over Rice/Orzo
BBQ chicken
Summer Corn & Tomato Salad
Zucchini Pancakes
Daffodil Dip
Ham Rolls
Betty’s Potato Salad
Walnut Apple Cake
Tequila Lime Chicken
Mexican Rice
Mini Cupcakes
Potato Leek Soup w/French Baguette
Apple &/or Cherry Pie Wine
Zlevanka (Croatian Cheesecake)
Croatian Sliders (Mini Burgers)
Coconut Wine
Dago Red
Italian Beef Stew

This list makes my mouth water just to read it.

I have to admit that I am so amazed at what a group of Facebook friends who loved talking about and sharing Youngstown recipes has accomplished over the last four years, publishing three cookbooks, hosting a number of fun events, and funding three worthwhile projects in the Youngstown community. It seems to me that these folks bring together some of the best of what Youngstown is about:

  • Good food shared together.
  • Love for all things Youngstown.
  • A “go getter” spirit that sees a need and acts rather than waits for others.

If you are in or around Youngstown on May 13, why not stop by. And if not, you can always order a cookbook (or several for other Youngstown friends) and bring a taste of Youngstown to wherever you live!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Chicken Paprikash

The cold of winter means this is a great time for comfort food–dishes that warm and fill you and provide energy for cleaning off the walks and braving the snows of northeast Ohio. Glancing through volume one of Recipes of Youngstown reminded me of one of the standby comfort dishes in many of our households (and school cafeterias staffed by Youngstown mommas)–chicken paprikash.

We need to thank the Hungarian immigrants to Youngstown for this dish (paprikás csirke or csirkepaprikás in Hungarian), whose name comes obviously from the chicken that is used and the sweet (not hot!) Hungarian paprika used in the recipe. At the end, I will point you to some recipes (I don’t have one of my own) and a really cool video I found on making this dish.

It starts with melted shortening in which you brown, not burn chopped onions (some also like to add garlic, or celery and carrots, green peppers, and chopped tomatoes). After browning you add in the paprika and combine all this, then put in your chicken pieces, making sure they are coated with the mixture and salted and seasoned to taste. Then you add water (some recipes add chicken broth, which may add some flavor) so the mixture doesn’t stick to your pot, and to create the “stock base” for your sour cream gravy which you will make later.  Cook the chicken thoroughly on medium low heat for an hour, then remove it, saving the mixture of water, paprika and onion, to which you add cornstarch to thicken and sour cream for richness. Toward the end, you will also make the nokedli, a type of Hungarian, dumpling-like egg noodle (you can also use regular egg noodles or rice, though this is not as authentically Hungarian). You can buy pre-made nokedli in an ethnic grocery and prepare as you would egg noodles, or make your own for even more authentic taste, if you have the time.

To serve, place the chicken pieces over the nokedli, and coat with the gravy and you have a great comfort food! What I always remember as well is how delicious this makes a house smell–mouth-wateringly so!

As I mentioned there are a couple of recipes in the first volume of Recipes of Youngstown (the link is to a site where you can order this and its sequel!). One is from college friend, Lynne Stephens, which came to her through her mother from her Hungarian mother-in-law. The editors must have thought it so good that it appears twice, on pages 103 and 123! Also, on page 128 you will find “Nancy Inglefield’s Chicken Paprikash” which includes instructions for making egg dumplings.

I also located a delightful video demonstration of making chicken paprikash that is part of the “Cooking with Oma” videos. If nothing else, this is a delight to watch just to listen to the accent of this Hungarian “Oma” and to see her billowy white house dress, and her explanation of why she wears it! It’s longer than some of the other videos, but it just seemed the most authentic.

Characteristic of Youngstown food, there is nothing fancy (or at least no fancier than sour cream)–just basic ingredients and inexpensive chicken, but a unique way to present chicken that is perfect for those cold winter nights.

What were your memories of chicken paprikash? Any recipe secrets to the perfect chicken paprikash that you would care to share?

Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — Mama’s Kitchen

mamas kitchen gang

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 — Wedding Soup



Wedding soup“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

I was thinking about wedding soup, having seen some Youngstown friends talking about making a huge batch for family gatherings at Christmas. That seems so right–such a warm and heartening and festive soup for a festive time! Easter also is a popular time, but really anytime is a good time for wedding soup as far as I’m concerned. When I worked at McKelvey’s the women in customer service regularly loved to go over to the Italian Restaurant for their wedding soup. I was a stock boy at the time, probably on more of a Jay’s budget!

It’s interesting that the name “wedding soup” doesn’t refer to its being served at weddings. In Italian, it is minestra maritata which literally means “married soup”, referring to the marriage of greens and meat in the soup.

That brings us to the basic ingredients of wedding soup: tiny meatballs and greens (escarole, endive and spinach being the most common, with some parsley mixed in for flavor) in a clear chicken broth or stock, seasoned to taste. Often hard-boiled eggs and parmesan cheese will be beaten and drizzled into the broth as it is stirred.  Some will add pasta or orzo, but in one place I read that no good Youngstowner would do this! Others add croutons, but I’ve never had it that way. I’ve also seen recipes with beans or lentils or shredded chicken (particularly where the broth or stock came from actually cooking a chicken!). I would probably say the simpler the better, with the secrets being the meatball recipe, fresh greens, good broth and seasonings.

I say this as a lover of good wedding soup, not a cook. I suspect there are those out there who want a recipe. I really don’t have one of my own but can point you to some that look pretty good (and would be glad for you to post yours if you think you can do better!).

DiRusso’s has a recipe for “Grandma’s wedding soup” on their recipes page. It starts with a whole fryer and includes pastina. There are a couple of wedding soup recipes in the first volume of Recipes of Youngstown (pages 29-30), and another one in volume two of Recipes of Youngstown (page 48). Then here is what looks to be a relatively easy recipe from the Food Network, complete with video. Each is a bit different, and I suspect that any of you who make your own wedding soup has a recipe that is different from any of these.

I hear there was a wedding soup competition in Akron this past summer and one on the South Side of Pittsburgh last February. Has this been done in Youngstown? I did learn that the Wick Park Neighborhood Association recently did a Wedding Soup in Wick Park fundraiser for improvements to the park — a great idea — with soup from Kravitz’s Deli.

Personally, I think it’s time for a wedding soup-off in Youngstown, if it hasn’t happened already! I suspect you could have both a restaurant competition and an individual one. For me, that would be heaven in a soup bowl!

I can see why wedding soup is such a quintessential Youngstown food. It is simple, sustaining, and invites that endless improvising that Youngstown cooks are so good at. And it is the perfect complement to a family gathering during those cold brisk days of winter.



Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Cookie Table

(c) Mahoning Valley Historical Society

(c) Mahoning Valley Historical Society Used with permission

It is wedding season again. And if you are from Youngstown, this also means that it is cookie table season again! The cookie table is one of the distinctive wedding traditions of Youngstown. There is an ongoing dispute with Pittsburgh as to which was the city of origin of this dispute. A friend of mine from Pittsburgh and I settled this at a wedding (in Youngstown, with a fantastic cookie table) by arm-wrestling for the cookie table title. Youngstown was victorious–which for us Youngstowners was simply confirming the truth of what we already knew!

Everything I’ve read about cookie tables proposes that the idea of cookie tables was born in depression-era working class families where it was just plain too expensive to buy a wedding cake. The tradition involves families and friends of the bride and groom going into a baking frenzy in the weeks prior to the wedding making every imaginable cookie from clothes pins, to kolachi, to pizzelles, to peanut butter blossoms with Hershey kisses to Ohio’s favorite, the buckeye (peanut butter balls with butter, vanilla, and confectioners sugar mixed together and coated with chocolate on the sides preserving a peanut butter top–hence buckeye).

The result are tables and tables of cookies available throughout the wedding reception. A considerate couple will provide snack bags so you can take home a stash (and with a good cookie table there is always plenty left over) that guests can nibble on over the next several days while having fond thoughts of the bride and groom.

There is something I’ve been a bit curious about. My wife and I both grew up in Youngstown until moving away in the mid 1970s. And as we’ve talked and compared notes, we don’t remember cookie tables at weddings growing up, or at least cookie tables being the big deal they are at Youngstown wedding receptions now. I do remember lots of great food including the great ethnic dishes we are famous for. There was a cake, and maybe there were some cookies. But we both went to a number of weddings and we can’t honestly say that we remember this tradition from our growing up years.

Perhaps we led sheltered lives and just missed the weddings where this was a big deal. I’d love for my friends from Youngstown who follow this blog to set me straight on this one, particularly if you have pictures from the 70s or earlier of cookie tables, or even some family memories. And I’d also be curious if there are others who are like us and can’t remember cookie tables until more recently.

My hunch is that there were parts of the community that were doing this probably from at least the Depression. But I also wonder if there has been an embrace of this tradition over the last twenty to thirty years where it has truly become an all-Youngstown tradition and a point of pride for us. That this is true is clearly the case. I discovered that in the part of town where I grew up the Rocky Ridge Neighbors have a monthly cookie table. The Mahoning Valley Historical Society has an annual Cookie Table and Cocktails night with a cookie contest. There is even a new book of essays on Youngstown history coming out titled Car Bombs to Cookie Tables.  All the Recipes of Youngstown Cookbooks have a number of cookie recipes good for cookie tables and other occasions. No Youngstown wedding these days is complete without a cookie table, and no wedding anywhere else quite measures up without one!

Good community traditions are important in defining a community as a good place to live. This is one of our good ones. Even if it is one that I just didn’t know about, notice or remember growing up, the plain fact of the matter is that this is one of the things that makes Youngstown special and it is so good to see all the ways Youngstown is sustaining that tradition.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown: Recipes of Youngstown (2)

Recipes of Youngstown 2The long awaited package of joy appeared in our mailbox on Thursday. Some months ago, we had learned that a new Recipes of Youngstown was in the works. Having been thoroughly delighted by the first volume, we didn’t hesitate for a moment to send in our pre-order. But we did find ourselves wondering whether after 500 recipes covering Youngstown staples from pierogies to pizzelles and chip-chopped ham to halushki, what was left?

Not to worry, the contributors to this cookbook dug up from attics and cookbooks from grandparents a delightful and diverse plethora of new recipes. First the diversity. The last cookbook had a number of those Italian and Eastern European recipes as well as things like Idora fries that we all grew up with. This cookbook reflects a wider diversity of Turkish, Greek, Danish, German, Portuguese and Mexican recipes and more!

Then there is the delightful part. I have always loved good Youngstown wedding soup and there are a couple of recipes, including one by the guiding force behind this enterprise, Bobbi Ennett Allen, with detailed instructions. I think even I could make a decent wedding soup with these! Patty’s Gazpacho looks to die for! I can almost taste “Uncle Tony’s Slow-Roasted Chipotle Pork Roast or Short Ribs”.

Of course one of the reasons for a second cookbook is that there were many good recipes for making those dishes we love, from kolachis to clothespin cookies and lasagna to linguini. And one cool feature of this cookbook was that it preserved some of the Facebook comments that offered tips and variations on these recipes. This cookbook was truly a community effort.

The cookbook is organized similarly to the previous edition with the following sections: In the Beginning (appetizers), Hot and Hearty (soups and stews), Sidelines (salads, sides, and veggies), Raised Right! (breads, rolls, and pizza), Gather ‘Round the Table (meats, casseroles, pasta, sauces, breakfast, and miscellaneous), Lunchbox (sandwiches), Something Old, Something New (cookies, candies and snacks), Youngstown Can! and Does! (canning and preserves), Youngstown Spirits Thrive! (Hooch), and a Sweet Ending (pastries, sweet breads, desserts, fillings and frostings). Is your mouth watering yet?

One of the new additions to this cookbook were the illustrations of David Schwartz and the characters of Aunt Bessie and Uncle Guido. “Aunt Bessie was the one who showed up to care for the family when mom was under the weather….” Uncle Guido…”was the guy who let you have a sip of his beer; the guy who dumped your veggies into the trash along with his…”[from overleaf between pages 118-119]. Schwartz is a 1972 Rayen grad who went on to a great career in animation with Darkwing Duck, the Simpsons, Rugrats, The Flintstones among his credits.

Similar to the last cookbook, the overleafs of the section dividers have fun features from “You Know You’re from Youngstown If” to tributes from principle contributors to their own “Aunt Bessie” to “A Message from Grandma” with all sorts of grandmotherly cooking advice like, “to keep potatoes from budding in the bag, put an apple in with them!”

The proceeds from this cookbook will support another great Youngstown institution, the Mahoning Valley Historical Society and its “Recipes of Youngstown” kitchen in the Tyler History Center in downtown Youngstown. The great ethnic food traditions of Youngstown and the archive of recipes in this cookbook (and its predecessor) are a significant aspect of Youngstown history and culture. The partnership between the contributors (who came together first on Facebook) and the Historical Society are a wonderful opportunity to preserve this important piece of Youngstown history. As we’ve talked about so many times on this blog, no place does food like Youngstown and through these efforts, Youngstown will continue to be a place to get great food.

Have you bought yours yet? If you want to order one, you can get one at the Mahoning Valley Historical Society website.

And if you are in Youngstown today (May 2, 2015) make your way to downtown Youngstown for Recipes of Youngstown: A Taste…and a Memory at the Tyler History Center on Federal Street from Noon to 4 pm. There will be a tasting event with over 30 dishes from Recipes of Youngstown with raffles with some incredible prizes including a Kitchenaid mixer and an HDTV. All proceeds go to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

Wish I could be there–but I have the cookbook! Happy eating, all!

This and other Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown posts can be found by clicking “On Youngstown” on the menu bar on any page of the blog.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Pierogies

By Silar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Silar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

I was eating dinner with some grad students last night at Sloopy’s Diner in the Ohio Union at Ohio State when one of the dishes ordered brought back memories. Pierogies. Considering that it is Lent and there are so many students from Youngstown and northeast Ohio at Ohio State, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

It’s actually a funny thing about pierogies with my wife and me. I didn’t grow up in an eastern European or Catholic home and so we never had pierogies. I would hear about all the churches in the area who had pierogie sales but it wasn’t a dish we had in our house. (I wonder if my mom didn’t like them.) On the other hand, my wife grew up with pierogies as a regular dish on Fridays, especially during Lent. She described to me how she and her mother would spend a good part of a day making pierogies. Her mom also helped on occasion making pierogies when her church had sales.

Pierogies are a kind of dumpling that originated in eastern Europe made with an unleavened dough that is rolled out. My wife tells me that they used a water glass to cut out the pierogi dough. Theirs was usually a relatively simple recipe, with boiled and mashed potatoes for filling. The dough was folded over and the edges wetted and pressed together. Then the pierogies were first boiled and then fried in butter or oil. While some recipes use other ingredients for fillings including cheeses, meat (not during Lent), sauerkraut, or fruit and could be topped with fried onions or other toppings, they kept it simple. In her family at least, this was a form of fasting and usually a meal was simply of pierogies and boiled cabbage. It was hearty and filling without being extravagant.

The other oddity of our story is, having discovered pierogies only as an adult, I like them. On the other hand, my wife would say that at best, she tolerates them. Needless to say, if I get pierogies, it is not at home! But, as they say, opposites attract, and it must work since we are going on 37 years of marriage.

Recipes of Youngstown 2Here is a recipe from Wikipedia for pierogies that covers the basics. There are a couple of recipes for pierogies in Recipes of Youngstown found on pages 63 and 170. I’ve also learned that there is a second Recipes of Youngstown coming out soon, the proceeds from which will benefit the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. I’ve pre-ordered mine and you can order yours through the Mahoning Valley Historical Society website, which also has instructions for ordering by mail or phone. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if there are additional pierogi recipes along with lots of other great Youngstown dishes!

Pierogies are a hearty and sustaining food made from simple and readily available ingredients. Working class families on a budget could make them for a meal and freeze them for another time. They are work intensive as are many good foods and assumed there was someone in the home who could devote the time to that work. I suspect there is probably a special reward in heaven for all those women who made pierogies for those countless church sales! And maybe they finally get someone else to make dinner.

Read all the posts in the Growing Up in Youngstown Series by clicking the “On Youngstown” category link either at the top of this page or in the left column of my home page.


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Christmas Baking

20151205_153425This weekend we are re-enacting an annual family tradition that has its roots in growing up in Youngstown–pizzelle making. Our son and his wife will join us tomorrow afternoon to make 14 to 16 dozen of these wonderful Italian cookies made two at a time on what appears to be a waffle iron (the same one we received from my mother-in-law the first year we were married).

We usually put some Christmas music on to inspire us and have on hand a pot of coffee and other beverages to fortify us. I usually mix up the ingredients and the batter so it is ready when they arrive. My daughter-in-law is great at making perfectly sized dough-balls and positioning them just so (the appearance of our pizzelles have greatly improved since she became part of the family!). Since this process takes several hours, we tag team and give each other breaks. What is amazing is that after doing this for more than a half a dozen years, there is still family harmony! We split the results between us, which usually end up as gifts to family and neighbors or get added to the party buffet at Christmas parties.

What we’ve found is that often when we mention pizzelles to friends who are not from Youngstown, we get quizzical looks. Sometimes they will say, “Oh, those “spider” cookies” because of the web-like design on them. But almost everyone loves them, except for those who don’t like the taste of anise, which is one of the ingredients in our family recipe.  In preparing to write this post, I asked my wife, from whose family our recipe came, about whether I could share it. Let’s just say that she prefers to keep it our family’s “secret recipe” for right now. I will share that one key for us is using margarine rather than butter which avoids a “burnt” taste because of butter burning more easily (we found this out when we substituted butter one year).

Christmas baking was a big thing growing up in Youngstown. Ours is a pretty modest affair but often, families would spend weeks before the holiday doing all kinds of baking — pizzelles, kolachies of different types, bow tie cookies, snowballs, all sorts of sugar cookies, some iced (we sometimes make a candy cane sugar cookie), springerle, thumbprints and those peanut-butter cookies with Hershey’s kisses, and so many more!

Recipes of Youngstown

Recipes of Youngstown

Youngstown back then was a city with many extended families all living in the same town, often in the same part of town. Christmas celebrations often moved from house to house during the holidays. A spread of cookies was always essential!

At this point, I want to give a shout-out for Recipes of Youngstown (the link will take you to a website with info about how to get a copy) that has all sorts of cookie recipes including a number of different pizzelle recipes. The cookbook is chock full of recipes for all your favorite Youngstown foods and the proceeds go to the Lanterman Mill Restoration Fund. We not only have our own copy but have bought several as gifts for fellow Youngstowners who have absolutely loved it!

What were some of the cookies and other pastries that were part of Christmas celebrations growing up? What are your memories of baking for the holidays?