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There's 'no wrong way' to make boilo this winter

Plus, wishing you a merry Rocky Balboa Day.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

December 2, 2023
Inside this edition: Rocky Day, We Three Kings, the real Bond, dead mall, Santa scoots, and boilo-makers. Thanks for checking in.
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🏆 PA POP QUIZ: Did you stay on top of the news this week? Prove it with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: 2024 vision, snow droughts, impeachment court, and war machines.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

Can you name any of the three counties that are Pennsylvania’s oldest? Can you also name the commonwealth’s newest county?

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One champ worth seeing: Sunday is  “Rocky Day” in Philadelphia, and actor Sylvester Stallone will be there to celebrate at the Parkway Visitor Center at 11 a.m. — next to the steps he made famous.

» One fact worth knowing: The holiday song "We Three Kings" has ties to Pennsylvania. The Valley Girl Views blog says it was penned by a rector who served in Williamsport, and quickly became a hit.

» One name worth knowing: Before he was known as the iconic 007 spy agent in Hollywood, James Bond's name was inspired by a Philadelphia-based birder. Billy Penn gives a look into the real Bond

» One mall obit worth reading: The Century III Mall near Pittsburgh is quiet this holiday. Once the third largest mall in the world, it's facing demolition. Pittsburgh Magazine remembers its heyday well.

» One story worth sharing: Santa Claus is indeed coming to town. These central Pennsylvania Santas ride around on scooters spreading holiday cheer. WNEP reports they will be around until Christmas day. 

The top stories published by Spotlight PA this week.
» Revealing lawmakers' secret harassment settlements

» Pa. must accept undated mail ballots, court rules

» Pa. drug laws drive harm reduction into shadows

» Even Santa is feeling effects of Pa. budget delay

» Pa.'s push for more equitable public parks

» Shapiro will appeal ruling on key climate program
A pot brimming with orange wedges and spices boils on a stove.
Boiling up some boilo. (Submitted by Matt Cragle)

It’s tangy. It’s sweet. It’s bursting with flavor and controversy. It’s boilo.

The alcoholic drink is a wintertime staple in Pennsylvania’s coal country, starting with Schuylkill County. Boilo is the Americanized version of Krupnik or Krupnikas, a popular drink in Eastern Europe. How did this honey liquor make its way to the Keystone State? Lithuanian immigrants brought it with them when they came here to work the mines. 

Amy Dee, the owner of Coal Country Boilo, said the drink is traditionally distilled in Europe, but without the resources to do that in Pennsylvania, makers of the beverage switched up their method. 

“Europeans would brew it instead of distilling it when giving it out in Pennsylvania in the winter,” Dee said.

Spices, lemons, oranges, raisins, honey, and ginger are the basic ingredients. New Jersey-made Four Queens whiskey is the alcohol of choice, but Dee said vodka, moonshine, and Everclear are also acceptable. Virgin boilo is also an option.

Paul Domalakes of Frackville, a boilo expert and member of the local chapter of the Knights of Lithuania Council, said the drink spread like wildfire as more and more people figured out how to make it. 

“It gained popularity because the ingredients are inexpensive," he told PA Local. "They were fancy enough for a festive drink but they didn't impoverish anyone."

Another reason for its popularity—it's seen as a remedy for colds. 

“People swear by it, that it cures colds," Domalakes added. "I think they drink enough of it that they don’t care they have a cold."

Boilo got a boost in popularity in the last few years during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dee said. She volunteers with the Orwigsburg Free Public Library and sells boilo kits at fundraisers. 

“People were home and drinking more. They had time and were able to pursue things that were interesting to them,” she said. “I saw a boost in sales and interest in boilo and its historical aspects. That's when I got asked to speak about it. People at that point had the ability to do those things.” Bread- and beer-making saw similar pandemic boosts.

Dee’s first time hearing about boilo was in the early 2000s, when a woman mentioned having to brew it for her sick husband. The concoction sounded delicious, she said, but the woman refused to reveal the recipe. The woman only mentioned the ingredients. From there, Dee found herself striving to make the perfect batch.

“I did so much research about boilo. The secret family recipe is real. People will pass it down from generation to generation,” she said. “I spoke with anyone and everyone I could about how to make it. I found common threads, and depending on the background your family had, you probably made it a different way.”

Families will sometimes vote on who they want to carry on the recipe. Dee remembers overhearing a conversation where two grandmothers considered trustworthiness, cooking skills, and knowledge of traditions.

That secrecy is why there’s controversy about how to make it, but Dee said there is not one way to make the drink. Apple pie boilo is a popular, nontraditional one she tried. Her business released a cookbook called “No Wrong Way To Boilo” featuring 25 different recipes. 

“People don’t like that I give out a recipe and I go and talk to people about boilo. It is a very gatekept thing. It’s a shame. It is a big part of our local culture. … People should try it,” Dee said.

While people may have strong thoughts on the right way to make the drink (or the virtues of warm/sweet alcoholic beverages), Domalakes said anyone who makes it can call themselves a boilo expert. 

“It’s something everybody does. Some people are elaborate and careful, and some people make it fun,” Domalakes said.

Domalakes recalls his grandparents making boilo when he was growing up. When he was old enough to drink, he was given the recipe. 

“My parents served a little bit of it in a goblet, so I used to think it was a fascinating drink, and then I realized it's everyman’s champagne,” he said. 

“It is a neat thing from Schuylkill County. Anything about Schuylkill County that is known to the outside world is great.”

Tanisha Thomas, newsletter writer / reporter

Our favorite quote about Pennsylvania — or from a Pennsylvanian — this week.

“I love their quirky personalities. I love how they’re very individual, they mean a lot to me and I really enjoy working here and I just love the pigs.”

Jennifer Brown, a full-time employee at Ross Mill Farm in Jamison, on why she enjoys working for an organization helping to rehome pigs

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
One of the attractions in the Phipps Winter Flower Show in Pittsburgh, via Kimberly D. Have a photo you'd like to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
a room filled with various plants (including scarlet poinsettias) and an stuffed animal toy propped up on a leafy chair
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

ABC27 reports Pennsylvania's oldest counties are Bucks, Chester, and Philadelphia. All three were created in 1682.

The youngest? That would be Lackawanna County — made in 1878 and coming in at a sprightly 145 years old. 

Thanks for reading. We'll see you back here next week.

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