My great grandmother, yiayia Evangalia Orphanon, (jusy yiayia to me) passed this time last year. Growing up, we lived upstairs from her, in the house that my grandmother grew up in. Even back then in the 80's, Chartiers Street in Canonsburg was mostly Greek. A few homes on the street had been sold to non Greeks, but Adams, Blaine (where the Greek church was until the 90's) and Chartiers was mostly Greek. There was Parkee's Store, where you would run and buy candy or a slushie when you got your allowance, and Loution's grocery, where you were sent for eggs or meat or whatever was needed.
In the house, which was split into two apartments, things were tight upstairs, and yia didn't like to be alone, so I slept down with her, and ended up spending a lot of time downstairs. I would come home from school most days and have a glass of orange juice (tropicana, only OJ she ever bought) and some koulouthia while she sat and had coffee with one of the ladies on the street, who would come and visit and jabber away. I would sit and do my homework at the other end of the table, while the ladies clucked away in Greek. She loved company. She loved feeding people.
Her kitchen was teeny tiny, almost an afterthought in the house. She had jars of dried herbs from her garden all over, including my favorite, the mint jar. When I was sick she would make me Camomile tea that she grew, and add a piece of dried mint. It always smelled of baking bread, she made prosphora often, and made her own bread for the house at least one a week. The only bread outside hers that she would allow in the house is sliced Celone's for sandwiches.
I loved baking with her, and learned most of what I know about cooking from her in those years we lived above her. All I need to think of that time is smell koulouthia baking, and I can see her small kitchen, her aluminum kitchen table with the enamel top, where we would sit and roll the cookies. I can walk through her house, even though it is not there anymore. The smell is magical.
Needless to say, I love making them with my girls. They only met yiayia Orphanon in a nursing home, and with Dementia. Evie only knew she was named for her. At that point she didn't remember english, and didn't really talk at all. I wish they could have met the yiayia I knew. I also wish we lived closer to family so they would have more memories of family. But I know the memories they do have are wonderful.
So today, being in the mood I'm in, Rena and I set out to make koulourakia, and since some have asked, I will share my yia's recipe :) I put it in my instructions, she mixed in a bowl with her hands, I use my kitchenaid.
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup butter flavor crisco (she used reg crisco, I use the butter flavor)
1/2 cup veg oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup TROPICANA orange juice
3 big teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 pound bag of flour
sesame seeds if you like
1 beaten egg for egg wash on top
In a bowl beat the 3 eggs, add sugar. set aside. In mixer, mix butter, Crisco and Oil togther, then add egg mix, vanilla, and OJ. Then baking powder and soda. Slowly add flour. You will need the whole 2 lb bag, but might need a little more. dough should be tacky but not sticky. If it is sticky, add more in 1/4 cup incriments. I have never had to add more than 1/2 cup though. If you want, you can add a little nutmeg and cinnamon.
Roll your cookies, place on metal GREASED cookie sheet. Brush with eggwash.
cook at 350 for about 18 minutes or until golden brown.
Most importantly, don't let your 3 year old eat all the dough! Enjoy!