Saturday, January 4, 2014

Christmas Eve at Mom and Dad's

We have traditionally celebrated Christmas Eve with my parents.  Those who wish to attend the candlelight service go to church for the late afternoon service.  After church we return to Mom and Dad's for supper and presents.  This year it was my mom and sister and I who went to church and we met my niece and nephew there.  We listened to the Christmas story, sang the beautiful hymns, held a lit candle in the darkened sanctuary and then brushed the newly fallen snow from the car for the short ride back to Mom and Dad's.

My maternal grandfather (my mom's father) was of Austrian descent and the traditional meal of his family was a dish called halupsha.  It is a dish made mostly of grated potatoes mixed with bacon pieces and a small amount of rice which is wrapped in cabbage leaves and baked for 3 hours.  It is served with butter or if made ahead it is reheated in butter in a skillet.  It is not a pretty dish, mostly one color--a kind of gray color--but those of us that eat it enjoy the way that the flavors of the bacon and potatoes combine to make a flavorful dish.  My Swedish grandmother made this every year for her husband and family at Christmastime and now her children--her two sons and my mother--make it every year as well.  I am not certain but I think that this dish probably originated as a way to stretch a food budget.  It is long on potatoes and cabbage with only a small amount of meat.  In trying to research this dish I found a lot of recipes for something called halupki which is a Polish stuffed cabbage roll.  Although similar looking, the Polish/Slavic version contained rice, beef and pork, and tomato. 

a piece of halupsha

broken open and butter added you can see the potatoes and bits of bacon
Mom laughed when I asked her for the recipe for halupsha.  "There isn't a recipe--you just dump it together."  Here is what she learned to do, handed down from her mother.


2 medium cabbages (or three if small) Mom usually selects ones that are not too big perhaps 5 inches in diameter.  Look for ones with nice leaves.  Large cabbages will make large pieces of halupsha which are hard to handle.

10 pounds of red potatoes, peeled and grated.  Mom does her potatoes in the food processor but you could also use a box grater or other hand grater.  You want to select a fairly large hole on the grater so that the gratings are similar in size to  hash browns.  Mom usually peels the potatoes and puts them in cold water and then when everything else is ready she grates them so that they don't discolor.  She and Dad work together and she will be peeling the potatoes while he is cooking the bacon. 

Bacon ends.  Mom buys a box of bacon ends.  The local grocery store only sells one size box.  She thinks it may be a 3-5 pound box.  She uses all of it, cutting the bacon ends into nice sized pieces.  You don't want them to be too small so that they are lost in the potatoes, perhaps 3/4 inch sized pieces.  You want to be able to see the bacon in the halupsha.  She cooks up the whole package and saves all of the drippings from the pan.  She often uses a cast iron skillet and works in batches.

Rice.   Mom cooks up some white rice, and will use up to 1/2 cup.  She uses more if the potatoes are really moist, less if the potatoes are drier. 

Salt and pepper.  She adds "quite a bit" of salt as there is a lot of potatoes.  It has never turned out too salty. 

Start the halupsha a few days ahead by freezing the cabbage.  Put the whole head in the freezer.  And then one or two days before you want to make halupsha take the cabbage out to thaw.  Once thawed cut the core (heart) out of the cabbage and then gently remove the leaves trying to keep them intact.  Mom puts the cabbage in a pan of warm water to keep them pliable and easy to shape around the filling.

Prepare the pan.  Mom uses a large enamel roaster.  The one that she uses would hold a turkey.  She lines the roaster with foil.  She does not grease the foil and has never had it stick.    

Cook the rice.

Cook the bacon ends.

Grate the potatoes and put them in a large bowl.  Add the bacon and all the drippings and some or all of the rice.  Mix well.  Mom uses a large slotted spoon to scoop up a heaping spoonful of the potato/bacon mixture and holding a cabbage leaf in the palm of her hand she puts the spoonful of mixture on the leaf over the stiffer center portion of the leaf and then folds the edges over the filling enclosing the filling completely with the cabbage leaf.  The filled cabbage leaf is then turned over and laid in the roaster with the overlapping edges on the underside.  The roaster is layered with filled cabbage leaves, all touching and forming one solid mass of filled cabbage leaves.  Any  broken leaves or other damaged leaves are laid over the top and the roaster is covered and baked at 350 for three hours.

Mom and Dad do the halupsha ahead of Christmas.  If it is a couple days ahead the roaster can be refrigerated after it cools and individual pieces of halupsha are rewarmed for serving in butter on the stop of the stove in a fry pan or in the microwave.  If it is more than just a couple days ahead Mom will freeze a few pieces--as many as she thinks that she will serve at one time--in gallon zipper bags.  Halupsha freezes well.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
Since not all of our family are fans of halupsha my mom makes another casserole for the rest of the family.  This year it was Grandma's pork steak hotdish.  We also had a couple salads,snicker salad and coleslaw, and lefsa and dinner rolls.  Dessert was Jack's cheesecake. 

Jack's cheesecake


Jack's cheesecake

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