Cherry Varenya ~ Russian Tea Sweetener

This was one of my most visited posts in 2016. I first posted this in 2008. I’m adding a photo to the top of the post. If you look carefully you’ll see a glass bowl of Varenya on the table next to the tea cups in front of my paternal grandfather (dzedushka) and grandmother (babushka).

img578The Russian immigrants I grew up around would make and enjoy this Cherry Syrup made with whole pie cherries in their hot tea. They used this syrup in place of sugar to sweeten their tea. I called my mother this week (April 2008) to get the following recipe from her to share for The-Sweet-and-Savory-of-Yummy.

This is a very simple recipe for Cherry Varenya. This is a syrup made with Cherries to sweeten hot tea with.


Cherry Varenya

1/2 Cup Water
1 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Whole Sour Cherries (Pie Cherries)
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

You would increase the proportions of this recipe according to how many cherries you have on hand that you want to make into Varenya.

Boil the water and sugar to make a clear simple syrup. When the liquid is clear add your cherries and let it boil for 10 to 20 minutes (depending on how hard the cherries were to begin with) At the end of the boiling add 1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to help preserve the brightness of the syrup.

You may want to can it at this point. (I don’t know how to can anything so you are on your own here!)🙂

You can do this process with sliced lemons, too, to make a Lemon Varenya.


Lemon Varenya

When I was young our family would go to a Cherry Orchard somewhere near Lancaster, California in July when the pie cherries were ready to harvest. It might have been in the Leona Valley. We would pick cherries all day and take home upwards of 40 pounds of cherries. That’s a lot of Varenya. When we picked this much my parents would give about half of the cherries away to other relatives and friends who couldn’t make the trek out to the Cherry Farm. Then it was a full day of preparing the cherries for Varenya. Washing, cooking and canning.

The photos are quite dark in this post and I’ve learned a few things since 2008 about taking photos of food and brightening them up before posting them. The photo of my grandparents is an old film photo scanned.

Hope the end of the year 2016 is going well for you. Maybe a cup of tea will help to brighten your day. Blessings…

The Journey…

Dear and I packed up early on Wednesday morning and headed across the line to Canada.

13891824_10210282595809578_6924180345763604456_n

We found our way to Central Heights Mennonite Church to attend the Celebration of Life for Kathy’s (one of the Mennonite Girls Can Cook) dear father. After the service Dear and I headed to Bakerview MB church and found the other Mennonite Girls and their spouses for the reception. One of the things we learned about Kathy’s father Helmut during the many tributes expressed about him was that he had the “gift of encouragement” along with other “gifts”. We think our Kathy has received this “gift” and learned a lot about how to share this gift because of her dad. Here’s an email from Kathy’s dad to his kids after he learned to use email in 2015.

“Let’s remember that , ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain.’ We are totally dependent on the Lord for life and breath and the service we are to render to our family members and other folk. One of my challenging verses that JESUS gave us is recorded in Mark 10:45. ‘For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give HIS life as a ransom for many.’ Let us be faithful servants, managing our time, talents and resources well. God help us to be good witnesses for HIS glory. Love you all lots and pray for you daily. Dad/Helmut”

What a treasure to have a legacy of a faithful father to pass on. We know you will miss your dear dad, Kathy, but that you also rejoice because he is home with his savior.

After the reception Dear and I found our way to Anneliese’s home where she and her dear H treated us to a nice dinner before we headed to our next big event.

museum book launch

We followed H and Anneliese to the Mennonite Heritage Museum in Abbotsford, B.C. where our newly released book, Bread for the Journey, was to be dedicated and launched.

museum book launch5

We were met by two bouquets of flowers lovingly and thoughtfully sent by friends of the MGCC girls. Thank you so much Richard, Dorothy, and Rosella.

museum book launch1

Under watchful eyes Anneliese prepared for the Zwieback demonstration.

museum book launch2

Judy and Lovella’s hubbies maned the parking lot helping our guests find a place to park.

museum book launch4

A wonderful crowd appeared and watched carefully as Anneliese showed her method of making Zwieback. Lovella helped with the narration.

Pictures55

Each of the seven of us who could be at the museum had our part to play. Some of us read from our family stories and some of us read one of our devotionals.

museum book launch3

I made my confessions and read a brief story about my family’s “Movement” from Russia, to Iran and finally to the U.S.A. I’m not going to lie, I was happy when my “spotlight” moment was done.

Collages16

After we were done with our stories and devotionals we had a special treat of music. We were blessed with Father’s Daughter singing “Little is much when God is in it”.  Wonderfully musically talented family.

mohai48

Here’s what Lovella had to say about these moments caught in the collage above. “I wanted to read the dedication at the end before Gerry prayed but just couldn’t even get it out.  My heart was so full.  Gerry couldn’t read it because he didn’t have his glasses so he borrowed mine to read.” Lovella was hoping someone captured these moments and Bev’s husband Harv did so I borrowed his photos.

The dedication reads: “We dedicate this book and our royalties to orphans and widows who face each day in need. Our prayer is that they would see the love of Jesus extended through caring hands, one home and one heart at a time.

After reading the dedication with Lovella’s glasses, Gerry prayed a prayer for God’s blessings on our book.

P1000929

museum1

We signed books for anyone who wanted us to while the great crowd that attended enjoyed coffee and Zwieback.

mohai49

We were surprised at the number of people who showed up and also surprised that the museum store was soon sold out of our book.

13920835_10154526092245353_7928804720552150149_n

At the end of the evening we took some group photos. We always wish the 10 of us could all be together for these special events but miles and life events have a way of keeping some of us away.

museum2

All of our hearts were full from the beautiful blessings we enjoyed on this day in Abbotsford.

Some of the photos in this post were taken by Bev’s husband. Thanks for sharing Bev. Some were taken by my Dear and myself.

Dear and I crossed the border into the USA at 9 pm and were home in bed before midnight. We are generally early to bed people. Today is a day of recuperating for me and I have another confession to make and that is that I am still in my robe and it is the afternoon already! Oops! I running upstairs now to get ready for the rest of the day!

Reminiscing…

We have always called my mom’s friend Zena, Aunt Zena.

img615This photo of my mom and Aunt Zena was taken in Tehran, Iran in the 1940’s. In the late 1940’s our families immigrated to the United States.

These immigrant families got together often in the 1950’s in the Los Angeles area.  My mom upper left next to Aunt Zena, Mrs. Hamzieff, my aunt Nina, my aunt Anna, Mrs. Katkov and Mrs. Titov.  I’m not even going to try to explain the fact that all but one of these ladies are sister-in-laws to one or more of each other. There was also a photo taken of the “guys” on this occasion. I’m wondering why there are so many more guys than gals…

mom-zenaThis photo of my “Aunt” Zena and my mom was taken in 2007.

Aunt Zena’s daughter Tamara, who we called Timi, is in Seattle visiting her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. We connected via email and planned to meet for coffee on Thursday morning. Timi came with her daughter Tamara and Katie came with me for our coffee date.

P1050610

Tamara, Tamara (Timi), Ellen, and Katie.

So much history and good memories between our families. We had a lot to talk about and the time flew by quickly. Thank you, Timi, for contacting me and making time to meet.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. I John 4:7 (ESV)

Easters Past…

For my flashback this week I’m going back to Easters in the past. These are all from the 50’s. Later this month I’ll share Easter Flashbacks from our immediate family that hail from the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Black and Whites1

Black and Whites2

img604Growing up my immediate family was divided 4 x 4. My mom and dad had the four of us siblings pictured above and then there was a 7 year gap before they had 4 more children. I was the baby of the family for 7 years.

img644

Black and Whites

img643My mom had one brother who survived to adulthood and these are my cousins on my mom’s side of the family. This photo was taken of my maternal grandmother’s grandchildren at the time. She would add 5 more grandchildren in time.

img610I was so excited when I learned I’d have a baby brother or sister. I really wanted a brother and I remember jumping up and down on our family room couch when my father announced that my mother had my baby brother Tim. Tim was soon followed by our cousin Tanya and then our brother Steve. The twins, Leonard and Lana came a few years later.

img612

img645

img640This last photo is of my Dear and his older brother Terry. Dear and Terry were born 4 years apart. I’m guessing this could be an Easter photo but it also could be that it was just a Sunday going to meeting photo!

Do you host Easter at your house?

Connected…

It was wonderful to see so many dear souls that we have been connected to over the years at my mom’s services.

I didn’t get photos of many of the people who honored us with their presence and their words. It wasn’t easy to relax with my camera in these circumstances.

Mom's services 015Hope and I were coordinated in our outfits and had to have a photo together.

Mom's services 150After attending this little guys baby shower before he was born it was nice to finally meet him in person with his mommy.

Mom's services 151…and with his grandmother, my good friend from Bethany Russian Baptist church.

Mom's services 152Katie with Nikki and her Auntie Christina. Christina is Dear’s SIL.

Mom's services 154Here’s Dear with his only brother, Terry.

Mom's services 155My cousin Vera (from my father’s side), cousin’s cousin Shirley (on my mother’s side), my cousin Jim (on my father’s side), and Shirley’s sister Betty (on my mother’s side).

Mom's services 156More dear friends from our Bethany Baptist Days in Los Angeles.  Diane, Manya (Shirley, Bobbi and Betty’s oldest sister) Alex and Jaydee with Shirley between them.

Mom's services 157Jeanie,(married to my cousin Jim) My cousin Jim, My cousin Vera (Jim’s sister) George (who is Jim, Vera and Katrina’s 1st cousin) and my cousin Katrina (Jim and Vera’s youngest sister).

Mom's services 163My first cousin, Vera, from my dad’s side of the family. The rest of this group are all 1st cousins with each other on my mother’s side of the family. My first cousins are on the right end of this group. Valia and Tanya on the right end with my cousin Walter’s wife standing behind them. Bobbi and Shirley are first cousins to Valia and Tania.

Mom's services 161Our son Dan with our SIL Letty’s son Derek and wife Amy.

Mom's services 158Caleb and Joshua making plans to spy out the Promised Land…Strong and Courageous!

Mom's services 159Niece Melissa bonding with our latest grand nephew Thomas.

Mom's services 172My Pop with his grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Mom's services 166Our kids (missing Andrew) with my pop. Andrew has arrived in Afghanistan with his unit so your prayers for him are appreciated.

Mom's services 176Pop with his sons.

Mom's services 180Sons and daughters…

Mom's services 184Daughters

A very special thank you to the ladies from Whittier Area Community Church and Olive Grove Church  who contributed salads and desserts for our meal together. You blessed us abundantly and we are grateful! Everything turned out so well. We were so pleased to be able to spend time with people we have been connected to over the years. Old friends and new friends supporting each other. It’s a beautiful picture of community…

I’ll close my post with the quote my Brother in law Nick read at the graveside…

“There is nothing that can replace
the absence of someone dear to us,
and one should not even attempt to do so.

One must simply hold out and endure it.

At first that sounds very hard,
but at the same time it is also a great comfort.

For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled
one remains connected to the other person through it.

It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness.
God in no way fills it but much more
leaves it precisely unfilled
and thus helps us preserve — even in pain —
the authentic relationship.

Further more,
the more beautiful and full the remembrances,
the more difficult the separation.

But gratitude transforms
the torment of memory into silent joy.
One bears what was lovely in the past
not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within,
a hidden treasure
of which one can always be certain.

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer”

Borsch Re-do…

Because it’s almost Fall and still warm here in the Northwest I decided to make Borsch and I wanted to update my photos and technique. It’s a standing joke around our house that I pick the hottest day of the year to make Borsch!

Our version of Borsch growing up was made with green cabbage and not beets. We also do not pronounce it with a “t” at the end.

Stock Ingredients:

1 Chuck Roast or 7 Bone Roast
1 onion
1-3 celery stalks with leaves
2-3 carrots
2 bay leaves
5-10 peppercorns
Salt to taste

Using a large stock pot, cover rinsed meat with water. Add all the remaining stock ingredients and bring to boil. Lower heat to simmer. Simmer until roast is fork tender.  Remove Roast to oven safe pan. Strain the stock.

While stock is simmering prepare soup ingredients.

Soup Ingredients:

1 onion diced
1 bell pepper diced
2-3 stalks of celery diced
1 Jalapeno diced (optional)
1-2 tablespoons cooking oil

2 cans (approx 15 oz. each) stewed tomatoes, blended

1 head of green cabbage cut in shreds
3 carrots grated
2-3 potatoes peeled and diced
1 can tomato sauce (8 oz.)
1/2-small bunch of dill chopped or more according to taste
1 handful of chopped Italian parsley
salt and pepper to taste
optional – 1 can of Garbanzo beans rinsed and drained

At this stage you can season the roast well and put in 350 degree oven to cook further and infuse some flavor into it to serve along side the Borsch.

Saute onion, bell pepper, celery, and jalapeno (optional), in oil. When these ingredients are soft blend them in a blender with the 2 cans of stewed tomatoes. In the photo above I used an immersion blender to blend the sauteed vegetables with the stewed tomatoes. I think it is more efficient to use a regular blender. Add this mixture to the prepared stock and then add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer until all the vegetables are done.

Serve the Borsch with good bread, a dollop of sour cream, and slices of the prepared roast. I really went overboard and made a huge pot. I ended up freezing 7 containers to share or have at a later date.

We grew up eating borsch. I’m sad to say I really hated it when I was little. I’d sit in front of the bowl trying to get it down and it was difficult. One of the reasons why was the chunks of tomato that were in the soup. That’s why this method is much preferred to me where you blend a lot of the vegetables and eliminate many of the chunks in the soup. Today I don’t mind chunky soup but for Borsch I still prefer this method. There are many variations of borsch. Some people chop up or shred the meat and put it into the soup. My mother always prepared the meat from the stock pot to the oven and added some potatoes to cook with the roast. She then served it on the side. At this point if you wanted to add it into the soup you were free to do so. Instead of adding the sour cream to the soup growing up we’d spread the slice of bread with sour cream instead of butter to eat along with the Borsch.

B is for Borsch!

It’s time for Alphabe-Thursday with our dedicated teacher Miss Jenny. We are at the very beginning …a very good place to start. Today is the letter B! I’m going back to my humble food beginnings.

When tempted to buy a head of cabbage it must be time for borsch. This is a soup I grew up on and only learned to love from my high school years on. When I was little I can remember having to sit in front of a bowl of borsch until I finished it. Left alone at the table I’d dump the bowl back in the pot and then get in double trouble. My mom would be very upset that I spoiled the whole pot with my bread laden bowl of soup. I would dunk as much bread in the soup as possible hoping the soup would disappear…

The broth for this soup is made with a 7 bone beef roast. While the vegetables are cooking I season the roast and put it in the oven for additional cooking. Pieces of the roast can be added to the soup to make it a heartier soup.

Borsch is also served with a nice dollop of Sour cream and good bread. Here’s a recipe for borsch!