I grew up in a traditional Serbian household. My family immigrated to New York when I was fourteen (36 years ago!) Even though I have lived here most of my life, and am married to an American, certain traditions are embedded deeply. Sunday dinner is one.
Many times during my childhood, my mother would start cooking by 10 am on Sunday morning. First, she started simmering the soup stock. In the largest pot we owned she placed a cut-up chicken, onions, garlic, carrots, parsnips, celery and potatoes. She let it simmer for hours, filling the house with the fragrance of delicious comfort. Then she would start on the other courses: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, roasted peppers, and a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and onions.
Please, don’t let me forget dessert. We had dessert only on Sundays (or Saint’s Days and special holidays), and what delicacies were those! My mother would make intricate, many layered tortes with sweet, smooth, dark chocolate filling in winter, and light refreshing lemon filling in summer. Or she would make phyllo dough from scratch, stretching it over our kitchen table to make baklava filled with walnuts and honey. Or perhaps a strudel filled with fresh raspberries or poppy seeds, hand-ground by my sister and me.
Sunday dinner occurred at exactly 2 pm. My mother set her best china out on the dining room table. We would sit down and have a four or five course meal. No one was in a hurry. We sat and ate and talked, going over the news and happenings of the previous week. After dinner, my mother would read, my father would nap, and my sister and I would do the dishes.
Around 4 pm, it was coffee and desert time. Frequently, we would have company, because late Sunday afternoon is calling time in Serbian households. My mother (and when we were old enough, my sister and I) would make black, rich Serbian coffee for the adults, and tea for the children. We cut the cake and served it, marveled over the baklava, and sampled cookies and strudel. There was time to savor the moment.
Our lives are much busier now, and my own children have so many activities, it is rare that we have an entire Sunday afternoon to spend in each other’s company. Also, I have not inherited my mother’s talents for the tortes, baklavas and other confections. My sister has. But if you come to my house at around 10 am on a Sunday morning, you will most likely find me filling up a large stock pot with all the necessary ingredients for an excellent Serbian chicken soup.