Signs of Autumn
What is it that tells you most convincingly that autumn has arrived? Is it that the air turns cool as scarlet and orange begin to blush in the treetops and drift to the ground? Is it the abundance and variety of apples and squash that crowd the produce aisles in the supermarket? Or maybe the bright hue of mums in purple, gold and crimson in the garden section or on the neighbors' front porches?
At my house as our schedules tighten up, sports kick into gear and the light begins to turn a more golden blue I begin to hear particular requests for dinner that seldom come in other seasons. Chicken and Dumplings is one of my youngest son’s all time favorite dinners. It’s savory warmth and stick to your ribs flavor begin to beckon in early fall. Likewise I hear requests for old-fashioned Meatloaf and Galumpki.
Hearing these requests gladdens my heart. These recipes differ from other seasonal favorites. These recipes are family favorites that have been handed down over the generations. My grandmother made Chicken and Dumplings much like I make nearly a century ago. Her chickens likely came from the back yard rather than the supermarket but the savory dish that resulted was much the same. I learned to make it from my aunt who was taught by my grandmother and likely learned it from her mother before her who brought her simple dishes and hearty German fare with her to America in the late 1800’s.
A Turn Toward Tradition
Galumpki has the same appeal but comes from my husband’s side of the family. It is a dish my husband remembers eating as a child. His mother was of Polish descent and she made it much as her mother had made it before her. Likely it goes farther back with a slight variation here and there, to even earlier generations. Everyone in the family seemed to enjoy this traditional main dish and it had the added benefit of being a great way to stretch ground meat into a hearty meal for a family of eight.
I have made Galumpki though I would have simply called it Cabbage Rolls. Last year my husband decided to dig for the particular details of the authentic recipe for the Galumpki he remembered so fondly. He contacted his mother’s younger sisters who still live near the place they grew up in New York. He asked them about Galumpki. They didn’t have a real recipe written out but they discussed it with interest and shared some tips.
One offered that the meat to rice ratio should be about one to one. She said that she always used ground beef in her Galumpki. She said that Gram never used pork though others would. To the ground beef she added a finely chopped onion, some garlic salt, salt and pepper. Mixed together well, like a meat loaf, that would make a good basic filling.
The Way Gram Made It
Together my husband’s aunts shared tips about preparing the cabbage to roll the filling in. The trick they said was finding good cabbage with big flat leaves. The cabbage leaves need to be separated carefully and then the vein or central rib needs to be trimmed with a sharp knife to make the leaves flatter and easier to roll.
For the sauce they offered a choice. Some used tomato sauce they said, but they agreed that Gram had preferred Campbell’s Tomato Soup. They put a little sauce or soup on the bottom of the baking dish then layer the cabbage rolls on top. They suggested using several cans but added that they, like Gram, make a lot at one time.
They concluded their tips by suggesting the Galumpki should bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. As an alternate you can slow cook them in an oven turned down low for 4 or 5 hours, especially if you are cooking a large quantity.
It was a lot of information and seeded some great family discussion. My father-in-law remembered eating Galumpki, at his Russian grandmother's house. They called it Halupsi and they ate it often. Then he began to talk about growing up in Yonkers. You could hear the boyish wonder in his lively voice. He had known hard times; growing up during the depression, joining the army and going to Europe during WW2, still there were extraordinary things he had seen and experienced, from bright innovations to a warm ethnic meal and they left an indelible print on his memory he was glad to share. When he focused on that memory it could take him back to another time and to an appreciation for all that was right with the world and the American dream.
This year it is my oldest son who has been asking for Galumpki. He has recently identified in a new way with the Polish line of his heritage. Since I had yet to post the recipe in our family cookbook he asked me to make Galumpki with him. He wanted to learn how it was done and then share this family recipe with his friends.
We had a good time working together as a family that day. As we worked through the recipe, along with the notes and the tips from my husband’s aunts, I was warmed by the traditions born out in our Galumpki and the thread of simple practical cooking that fills a family’s soul as well as their stomachs. Having the generations gather in the kitchen through a recipe and the fond memories of taste and smell we find ourselves fed in new ways and, more than full, richly satisfied. That is a lovely feeling, one of the exquisite joys of fall cooking.
1 or 2 heads of cabbage ( you will need 12-16 large leaves)
1 lb ground beef (80% lean or so)
2 cups cooked rice (cooked five minutes short of specified time)
1 cup onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
tomato soup (1 or 2 small cans)
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
fresh thyme leaves (several sprigs, 1 - 2 teaspoons)
Cut the core from the head of cabbage and wash well. Fill a large saucepan or pot (I use a 4 quart saucepot) with about 2 inches of water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat. Add ½ teaspoon salt and the head of cabbage, core side down. Cover and cook for approximately 10 minutes or until the outer cabbage leaves are tender and flexible but not mushy.
Carefully remove the head of cabbage from the pot. Run under cold water until it can comfortably be handled. Gently separate the leaves. If you get to the point where the leaves are still crisp return the remaining portion to the boiling water to cook a little longer. Repeat until you have enough cooked leaves for the number of cabbage rolls you want to make (12 -16 large leaves). Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, cooked rice, onion, egg, garlic powder, black pepper and salt. Mix thoroughly. (I reach in and use clean hands to squish the mixture together.)
If using the tomato sauce mixture instead of canned tomato soup, stir together the tomato sauce, lemon juice and minced garlic in a small bowl.
Prepare a baking dish by spraying it with nonstick cooking spray. (I use a 7 x 11 inch rectangular baking dish but this does not usually hold all of the rolls. Any baking dish can be used but cooking time may vary depending on how the rolls are arranged.) Cover the bottom of the dish with half of the tomato soup or tomato sauce mixture. Set the rest of the soup or sauce aside for the topping.
Place cabbage leaves on a cutting board one by one and, with a sharp knife, trim much of the thickness from the central ridge of the cabbage leaf starting at the core end and cutting toward the outer edge. This will flatten the ridge making it flush with the leaf and easier to roll.
Place ¼ cup of the meat mixture near the lower core edge of the cabbage leaf. Fold the lower edge up over the meat mixture. Then fold in each side of the leaf toward the middle. Roll the leaf tucking in the sides as you go. Squeeze the rolled cabbage leaf in your fist to shape the bundle and place it seam side down in a rectangular baking dish. Repeat until all of the meat mixture has been used.
Cover the cabbage rolls with the remaining tomato soup or sauce. Scatter thyme leaves over all. Cover the pan with a lid or aluminum foil.
Bake at 350 degrees, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover. Bake another 15 minutes or until ground beef is done through.
Serve and enjoy!