Saturday, March 07, 2009


My father, Edmour Joseph Babineau, died January 23, 2009, and tomorrow we will celebrate the traditional 40 day memorial (in greek: parastas, in slavonic: panikhida) for him at church. We Orthodox remember the dead at every service, and on specific "soul" Saturdays in Lent, but tomorrow is special. There are special prayers for the soul as it departs from the body at the moment of death, and we hold what is called a memorial service on the 3rd, 9th, and 40th day, as well as at the 3 month, 6 month, 9 month and one year mark, and every year following. The 40th day is a echo of Christ's Ascension into heaven, and we will pray that Dad will also ascend to Heaven to spend eternity with God

I just finished making the memorial wheat for this service. This is variously known as koliva, hilbee, berbera, snuniye, coliva, kolivo, korkoti, tsandili or kutia, depending on your ethnicity. A plate of this sweet wheat rests on the memorial table throughout Divine Liturgy and during the Memorial itself, after which all the congregation will partake of it. We boil wheat as a remembrance that mankind is placed in the earth like a seed, only to be raised up and blossom forth again through God's plan and power. This is a powerful reminder for Orthodox Christians of the words of St. John 12:24 "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." The symbolism of death and resurrection, between that which is planted in the ground and that which emerges, is deeply embedded in the making and eating of koliva.

My father really loved memorial wheat and sometimes I would make it for him and mother as a breakfast treat. As I was chopping and toasting the nuts and seeds, I remembered happy times around that very same kitchen table: the four of us laughing and eating, or helping Elisabeth with her school work, or doing the crosswords, or just sipping coffee and deciding where to picnic the next day. Happy times, gone now.

But I'm not sad, I'm really not. My father was trapped in a body and a mind that failed him, and he's free now. I miss him, but that is nothing new - with Alzheimer's, the missing starts very early. And its not forever, you know. We'll meet again at the last. I am thinking a lot of him today, though. Here is the eulogy that I wrote for him and which was read so very beautifully by my dear friend, Carla McCurry:

Edmour Joseph Babineau
April 25, 1916 - January 23, 2009

Here are some remarks that Denise wrote about her father, which she has asked me to read to you today.

How do you measure a man’s life? Is it in the days, months, years? If so, at 92 years old, my father was rich. Is it in his possessions? If so, then I look at my father’s few mementos, the fishing poles, handles worn smooth through many years use, or maybe his trusty camera with all the lenses and filters and tripods, and think that perhaps my father was poor. Is it in the memories that a man leaves behind? Over the last few days, I’ve heard from countless people who knew my father, all of whom had their favorite, funny “Eddie” story. Maybe it was the one about the tomatoes that were so big that he had to cut them in half to get them in the door, or maybe it was the liver Popsicles, or maybe it was a memory of going fishing or golfing with him. Always, the memories were of laughter and fun. If memories measure a man’s life, then my father was rich.

Those of you who met my father when he was an old man missed out on so much. He was a real character - a great storyteller, unfailingly good humored, very smart, funny, loyal, brave, loving, a steadfast champion of the underdog, and could fix anything. He had a gluttonous love of cherry ice cream and Boston baked beans, though not together!

He loved his family more than anything. He passed his love of yardsaleing on to his granddaughter, Elisabeth. Together, they would hit the yardsales early on Saturday mornings, and haggle over prices, bringing home their treasures.

All his life, he loved traveling to new places and meeting new people. His Sunday drives for ice cream – to another state! – were legendary. He always said that someday he was going to buy a trailer and travel around the country. How many people get to live their dream? Well, my father did. He loved traveling in his motor home and did so for 15 years before settling down in Savannah. In that 27 footer, he traveled throughout the US, Canada and Mexico with my mom. He loved fishing and golfing, and was a seeded tennis player and professional boxer in his day. He was a real war hero, decorated in WWII and written up in the newspapers of the time.

My favorite memory of my parents is creeping downstairs early in the morning to the kitchen, and finding them dancing all alone to music only they could hear. He took tender care of my mother for many years, and never once complained.

He was a wonderful, loving, devoted husband, father and grandfather. He was a true gentleman, a charming raconteur and practical joker. He was honorable and true. He was everything a man should be and seldom is. He was one in a million, and we were so very lucky to have had him in our lives for almost 93 years. The world will be a sadder place without him. My daughter and I will miss him very much.

But right now, I think he’s standing just inside the pearly gates, the host extraordinaire, greeting newcomers as St. Peter’s right hand man, saying as he always used to at the Inn: “Welcome! Come on in. I have a special room just for you.”

Here is my recipe for Koliva, enough for home. For my church, I usually double it. I do not like it to be dry, so I leave out the zweiback or graham cracker crumbs.

1 C soft wheat (very important - it must be soft, not hard, wheat)
1/2 C chopped nuts, like walnuts, toasted
1/2 C sesame seeds, toasted
1/2 C golden raisins
1/2 C chopped fruit (I like to use craisins)
1 heaping tsp ground cinnamon
1 C powdered sugar
zest of one orange
1 tsp anise seed, crushed a little

Simmer the wheat in 4 cups of water for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until very tender and cooked all the way through. Drain well and place in a large bowl with all the other ingredients. Stir very, very well to make sure that all the ingredients are mixed well. Let cool.

Once it is cool, place it in a flat serving platter. Smooth the top and decorate with silver dragees, jordan almonds, or other white candies in the shape of a three bar cross. I've used yogurt covered raisins when I couldn't get jordan almonds here in Savannah, and these work very well.

Enjoy. And if you make this, please, say a little prayer for my father as you eat it.

It has become increasingly difficult to find soft wheat berries in Savannah, and I'm simply not organized enough to order them online in advance.  I've begun using pearled barley (in equal amounts to the wheat) which is barley with the fibrous outer hull and bran removed, and cooks on top of the stove in one hour, without soaking. It's very similar to the Romanian arpacas which is traditionally used for coliva in Romania. Arpacas is not necessarily wheat berries with the hull removed - it can also be spelt or barley. My use of barley is not noticeable in this dish, and as it is a seed, it retains the significance of a seed dying to give new life inherent in this dish.  An excellent recipe for Romanian style coliva is in the works for this blog, once I perfect it.  Soon....

Here is a link to my tried and true .Russian style Kutia recipe


Anonymous said...

Memory Eternal!

GreekGrrl72 said...

May his memory be eternal.

missingbecheery said...

Thank you both. Would you say a prayer for my parents when you think of it? Their names are Edmour Joseph and Beatrice Elena. Denise

Kyra said...

I took made koliva recently, for my son's memorial...May both their memories be eternal.

I have always added chopped apricots and pomegranate seeds when they are available. Wonderful additions.

crazyme said...

Aw what a great man your Dad sounds like. Memory eternal! Alzheimers took my Grandmother, I know what you mean about the missing. I love koliva, and never thought of just eating it as food. Thank you for posting this very personal insight.

DonaldF said...

Indeed I will say a prayer for Ed and Bea as I make Koliva a la Denise. They were wonderful people, and I was very fond of them both. I remember having many wonderful conversations with your father. Your mother was an ever gracious hostess. May their memories be eternal!

dianep said...

I used your recipe for koliva for my father's panikhida today. It was great. I missed the part about mixing everything while the wheat was still warm but it still came out delicious.
diane prokipchak