Grandmother Kostiw’s Gourmet Spices
The creator of Babunyas’s Gourmet Spices is Janina Kostiw, a Babunya or Grandmother.
My mom, Janina Kostiw also known to the family as Baba, short for our Babunya (means Grandmother), was born in the Western part of Ukraine on May 5, 1926. That part of Ukraine is today considered to be part of Poland because of the borders shifting during the war. Her father Michael was a veterinarian, and her mom Karolina worked the farm and raised the children. My mom was the middle child of five children. Around the age of two her father had noticed all the turmoil after the war and decided it was time to leave Eastern Europe before things got worse and decided to sell all of their belongings and move. He spoke with the rest of the family including grandparents, uncles and aunts, brothers, and sisters and convinced them to leave as well. They took what they could and left for Italy.
While in Italy they saw that things weren’t any better and heard about an opportunity in Brazil for free land. My grandfather Michael thought that they could cultivate the land for farming and as a veterinarian he would have work with other local farmers. So from about the age of two, my mom was raised and grew up in Brazil being brought up with the family gourmet seasoning that was passed down from her mom’s grandmother in which they incorporated spices from around their local area. Being brought up on a farm in the rural parts of Brazil that was on the edge of the jungle, you had to make do with what you had. You couldn’t run to the local Wal-Mart to get milk, bread or butter, and you certainly couldn’t go online to purchase gourmet spices. Everything was made from scratch. No running water inside the house, no electricity, and the bathroom was an outhouse outside. Only oil lanterns and a wood burning stove. No cars in that part of the world, only a horse and carriage. My mom use to tell me of how she use to have to walk miles to get to school after tending to all the animals that needed to be fed, milked, and cared for. She spoke about how much change she experienced from her time growing up on the farm to moving to the US
My mom left the countryside and went into the city of Porta Alegre. Brazil with her father who needed surgery. While staying with an elderly couple, (friends of her father) she met Thomasz Kostiw, who she fell in love with and eventually married in November of 1943. My father Thomasz was also from Ukraine and left during the changes in Eastern Europe and eventually wound up in Brazil where he owned a successful construction company. After they married my mom settled into city life, and my oldest brother Paul and later my sister Maria were born. My mom stayed home and raised the children on wonderful dishes she cooked with the gourmet seasonings that were passed down the family line. Both my brother and sister were born and raised in Brazil, but I was conceived in Brazil and born in the states. My father learned that his cousin was living in the United States, and it was always his desire to go there. After many correspondences back and forth, my brother Paul came to the United States in 1965 to go to school. He scoped things out for my parents and in April of 1967, they made the move with my sister to Jersey City, New Jersey USA. While living in Brazil, my mom never worked a day in her life except for taking care of the home and raising the children, but it was always her dream to be able to work and make her own money. Coming to the United States made that dream of hers come true even though my father wasn’t a fan of it. He was old school and didn’t like the fact that she was going to work, but my dad’s cousin got my mom her first job at the historical Woolworth Building in Manhattan, New York even though she didn’t speak English at the time. My mom spoke nine languages and my dad spoke eleven, but English was the last languages that they learned.
Every time my mom cooked people were always amazed at how wonderful everything tasted. My mom would always and only use the best ingredients for her seasonings. She would always get the highest quality spices that reminded her of the freshest ingredients from when she grew up on the farm. My mom never imagined when she was doing this that her seasonings would lead to the creation of a gourmet spice company.
One of our family friends got my mom a job in the Village in New York to work for Antique Furniture Store. While there the owners were having a special guest over for Thanksgiving and their Chef got sick. In a panic, they asked our family friend if he knew of anyone and he said you already have someone working for you that are an excellent cook. Puzzled they asked who and he said Janina Kostiw. Much to their surprise, they had no idea about her cooking so they asked her if she could prepare a Thanksgiving Dinner with all the trimmings and she said yes not a problem, not knowing who the special guest was. Well, she made the dinner and it was a hit so much that the guest wanted to know who the new chef was. The owners said that actually, it wasn’t a new chef but one of the employees that worked for him. They were so much impressed that they wanted to meet the person who cooked the Thanksgiving dinner. When they came into the kitchen my mom was surprised to see that the special guest she had cooked for using her secret family gourmet seasonings was the former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis with her two children. Jacqueline had asked her if she would be willing to cook for her some time for a special occasion and she said yes.
As time went on I noticed that no matter what my mom made she always would use her blended gourmet spices, and as I started cooking I learned her recipe and started using it as well. No matter what I made, it was always incredibly delicious. People would ask for the recipe or say that we should open up a restaurant, but I never gave it too much attention. After I got married and moved away, I noticed that I wanted to master the many dishes that my mom would make. I decided to video tape them, so that I could see how much my mom would use since she never measured anything. She would only eye it or taste it. As I moved around the country with the company I was working for at the time, I would grill or cook different dishes for friends and co-workers and noticed that I started getting many requests from people to make them a batch of that secret family gourmet spice. Then one day my wife Marlén and I decided to look into bottling the seasoning as a gourmet spice. With that said we introduced the gourmet spice to the public on January of 2009 with my mom’s photo on the bottle and called it, Babunya’s Gourmet Spice. When we showed it to my mom she was totally surprised, happy and honored that I put her face on our product. As we introduced it at different trade shows, my mom would come with us and talk to people about different recipes and would even autograph the bottles and take pictures with them. It’s been very nice to see how many people enjoy her seasonings. It’s sad that we lost her earlier this year in January at the age of 89, but it’s nice to see that her legacy lives on with her seasonings through a gourmet spice company. By only using the very best products in her blend without any MSG, Gluten, Preservatives or Additives, Babunya’s Gourmet Spice is “Great for Anything That Walks, Swims, or Fly’s, Game or Tame it’s All the Same! Even Great on Soups, Salads, and Vegetables!”