Halupchis: The perfect Sukka treat

There’s nothing like my grandmother’s stuffed cabbage.

We called it halupche, but other names for it are halupki, galumpki, golabki or sarme, depending on geographic origin of the grandmother who may have come from Slovakia, Serbia, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Belarus or elsewhere.

My maternal grandmother, Chaya Feige Talalai (to become Bertha Tollin Fink), was born near Mogilev, Belarus and came to Newark, New Jersey in 1904. Her mother Riva Bank Talalai was born near Kovno/Kaunas, Lithuania and, after her marriage, lived in Vorotinschtina, Belarus, some 12 miles SSW of Mogilev. Her mother Riva was a phenomenal cook as were her sisters, one of whom became a caterer, so Grandma had a great teacher.

Although she’s been gone for so long and the last time I remember her making these was even longer before her death, I can still smell that special fragrance and those huge pots she filled with mountains of rolls. And I still talk about this dish in the present tense.

While I loved that sweet-sour sauce and the meat filling, cabbage was never on my favorites list. When I finished a plate, there was always a pile of limp cabbage leaves on the side. I only ate the filling.

I hadn’t thought about this dish in a long time. It is food for nippy weather, for shtetl autumn and winter weather, not Mediterranean climates.

It all came back to me this morning in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper article that gave a Hungarian recipe used by Josephine Gresko, who learned it from her mother-in-law, Bertha who was a cook for a Jewish family in Brownsville.

The recipe “tastes” much like my grandmother’s, but lacks the sweet-sour (brown sugar, lemon juice) of what I remember. The recipe given is for 2 pounds of meat and 2 medium cabbages, makes 25-28 rolls and serves 8-10. [NOTE: I’m think that if you add 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice (or red wine vinegar) and 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, it will taste like what I remember. ]

Foodwriter Miriam Rubin described the “Pig Festival,” (they call stuffed cabbage “pigs in a blanket” there, giving the festival its name, not because it utilizes pork) in Carmichaels, Greene County – a coal mining region in southwest Pennsylvania.

This is a great dish for Sukkah-eating in colder climes.

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