1920: Centenarian husband and nonagenarian wife reveal their longevity secrets

PopovAA

Demyan’s Fish Soup by Andrei Andreevich Popov, 1865 (published before 1923 and public domain in the US)

I’m always interested in stories of longevity, so when I came upon this one right after preparing a big old pot of borscht, my favorite soup, I could not help but feel validated about my cooking choice.

It was about a South Dakotan who’d made it to 100 (in 1920) and was living with his 96-year-old wife. They were originally from a place once known as Kulm, Bessarabia, South Russia. Today this location is known as Pidhirne, Odessa Region, Ukraine. The couple emigrated to the US in 1880, and of their 11 children, only one was still living in 1920.

Their lifestyle and her cooking seemed to be what kept the two of them going all those years, and apparently she was still doing the cooking at age 96. Perhaps, almost a century later there is something we can learn from them, or at least reinforce what we already know is key to a healthy, long life. Their “secrets”:

  • Low stress – they never spent time worrying about anything (although their life was not without heartache);
  • Physical activity – they performed manual labor on their farm every day;
  • They never worked too hard;
  • They never ate in excess;
  • She never baked him pies, cakes, cookies, etc., and they never ate any of those things;
  • They never ate candy—ever;
  • They never ate fried meat, except bacon on rare occasions;
  • They only ate Russian black / whole wheat / rye bread;
  • They drank milk in unlimited quantities;
  • Meat, eaten rarely, was roasted or boiled;
  • Soup – lots of it, every day; borscht was their favorite 😉 ;
  • Never used tobacco products;
  • Alcohol abstinence for last 20 years; just occasional wine before that.

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borshcht1

My latest go at Moscow-style borscht topped with sour cream & fresh dill

Any surprises in the list? Just one for me: that they avoided cakes, pies, cookies, and candy altogether. I think I’d find it challenging to go even a week without at least one cookie. But reading their story does make me want to cut out processed sugar…. and eat more borscht!

Now, I know that there are many different styles of borscht, a dish that got its start in Ukraine. The one I am used to is Moscow-style borscht, and it is so delicious, I could eat it every day. I’ll leave you with the recipe. It’s very simple, and can be adjusted—you can easily make a vegetarian version.

Stay healthy and well, everyone, and have a good day.

borshcht3

A La Russe: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality p. 159 – an easy & delicious Moscow-style borscht recipe (Beef or vegetable bouillon works fine if you have no beef on hand.)

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Categories: Food: Family Recipes & Favorites, Health Matters, Russia | Tags: | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “1920: Centenarian husband and nonagenarian wife reveal their longevity secrets

  1. It’s always interesting learning to what people attribute their longevity. My grandmother died a few days short of her 98th birthday and until the last year or so of her life, she lived in her own home and looked after herself. She had a terrible sweet tooth — there were always cakes and cookies to be had at her house and she ate quite a lot of fried and salty food (very typical scottish diet). But she didn’t drink alcohol much, never smoked, and walked or caught the bus everywhere. She had been a widow for over 30 years, caring for an invalid husband for 15 or so years before that. She’d raised six kids, looked after quite a few of her grandchildren and a few great grandchildren. She always welcomed visitors and was very sociable. She outlived a couple of her kids, most of her siblings and all her friends. My mother thinks that in the end, it was the loneliness and boredom of living in a care home killed her.

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    • Wow, almost 98. Your grandmother was amazing! Thanks for sharing her story. Staying so active must have been one of the keys to her longevity. It’s definitely rare to still be living alone in one’s late 90’s here in the US, but not unheard of. Funny you should mention the Scottish diet. When I lived in London, I heard all sorts of stories about the cardiac health of Scottish men & women, fried Mars bars, etc. Hopefully things have improved since then. It wasn’t just Scotland really. I remember taking my mom for fish and chips when we were in Devon and watching the frying oil pour out of the paper wrapper. Sounds like your grandmother had great genes when it came to diet. …oops, lightening storm is coming so I best shut down before we get a surge and my reply is lost! Thanks again for popping in. Have a great day.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Scottish diet is notorious! I had an uncle who refused point-blank to eat any green vegetables, and when I first visited in 1991, I was worried I’d get scurvy from the complete absence of fruit on offer. But somehow my granny survived and thrived!

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      • I wonder what caused the revolt against fruits & vegetables.

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      • I think it’s mainly that Scotland doesn’t really lend itself to growing a lot of the fruit and veg we eat now, and traditional greens, berries, etc that could be grown and/or foraged have gone out of favour. Alternatively, it could be that all Scottish housewives cook like my mother and that was enough to put kids off their greens for life!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

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