Elena's Place

A tree delivery this morning gave me an excuse to have a noon meal at Elena's Place, a restaurant in Erskine. Elena is part of the Russian Orthodox Old Believer sect, of which 100 families have settled in the Erskine area over the past five years.

Who around here would have thought, ten years ago, that Erskine, MN would ever have a Russian restaurant?

Elena fed me well. Russian food reminds me a bit of what I ate in Poland. Salads consist mainly of cabbage and vinegar. The vegetables are well stewed. The bread is a bit tough, but when you dip it in the red borscht, it softens nicely. The beef perogi also benefited from dipping in the borscht.

Elena worked on her books as I ate, while Russian music played on the boom box. She later said that the music was of Russian Orthodox Old Believers in Poland. I did not know that there were many Russian Orthodox of any sort in Poland, but Elena said they dispersed all over the world before, during and after World War II, "fleeing their own country," as she put it.

After I finished the main meal, Elena gave me an almond dessert on the house. It was very sweet. Equally sweet was the conversation with Elena about her life. She was born in China. Her Old Believer sect had fled there from Siberia in 1905. Her family moved to Brazil when she was three years old, after Mao consolidated his power in China. They moved with the help of the American Consulate in Bejiing. Many of them later moved to Portland, OR. Five years ago, a group moved to the Erskine area.

At first, Elena said, she had troubles in Minnesota--but now, she said, it is home. She likes the quiet, and after a week of visiting Portland, she's ready to come back.

Over 7,000 Old Believer families remain in Portland, Elena said. They are reproducing at a fast rate. "There are two or three weddings every Sunday," she said, adding, "you could become an alcoholic!" The Old Believer weddings last one week, at least for the bride and her party, and two days, Sunday and Monday, for the remaining guests. There is much drinking, and a lot of good food.

Elena showed me pictures of her family including one of her youngest son, who was married in Erskine last year. He was 16 at the time, and his wife, also from an Old Believer family, was 14. They now have a baby. I found the pictures of the two teenagers, he looking every bit the responsible father in work clothes, and she looking demur in traditional Orthodox garb, extraordinary.

Elena's daughter Marina reads my column, she said, and would like it very much if I would sign her book. I signed a little book which was full of greetings from other restaurant visitors. I purchased four cans of Latvian smoked sardines, which my father thinks are pretty darn good, and headed back to work--reminded that things around here aren't as bland as they might look.