First, a (longwinded) bit of background…
Prior to moving to Homer, Papa B and I scoured the web to learn as much as we could about the area. During that time, we learned that one of the significant cultural groups in the Homer area are Russian Old Believers. I’m admittedly far from an expert on the subject, but I’ll do my best to give a quick synopsis for you of what I’ve learned so far. I look forward to learning more about their culture as we spend more time in Homer.
Originally part of the Russian Orthodox Church, the group fled to Siberia after changes were implemented in the official beliefs of the church that they did not find agreeable. They lived peacefully there for 200 years until they were forced to flee Russia after the Communist Revolution in order to avoid persecution. They next moved to China, where they remained until the Japanese left China in 1949, and the Chinese government gave foreigners five years to leave the country. Since they did not have official papers to allow them to stay in China, they were faced with the choice to return to Russia or move to a new country. Those who chose to return to Russia were immediately arrested for deserting the Communist Party.
Members of the group chose to move to a variety of places, including Turkey and South America. The particular group that now lives on the Kenai found themselves in Brazil. They found the transition from China to Brazil difficult, though, and struggled to find economic opportunities and to adapt to the warmer climate. The US granted them asylum during the cold war, and many chose to move to Oregon. While the economic opportunities proved more promising there, some members of the community resented the Americanization of their youth and sought a more isolated location to maintain their culture. They ended up in Alaska, building the community of Nikolaevsk in the late 1960s.
Since then, there has been turmoil within the group, and they have split into several communities with varying degrees of isolation from the surrounding general community: Nikolaevsk (located about 20 miles north of Homer), Voznesenka (23 miles out East End Road), Razdolna (25 miles out East End Road), and Kachemak Selo (located near the head of Kachemak Bay). While it is my understanding all of the communities value privacy, I believe Kachemak Selo is the most isolated. Not only is the village not accessible by car (it is located at the very end of the road, then down steep switchbacks), they do not welcome outsiders and have no trespassing signs posted at the entrance. (From what I’ve read…while we have driven to the end of the road, we haven’t gone down the switchbacks.)
While many make a successful living in commercial fishing or boat building, others have businesses in town, or work in Homer. While most of the younger generations speak English as their first language, many speak Slavonic as well. I believe all of the communities dress in traditional clothing. For women, that entails often-colorful, full length satin dresses. Married women also wear a coordinating cap/scarf on their heads. Men wear embroidered tunics although anecdotally, it seems that while the women typically always wear dresses, the men are more frequently dressed in “Western” clothes. Granted, I don’t really pay that close of attention to how my fellow Homer Sapiens are dressed, so I could be wrong. 😀 When we first moved here, I found myself reminded/drawing comparisons between the Old Believers and the Amish. While certainly both groups have attributes that deviate from mainstream Western ways, it also seems the groups are very different. Many of the Russians in the Homer area live in some of the nicer/newer homes, drive newer vehicles, and enjoy many of the same lifestyle amenities as much of the rest of the country. But again, there is much I don’t know about their beliefs and lifestyle, and it no doubt varies between the villages.
Each of the villages has their own school that is part of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Presumably, if a non-Russian family moved to the area, their children would go to school in the village school as well, but I believe the schools are predominantly Russian students. Which brings me (finally!) to the piroshki.
The school in Voznesenka is currently raising money for a group of their students to participate in an educational trip to Washington, DC. Women in the village take orders for homemade bread and piroshki every three weeks or so (although they told me when the snow starts to fall, it may be less frequently as they have a bit of a drive to get into town for the delivery.) They advertise on the local Facebook groups when they are taking orders, and then a group of women gets up at 4:30am to make everything from scratch the day of the scheduled pick up. Piroshki are handheld-sized fried yeast bread pockets filled with either a meat or vegetable mixture. Our filling options were mashed potatoes, chicken and rice, ground beef and rice, or canned salmon. They sell the piroshki and bread loaves for $2/each, which considering the amount of labor that goes into each one seems like a steal.
After seeing the posts once or twice since we moved here, we decided we needed to try out a bit of the local flavor when they were taking orders last week. We ordered a few potato, chicken, and beef piroshki to sample.
Disclaimer: Forgive me for the terrible photos. 1) Food photography is an art, and I’m well aware I have zero skills in this area. 2) The lighting in the kitchen of our rental home is horrid. We literally have a single lightbulb for the entire room. I’m dreading cooking here in the dark days of December.
Next came the fun part: randomly picking out a few of the piroshki to have for dinner. After a quick reheat in the oven, we cut into the ones we had chosen, and luckily managed to get at least one of each flavor. (Woot! It’s the simple things in life!)
While all were good, our favorite was the chicken and rice filling. Beef and rice was our second favorite. We were a bit surprised it had a Mexican flair, seasoned with taco flavors with beans mixed in. Potato came in last; it had a good flavor, but we preferred the additional complexity and texture variance provided by the rice. All three of us enjoyed them, though; it’s hard to go wrong with fresh homemade bread, meat & potatoes. We’ll have to get a few salmon ones and some bread to try next time.