Rupmaize (the radio version)

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Rupmaize

Bread, the very symbol of daily sustenance across time and cultures. And to Andrew Lewis and his World War II surviving family members a special bread has special meaning.

As a last act before a recent move, I baked two loaves of rupmaize.

It’s basically a Latvian rye bread – but it’s much more than that, partly because it’s much less. It’s essentially rye flour, water, a little yeast, and some sort of yogurt or kefir (call it turned milk). Mix it up, let the yeasts start to do their thing and then throw in a warm box (call it an oven) to arrest the action. You end up with these loaves that are some crazy cross between that hearty bread eaten by dwarves and that ethereal cake of which elves partake. It’s both sweet and sour. And it sustains.

During World War II, when Latvian families were loading up their wagons preparing for evacuation, no doubt women all over the countryside were hastily wrapping still warm rupmaize in cloth and packing it in baskets. It’s powerful stuff: One slice in the morning and you’re good until mid-day when a second slice keeps you going until afternoon. It can keep you fed when you may not have access to a kitchen for days or months on end.

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The year I lived in Cleveland with my aunt and uncle, my uncle would end the day with a slice of rupmaize and some tea. As part of his ornate ritual, he would fill a ceramic mug with deep black tea and would slowly lather a slice of rupmaize with butter and honey. This was his dessert. He was very particular in the details and I remember him once giggling as he explained them to me. But I was only twelve and I didn’t get it.

For my uncle, a survivor of war and tragedy, this was sacrament. Literally, give us this day our daily bread. As if to say, this stuff is the staff of life. We deserve no more, and just this is enough. A little bit will carry us in a time of need.

And we all have, in every moment, a time of need.

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Rupmaize

Recently as a last act before an upcoming move, I baked two loaves of rupmaize.

It’s basically a Latvian rye bread – but it’s much more than that, partly because it’s much less.

It’s essentially rye flour, water, a little yeast if you want, and some sort of yogurt or kefir (call it turned milk).  Mix it up, let the yeasts and bacterias start to do their thing and then throw in a warm box (i.e. oven) to arrest the action.

You end up with these loaves that are some crazy cross between that hearty bread eaten by dwarves and that ethereal cake of which elves partake.

It’s both sweet and sour.  And it sustains.  In 1944 when Latvian families were loading up their wagons preparing for evacuation, no doubt women all over the countryside were hastily wrapping still warm rupmaize in cloth and packing it in baskets.

It’s powerful stuff – one slice in the morning and you’re good until mid-day when a second slice keeps you going until afternoon repast.  It can keep you fed when you may not have access to a kitchen for days or months on end.

In the year I lived in Cleveland with my Uncle Eriks and Aunt Ingrid, I recall how many evenings after dinner, Eriks would end the day with a slice of rupmaize and some black tea.  I may entirely be making this up, but I remember this ritual where he would sit at the kitchen table and would fill a ceramic mug with deep black tea and he would lather a slice of rupmaize with butter and jam.

This was his dessert.

He was very particular in the details and I remember him once giggling as he explained them to us.

But I was only twelve and I didn’t get it then.

For my uncle, a survivor of war and tragedy, this was sacrament.  Literally, give us this day our daily bread.  As if to say, this stuff is the staff of life.  Just a little bit will carry us in a time of need.

And we all have, in every moment, a time of need.

So in this moment, on this morning, I think of my Aunt Ingrid who baked the bread. And my Uncle Eriks who so appreciated it.  And for both these things I thank them.

 

Eriks Ievins 5.18.30 – 8.31.09

Eriks

You were a crucible for memory now extinguished.

And you once said that one could only stand so much in a battleground, no matter who you were, before you were damaged.

You left Poland on January 22nd, 1945 in the late afternoon or evening. There was snow yet on the ground, minus 20 degrees Celsius. Your sister, my mother, sat in the wagon or was walking. You walked and drove the wagon all night long. At dawn’s light you stopped in an abandoned village and found food. You ate frozen bread and sausage from Gneisen. You stopped and rested the horses. It took 3 days and 4 nights to get to the Oder. All roads were clogged with soldiers and refugees, all of you fleeing Soviet artillery. The world itself was burning.

The air smelled like California, you said. You would later see it yourself when the flames tore through the chaparral in Pendleton. Smoke and fires and explosions.

In some way you muddled along hoping the bridges across the Oder would not be blown by the time you reached them. You crossed near Gistrien along with other refugees coming in from Prussia and others out of Poland.

Across the river, one of the Sulcs relatives pulled your father Julius aside. Well Julius, he said, you need to get out of range of the artillery and away from the river. Go south of the main road, the village will already be abandoned. On the road you had lossed Valja and Janis. Behind you, you had left your mother’s grave. Here though, you managed to get the horses in a barn and get yourself under some sort of roof. You had food, vegetable soup it was. And here, you found rest.

Thy portion is the goat: with heat consume him: let thy fierce
flame, thy glowing splendour, burn him.
With thine auspicious forms, O Jātavedas, bear this man to the
region of the pious.

The Sun receive thine eye, the wind thy spirit; go, as thy merit
is, to earth or heaven.
Go, if it be thy lot, unto the waters: go, make thy home in
plants with all thy members.

Away O Agni, to the Fathers, send him who, offered in thee,
goes with our oblations.
Wearing new life let him approach his offspring, and splendid, be
invested with body.

-from the Rigveda