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Cultural Heritage Recipe Box

By November 25, 2020Blog

The food mill handed down from Sue Carlino’s grandmother.

By Brianna Horan, Manager of Tourism & Visitor Experience

Brianna HoranCultural Heritage Recipe Box: Winter Holiday Edition

The long nights and cold temperatures of the winter months are made brighter by the warmth of a long succession of holidays, giving us occasions to look forward to and reasons to gather together. As with most things this year, the coming holiday season will be different. We’re being called to gather in our hearts instead of our homes to slow the spread of the pandemic. Connecting with our loved ones in safe ways can help to keep the spirit and meaning of the holidays—and each other—alive and well. It’s a good time to call family and friends to reminisce about celebrations of the past, and even see if you can persuade them to share a treasured seasonal recipe with you. The ritual of preparing the ingredients and following instructions can restore some normalcy at a time when things are off rhythm—and the resulting aromas and flavors can make it feel as though you’re in a loved one’s kitchen instead of your own.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be featuring a sampling of winter holiday recipes from a variety of cultural traditions, shared by people from throughout the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area. Rather than precise measurements, it’s the fond memories and special meanings associated with the recipe that make the dishes and desserts taste so good. We’re thankful to all of these cooks and bakers for sharing their heritage with us, and we hope that these recipes will inspire you to put on your apron and learn about different ways of celebrating the season. If you have any leftovers, you could even package them up and share them during a porch greeting with family and friends.

From the Kitchen of Olivia Crocker

Olivia in the Pump House

Olivia Crocker at the Pump House during an Iron Oven catered lunch in 2019.

Olivia Crocker with her daughter Brittanney Lenco, who helps with the their business.

When it comes to sharing special recipes, we knew we had to start with Olivia Crocker, founder and owner of Iron Oven Catering & Events in West Mifflin. Her homemade meals have a way of taking diners back to Grandma’s kitchen—by the busload! The immigrant-inspired lunch that she and her team prepare with care is a highlight of Rivers of Steel’s Babushkas & Hard Hats group tour experience. Served at the historic Pump House, plates are piled high with stuffed cabbage, pierogis, halusky, and a rustic harvest salad. After lunch, eyes go wide at the sight of the Pittsburgh Cookie Table Sampler—this if often the first time travelers have heard of this beloved local tradition!

Iron Oven offers catering, private chef, craft services and event planning. Visit for more information, or email Olivia at

Olivia share the recipe for a special cake that her mother, Evelyn, made, bridging the earthy, cozy flavors of fall and winter with a bit of sweetness.

“This is my favorite cake, and absolutely no one makes it like my Mom did—hers weighed ten pounds! She would forage black walnuts all fall to use in this cake. Sometimes she’d make a buttercream frosting rather than the dulce de leche if she wanted it to have a more Eastern European flavor instead of Latin. I remember her coloring the frosting pink with maraschino cherry juice and garnishing it with cherries sometimes, but she would always cover the top with the nuts she’d gathered. Lately when I make this cake, I’ll frost it as a naked cake so that the delicious poppy seeds and black walnuts peek through.”  —   Olivia Crocker

Evelyn’s Serbian Poppyseed Walnut Cake with Dulce De Leche Frosting



  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking soda + 1 tablespoon vinegar combined
  • 1 ¾ cups poppy seeds
  • 1 cup black walnuts
  • 1 cup pastry whole wheat flour


  • 1 can dulce de leche
  • 12 oz. cream cheese (1 ½ blocks)
  • 1 stick of butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/8 cup Maraschino cherry juice
  • Maraschino Cherries, reserved for garnish
  • Black walnuts, for garnish

Syrup – mix together and allow to cool

  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar


  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Pinch cream of tartar


  1. Make meringue: Prepare a lined 10-inch springform pan and heat oven to 200 degrees F. Beat egg whites with sugar and cream of tartar on high speed until peaks are stiff and glossy. Spread mixture evenly in the springform pan, then bake for 3 ½ to 4 hours. You can make this the day before and leave this to cool and continue drying overnight in the oven for best results.
  2. Make cake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a food processor, pulse and chop walnuts and poppy seeds together. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with sugar until fluffy and pale in color. Sift in the flour, then add the nut and seed blend, followed by the baking soda + vinegar mixture. Line the bottom of a 10-inch cake pan with parchment paper, then grease or spray the sides and bottom. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, until toothpick comes out dry and clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.
  3. Make syrup: dissolve the sugar in the boiling water, then allow to cool.
  4. Make dulce de leche frosting: Beat together the cream cheese and butter. Add dulce de leche and beat until well combined. Gradually pour in heavy whipping cream, Maraschino cherry juice, and vanilla, and beat until cream thickens.
  5. Assemble the cake: Once the cake has cooled, slice it in half. Place bottom layer on serving dish and spoon some of the syrup over it to moisten, then add a layer of frosting. Next, place the meringue disk as the middle layer, and spread with more frosting. Finally, add the other half of the cake as the third layer. Spoon syrup on top to moisten, then spread frosting on the top and sides of the cake – or give it a fresh feel by frosting this as a naked cake. Cover the top with black walnuts and garnish with Maraschino cherries, just like Olivia’s mom used to.

From the Kitchen of Sue & Augie Carlino

A family gathered around a festive table

“How it usually is.”—Carlino Family Thanksgiving, 2019

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we asked Rivers of Steel’s President and CEO Augie Carlino and his wife Sue to share how they traditionally celebrate today’s holiday. Sue tells us how her Thanksgiving menu came together with feedback from friends and family, and the help of a handed-down kitchen gadget that is even more meaningful than it is useful.

“Several years before Augie and I were married, I had a turkey in the freezer (for some reason, I can’t remember why). We decided to invite friends for a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving. I was definitely not a good cook at the time. I think everything turned out well, although the only things I remember were the turkey, the stuffing and the cranberry sauce. Although I still love the stuffing I made (it was from one of the Silver Palate cookbooks), unfortunately Augie’s family did not, so that went by the wayside.

The cranberry sauce, or more accurately jelly, does make an appearance every year. It’s originally from The Fannie Farmer cookbook, but what makes it special is the fact that I use my grandmother’s food mill to make it. It’s the only time I use it each year, but it makes me happy to know that she held the once-red wooden handle and turned the wooden knob, probably to make borscht. Born in 1908, I think she’d be glad it’s still being used. (I just went looking for it because it’s never where I think I last put it.) And the best thing about this recipe is that it should be made a day or two ahead of time so it sets.”   —   Sue Carlino

Cranberry Jelly


  • 1 – 12 oz. bag fresh or frozen whole cranberries
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • pinch of salt
  • whole cinnamon stick (optional)
  • small piece fresh ginger (optional)


Bring water to a boil and add washed cranberries and cinnamon stick and ginger, if using. Reduce heat and stir for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently at the end to keep from burning. Press mixture through a fine strainer or a food mill (I run it through a food mill twice), discarding skins, cinnamon stick and ginger. Return to pot and cook at low heat for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add sugar and a pinch of salt, cook for another 2 minutes. Pour into a bowl and chill. Tip: Make it easy on yourself and use a bowl the jelly can be served in.

A family gather virtually on the Zoom platform.

“How it will be this year!”—Carlino Family Zoom Gathering