I’m not much of a baker, Christmastime or any other. I love to cook, but anything that requires baking powder (and just what on earth IS baking powder?) is just beyond my skill set. That being said, I thought I would pass on a lovely momento from John’s side of the family … some would say the good side.


John’s paternal grandmother Maria Malijovsky came to Canada from what was then Czechoslovakia in the sixties, in HER sixties, to be with her only son and his family. She was a tiny, fiercely independent woman, a piano teacher, hockey fan and brilliant cook, who insisted on living on her own. She absolutely adored John, who was just a baby when she arrived, and when I showed up on the scene some 20 years later, she decided she loved me too. “They will make a movie about my life”, she said once, “and YOU will play me”, pointing at me, much to the dismay of her own blood relatives. I was quite flattered, despite the fact that I bore no resemblance to her, and Hollywood was not exactly banging on the door.


As I mentioned, Granny was a terrific cook, and was actually invited to Expo 67 in Montreal, where she cooked in the Czech pavilion. Her recipes were all in her head, and she would make the most exquisite roast pork and dumplings, known as knedliki. Come Christmas, she and her son, my father-in-law, would hole up in the kitchen to make vanocka, a braided bread served on Christmas morning. We would all get loaves, carefully packaged and tied up with ribbon. Granny shared, or tried to share, her knowledge with her daughter-in-law, but John’s mother was an indifferent cook, and so it became a male tradition. Granny suffered a stroke in her nineties, from which she bravely recovered, but a second one took her down, and so John and his father took over the vanocka. Every Christmas they’d spend a day in the kitchen together, and emerge, covered in flour and flushed with mixed success, to present us with our breakfast bread.


I’d like to tell you the tradition continues, but alas it does not. Granny died in 1993, and John’s dad joined her in 2005. But just recently, John came across his grandmother’s original recipe  for vanocka in his files. It’s carefully typewritten by Granny herself, and I’ve scanned it to share with you if you’d like to try it out.  Please note that the kitchen should be “warm as in the old days”, that ‘FIVE ROSES FLOUR” is the best, and that this recipe has been tested by her son and his wife. They are all gone now, but their love and care linger on like the smell of freshly baked vanocka. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas.

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