Monday afternoon Heard Memorial Club House was filled with the comforting scents of festive, traditional Moldavian and Russian foods prepared by Lyubov Chernioglo and her son Dimitry Chernioglo, both of Sedalia.
Sorosis Club President Jackie Fike invited the Chernioglos to prepare the food for the Christmas Luncheon and asked Tanya Morgunenko, who is Ukrainian, to speak at the event.
Fike said she wanted to invite the local Slavic community to the Heard House to promote an understanding of their culture.
“So many of us don’t understand the new people in our culture,” Fike said. “They come fitting in with their own people, that’s their comfort zone, (but they are) wanting to be part of the community. They are beautiful people, we should understand their heart. Today I’ve learned a lot just by being with Lyubov. I think we are very much alike.”
Fike said she also planned to introduce the Slavic community to Sedalia culture.
“This hopefully is the beginning of a beautiful relationship,” Fike added. “When you hear the beauty of how they serve food and Lyubov will give candy to everyone as a gift of hospitality … we will have a new understanding.”
After coming to the U.S. from Moldova in 1992, Lyubov, began a catering business in the Sacramento, California, area. Her traditional dishes were catered to large Russian weddings often involving 17 courses. The Chernioglos, who are Turkish, moved to the Sedalia area in 2006.
“We have actually catered Russian weddings in probably about 15 to 17 different states,” Dimitry said. “It’s more of a niche … It started from a need of having traditional Russian folk food at these weddings in the U.S.
“It actually has a rich culture behind that,” he added. “Back in Russia, especially in the villages, you didn’t have the venues, and the music, and the decorations, you had food. So, they would all get together and they would literally create 20 or 30 different dishes. Over time they became festive foods. We actually call them wedding foods, because you mainly see them at weddings.”
Dimitry said the festive foods are also cooked on holidays and there is an art to preparing the dishes. His mother has been cooking festive Russian foods for 30 years.
Lyubov, 64, and her husband, Dimitry Chernioglo Sr., used to cook and cater together. He “passed way” two years ago. Now her son helps her cook and serve.
“I grew up in the kitchen,” he said. “I help out whenever she needs it. We do this as a family, two, three or four people if it’s a bigger wedding. We’ve done weddings between 200 and 300 people here in Sedalia. This summer, we did about seven weddings in about four different states.”
On Monday, the Chernioglos had taken two days to prep and cook four Russian dishes, “golubtsi” (cabbage rolls), “tushonaya kartoshka” (potato stew), “pilimeni” (dumplings) served with sour cream, and “olivie” (Russian potato salad). Lyubov had also made a traditional homemade bread to go with the meal.
For dessert, Morgunenko had prepared an elaborate 10-layer cake made with Ferrero Raffaello almond coconut candy. Each layer was hand-rolled individually and baked individually.
“The recipe was actually created by a Russian caterer,” Morgunenko said. “The candies are French or Italian, but a Russian created a cake. The way it tastes is similar to the candies.”
Baking is relaxing for her, she told the audience.
“I love baking,” she said. “I call it my stress relief, because when I’m stressed-out, I hit the kitchen. It took me at least three and a half to four hours to make this cake … it’s one of my favorites.”
After the meal Morgunenko spoke about Russian customs and also about the Russian people who live in the Sedalia area. She said Russian families settled in Sedalia because the economy was better than cities on the West Coast. They also found it a nice place to raise children and loved the “friendliness” of the community.
“People were very open, and the first (Russian) people who came here they felt really welcome,” she said. “One by one somehow they directed their relatives, and they ended up being here and loving it.”
She added that Sedalia reminds them of home.
“We have four seasons, back at home, in Ukraine,” she noted.
She also wanted to clear up local misconceptions, by explaining that they chose to live in Sedalia on their own. Many came to America to escape religious persecution in the Soviet Union. The Russian community in Sedalia represent both Pentecost and Baptist faiths.
Morgunenko added that in the Soviet Union, during communism, the Christian celebration of Christmas wasn’t allowed.
“My parents used to celebrate Christmas with closed curtains,” she said. “If we would have gotten caught, then my dad would have gone to jail.”
She added that her parents moved to the U.S. in 1989.
These days, people in Russia celebrate Christmas similar to Americans, although the Russian Santa Claus doesn’t have elf helpers. He is helped by Snegurochka, a Snow Queen. Snegurochka helps entertain children and she helps Santa give gifts. Santa and the Snow Queen are also part of Russian New Year’s festivities.
For Monday’s event, Morgunenko made a Snow Queen crown, the evening before, to wear for guests during her presentation.
Morgunenko and Dimitry Chernioglo were asked by guests how many ethnic groups comprise the local Russian community.
“It’s a melting pot really,” Dimitry said.
He said that during communist rule 38 different countries in the Soviet Union were made to learn the Russian language.
“After the fall of communism and the Soviet Union you had a lot of people move everywhere,” he added. “So, I would say here we have Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Moldavian, Russian Jewish, Uzbekistan and we have Tajikistan. Basically, I’ve met a person from every 38 countries, that were part of the Soviet Union; I’ve met them here in Sedalia. They all speak Russian, that’s why they can communicate.”
During the luncheon, Lyubov Chernioglo presented her homemade bread wrapped in a traditional cloth to guests.
“This bread comes from a tradition of welcoming,” Dimitry said. “Whenever you formally visited an old folk Russian family, usually the mother of the household would come out with a little cloth, draped on both sides. She would bring out this bread that sat on it.”
Along with the bread the mother would bring salt. Dimitry added that the gesture signifies a wish for an unending supply of bread and salt at one’s home.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.