Sunday, January 15, 2012

Rye Bread, Kielbasa, and Kraut. Healing and Heartbreak, Of Course.

source
Confession: I almost never eat what most Americans, including most Polish-Americans, think of as "Polish food": pierogies, kielbasa, "bigos" – hunter's stew, or "kotlet schabowy" – breaded, fried pork cutlet.

As I'll detail below, though, what most Polish-Americans think of as Polish food really wasn't authentic Polish food at all.

Another confession: I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal and I fell in love with my dream cuisine in the Himalayan Mountains of the Indian subcontinent. From the poorest peasant homes in the shadow of Mount Everest, to street stalls in Bombay, I never had bad food. Well, some of the food was tainted, yes, and I did get every intestinal parasite you can imagine, but that was a small price to pay to discover this cuisine. It's low-fat, satisfying, nutritious, and easy to digest (when it's not tainted).

Indian-Nepali meals are based on combinations of legumes and grains or other starches that produce complete protein. A meal is typically rice plus lentils, or wheat chapattis plus chickpeas, or chickpeas plus potatoes, or, if you are really lucky, some dairy product like raita – yogurt with some spices and maybe a bit of shredded cucumber. How we would yearn, up in the hills, how we would talk about it for days, if we hit the trifecta – rice AND lentils AND yogurt. Rounding out the meal are vegetables and hot, spicy, maddeningly flavorful achars. One of my favorite achars is made from unripe mangos, garlic, salt, hot pepper, spices like fenugreek, and mustard oil. Mouth-watering. My mouth, right now, is watering.

In a tiny, isolated, Himalayan settlement – can't really call it a village – an illiterate and barefoot woman with soot perpetually blackening her fingernails served me an achar made from "lapsi" – hog plum. I've never had this lapsi achar, or anything like it, anywhere else. The lapsi had a liquid, seductively elusive texture. Though surrounded by heat, it was cool. You'd catch it on your tongue and it would elude you – always tempting, never letting you feel secure of its taste or texture. As coy as a flirt at a dance. And this in a tiny mountain hamlet populated by subsistence farmers without electricity or running water who would never travel more than fifty miles in their entire lives. You've got to respect a cuisine that can produce moments like that.

I used to trek for weeks, up and down thousands of feet a day, saluting the sunrise under parrots winging overhead across sweltering river valleys and through fat rice paddies up to thigh-deep, snow-choked ten-thousand-foot passes, and do all that on a Nepali staple: roasted corn and soybeans. I felt strong and well fed. Never a hunger pang, never an upset stomach.

After my first Nepali meal of daal-bhaat-tarkari (lentils, rice, and vegetables) I never looked back. To this day, food to me is, primarily, rice and beans, lovingly handled fresh vegetables, and judiciously applied spices – always with something exotic and surprising in there to keep the tongue engaged, after yet another meal of rice and vegetables. But, alas, never anything as good as that long-ago lapsi achar.

Neither the Nazis nor Soviets ever reduced us to this. Source.

The harshest confession of all: Gastronomic Poles make me want to scream. Gastronomic Polonians are convinced that Polishness is something fatty and starchy that you put in your mouth. If you post a photo of a pierogi on your facebook page, that makes you REALLY Polish.

I wish the pierogi-brains would come to recognize, cherish, and respect Polish thought, Polish writing, Polish scholarship, the heroism of Polish minds and hearts, their fellow, living, Polonians. Someday, maybe. Someday. Meanwhile, I filter their facebook posts. Starch? Fat? The essence of Polishness? No. Please. No. Not the Nazis, nor the Soviets, ever reduced Polish identity to the triviality so beloved of gastronomic Polonians.

***

When I was living in Poland for a year, I bitterly wrote a Polish cookbook. Here it is, in its entirety: "Shoot it and fry it. Dig it up and boil it."

Admittedly, 1988-1989 was a bad year for Polish cuisine. Communism was dying and the comrades were really tightening the screws. I remember days spent just walking around Krakow, looking for something I might want to eat. If you saw people standing in line, you didn't ask. You just joined the queue, and bought whatever they were selling from the back of the truck, from oranges to carp.

After we, in an Orange Alternative protest, threw cartons of yogurt at a statue dedicated to the Soviet "liberation" of Poland, you couldn't buy yogurt in Krakow for love or money. Smalec – lard – seemed always to be available, and it amazed me that people actually wanted to eat it. In America eating lard would sound like a category of dementia. "Doctor, he's going mad. He insists on eating lard!" Or a form of slow-motion suicide. "He's trying to kill himself slowly. He keeps eating lard. Closing off one heart valve, and one taste bud, at a time."

Jacek, a Jagiellonian University student, was offered a scholarship to go to England. He sat me down and asked me to provide him with key sentences he'd need as soon as he got off the plane. His very first request: "How do you say, 'I want lard?'"

I gazed at Jacek with compassion. "Jacek, when you get to England, you won't have to eat lard." He could only look puzzled.

England was probably grateful to Soviet-era Poland for being one country that could, by comparison, make English cuisine appear appetizingly superior.

Communist Poland's dreadful food situation was encapsulated in jokes. Poland was the rebellious Soviet-bloc nation. After the crushing of the Prague Spring, the Czechs were seen as more obedient. Chronic food shortages were Poland's punishment for its refusal of the communist yoke. Czechoslovakia was rewarded with better consumer goods. Thus the joke:

Two dogs meet at the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia. The Czech dog says, incredulously, to the Polish dog, "Why on earth are you trying to enter Czechoslovakia?"

The Polish dog responds, "I want to taste your meat." He, in turn, incredulous, asks the Czech dog, "Why on earth are you trying to enter Poland?"

The Czech dog responds, "I want to bark."

***

I did achieve gastronomic nirvana in Communist-era Poland, though: in spring, when the berries come into season, and flood the farmer's markets. You could step into any ramshackle stall on any side street and buy enough blueberries, at cheap enough a price, to dye your tongue purple.

zurek
I also loved zurek, fermented rye soup. Thick, sour, and hot – on overcast days, the soul craves it. Salad made from finely shredded cabbage, carrots, vinegar, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar: perfect. Zapiekanki: a split baguette, buttered mushrooms, mild, melted cheese. Nothing else. As yummy as anything you will eat anywhere, ever. And I love my kiszka, aka kaszanka, all the naysayers be damned. Buckwheat groats and blood stuffed into a pig's intestines: what's not to like? And headcheese.

I remember asking an ex-boyfriend, very American, if he wanted to meet my family. He said, "As long as they don't feed me anything made out of the head, intestines, or feet of a pig."

I was astounded. It was early in the relationship; I had not yet revealed to Captain America my closeted passion for kiszka or headcheese. And this guy had grown up in Ridgewood, N.J., an exclusive suburb of assimilated achievers, not at all a center of Polish butchers. Where did he get this idea of Poles as eating pig heads, feet, and intestines? Anyway, we do. Glad when that relationship ended. I've forgotten his name.

My mother told me that her first memory was the sound of a pig being slaughtered. Later a Croatian-born friend, Bruno Zovich, would tell me the same thing. I've since heard the sound of a pig being slaughtered, and I now understand.

My Slovak mother used to make a Slovak specialty: cow lungs. Slovak peasants made use of animal parts that others might ignore, including cow lungs. In 1971, the U.S. Wholesale Meat Act declared lungs unfit for human consumption. How do I know this? I remember it. It was a black day in our kitchen.
My mother announced to the family, in the kitchen, with great sadness, frustration, and grief, that the butcher told her that the American government had passed some kind of law outlawing human consumption of cow lungs, and the butcher wouldn't let her have them anymore. To her it was just further proof, along with Yalta, coal mines and American passivity during the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968, that America was a perfidious nation bent on making the lives of Bohunks miserable. As good a theory as any.

My mother used to rhapsodize about a childhood treat in Slovakia: cakes made from beets. My mother and I finally returned to Slovakia, and our gold-toothed, black-clad relatives there, as part of immediately and thoroughly satisfying my mother's every whim, whims stored in mothballs since her tearful, forced departure decades before, cooked up some of these legendary beet cakes, cakes whose unique deliciousness I had heard heralded in praise songs all my life.
I ate one of the moist, hot, gritty, dirt-flavored, barely sweet, very heavy cakes and instantly barfed. I can still taste it, going down and coming back up again. I felt a surge of compassion for my mother. *This* was your special treat? The highlight of your childhood? No wonder you are the way you are. Beet cake and the squeals of slaughtered pigs. And the slivovice. Don't get me started on the slivovice. Do a blind taste test of slivovice and kerosene; see if you can detect a difference.

Goat milk. My mother always insisted that she had been raised on goat milk, not cow milk, like Americans, and that's why Slovaks were superior to Americans in every way – that early infusion of goat milk, and avoidance of cow milk. As good a theory as any.

***

One of the many things that gastronomic Poles don't get is that their idea of Polish food is not their ancestors' idea of Polish food. Most of us Poles descend from peasants. As Wyspianski put it in "The Wedding":

"There are people who despise me
Just because I'm peasant born.
When they see a scythe, they scoff.
How it makes me sad at heart.
We're all in this Polish stable
and we've all got peasant blood."

Polish peasants did not eat a lot of breaded pork cutlets. Probably not even a lot of pierogi.

In his beautifully written and invaluable memoir, "
From Serfdom to Self-Government," Jan Slomka described the Polish peasant menu. It was painfully simple and there wasn't much meat. Food was potatoes, peas, beans, buckwheat, cabbage, bread, fish and eels, and maybe a pig a year. Wincenty Witos wrote, "There were months when we did not see a piece of bread." Sugar, citrus fruit, cucumbers, and tomatoes were inaccessible. "There would be every year with rare exceptions pre-harvest famine."

I experienced something like this menu when I went to visit my mother's village in Slovakia.

A big, immediate surprise: hunger. My Uncle John (Jan) did not even own a refrigerator. Why should he? If he wanted to eat something, he went into his field and harvested it, or to his stock animals and killed it. He went down to his cellar and sliced off some pig fat. He did purchase bread and yogurt at the store.

We visiting Americans were quickly hungry, and we really didn't know what to do about it. My mother, so aggressively Slovak in America, realized how American she was in Slovakia. These people were pulling out all the stops for us, but we weren't used to their ways. We weren't used to going hours without eating, and eating only what grew in the backyard.

Finally my mother pulled my Aunt Jolana aside and explained that I was hungry. My aunt immediately went into the backyard and killed a chicken.

I cried.

But I ate the damn chicken.

Chickens are often quite disgusting in their behavior. They like to eat luggies, something I saw too much of in Nepal. Some village guys, without other entertainments, would really get into feeding the chickens their spit. Also, chickens peck their fellows to death. This makes chickens easier to eat. Easier than, say, puppies. Well, you can dislike the chickens, but then you realize you are eating previously digested luggies and fellow chicken, and then you turn to the rice. At least until hunger and time cause you to forget the mental images of chickens eating spit and each other.

Slovakia was the first place I ate visible bugs in food. I'm something of a clean freak and had a real problem with bugs when I was a kid. My beloved Aunt Jolana served me chicken broth with bugs floating on top. I was so hungry, and I loved her so much, I spooned it all down. I wasn't so hungry, and I did not love her enough, to erase this memory of my self-sacrifice for my aunt. I can still see that bowl of chicken broth in front of me, the fat forming iridescent rings on the surface, and the little floating bugs I dare not even pick out with my fingertips while my aunt's back was turned.

I remember my Uncle John sitting down to his own meal, while I was served the guest's meal of chicken broth. He ate a slice of pig fat and a fistful of hot, raw chilis for lunch. "Strycko!" I protested. "Uncle! That pig fat is bad for your heart!"

"Your great grandfather Gregor Cerno ate this for lunch every day, and slivovice, too, and he lived to be 93!"

You can't argue with these people. How do you argue with people who are still vertical after being flattened by both Nazi and Soviet tanks?

Pig fat, bread: dense, heavy.

Whenever I return to America after a long time away, I go to a produce store, and a salad bar. I crave lightness, including light food: California lettuce, Florida oranges. And it's all there, and cheap. We Americans are so damn lucky, and we don't realize it.

But there were cherries in Slovakia. I remember walking under a tree and a boy hanging upside down by his knees and offering us his hat full of cherries. And the yogurt was so thick and so good, and it had a skin of cream on top.

***

What was I saying?

That I don't eat much Polish food.

But, really, this is what I was saying: It's been a tough few months.
After I got back from Poland, in August, 2011, my computer died.

And then, in September, 2011, we had the flood. See
here. That footage was taken a few hundred feet from my front door.

After the river entered our building, brusque and unsmiling authorities insisted that we leave, immediately, no questions asked.

I tried to explain that I am Polish, and we can handle any kind of an invasion, even one by water. The authorities evacuating us were scarier than the flood. I think someone told them, "You are evacuating Paterson. A tough town. Be as rough as possible." I left.

I was wearing a shirt, shorts, and sneakers. I threw my sleeping bag onto my back and headed out into the night, unsure if I'd see any of my stuff again.

Charlene Lovegrove is a saint; she put me up for the duration.

I came back, and I saw my stuff again. :-) I was much luckier than my neighbors who live lower down in the building. They learned the lessons that loss teaches.

I bought another computer from Office Depot. It arrived with a broken on/off switch. I bought another computer from Office Depot. It arrived with a broken DVD player. I tried to buy a computer from Dell. Kafka himself could not imagine the tortures to which Dell subjected me. Over the course of a week, by email, facebook, and telephone, Dell operatives in Pakistan approved, and then canceled, my order ten times. Why? They wouldn't tell me, but I do live in a low-income, high-minority neighborhood, which even Dell operatives in Pakistan may know. Still no computer.

But, really, the worst thing is this.

I spent every free second of fall, 2011, applying for full-time teaching jobs.

I really thought this might be my year.

I published "
Bieganski," a prize-winning, scholarly book. It has been praised by big names and it won an award. I've spoken about it at Brandeis and Georgetown and universities and museums in Poland.

I will publish a literary book soon, "
Save Send Delete," and it has received advance praise from bestselling authors like Robert Ellsberg and Larry Dossey.

My bosses and students continue to give me evaluations that warm my heart and make me blush.

And, after all those job applications this fall, nothing. Not even an interview. I can't overcome
the fate of too many of the ethnically incorrect working class in the Ivory Tower.

I'm sad about leaving teaching. What next? Any work I can get.

I wish there were something out there for me where I could make use of my passionate commitment to Polonia. I wish I did not have to go to waste. Polonia, I wish you cared. I wish you supported your scholars.

The New Year was not a time of popping champagne corks around the Goska household.

***

A friend showed up the other day with a brown paper grocery bag from
Schwind's Pork Store. Someone bringing me groceries? On what planet? No matter what is going on, I have always managed to stock my own pantry, and other people's, as well, by hook or by crook. Food is primary, baby. All Bohunks know that.

Harvesting rye. Source.

The contents of this brown paper grocery bag shocked and awed me: the biggest kielbasa I have ever seen. I measured it – two and a half feet. (Enough with the snickering! This was actual sausage, not a euphemism for some naughty something else.) A loaf of rye bread that I can only describe using terms usually reserved for heroic feats, historical eras, and tracts of geography: this rye bread was vast, this rye bread was imposing. This rye bread was monumental! And a tub of sauerkraut saturated with pork fat, studded with little bits of crackling.

I just did not know how to respond.

First of all, as a Bohunk American woman, of course I felt affronted, castrated even. (We are a pretty manly bunch.) How dare anyone bring food into MY kitchen! Bohunk food no less! I CAN ACQUIRE MY OWN FOOD THANK YOU VERY MUCH! I give YOU food, YOU do not give food TO ME! Thems the rules!

But this person was obviously trying to be nice. "In Poland there are no women, only ladies," as the saying goes. So, I accepted the bag graciously, with feigned gratitude, wondering how I'd dispose of its contents.

After this person left … I took a little bite, just a little bite, of the kielbasa.

Oh

My

God.

Paging Grand Duke Witold, Wanda, Pilsudski, my late father! But that kielbasa tasted so good. So amazingly good. Beyond good. It was waking up areas in my limbic system that have not been so much as tickled for years. I wanted to give the maker of this kielbasa an NEH grant. This was an art form!

I went further. I approached the mountain range of rye bread. Really, I wish I could introduce you to this loaf of rye bread. If it were a human being, I would marry it. If it would only have me! It is so earnest, macho, unyielding. This is serious bread!

I dug out my special bread-slicing knife. No wimpy serrated pseudo-steak knife or butter knife. This bread demanded a knife at least a foot long and designed to slice very serious bread.

Approaching this bread, I flashed on an otherwise long-forgotten memory.

My Aunt Jolana. My Uncle John's partner. The woman I lived with when we visited my mother's natal village in Slovakia so many years ago.

Aunt Jolana was the single most beautiful ugly woman you'd ever see. Jet black hair, pale, pale skin, bulbous nose, deep eyes, pools of kindness and ready sentiment and laughter and tears. Loose, abundant flesh and loose, flowing dresses. She was a human candle. She radiated love. Healing, warm, endless, generous love.

Jolana was a witch. Through an elaborate ritual involving muttered incantations and the measuring, pouring, and re-measuring of water she had poured onto my prostrate form, she removed an evil eye curse from me that one of the villagers had put on me in church. Of course I am grateful to her for that. On sturdy legs, Jolana rode her bicycle all over neighboring villages, ministering to those in need of beneficent witchcraft.

Uncle John and Aunt Jolana's union was not blessed by the church. My uncle had a "real" wife in the village. "I was tired of a skinny woman dressed all in black and I wanted a fat woman in colorful clothes who laughs." What could I say? It's hard to argue with an uncle who has killed a man. (Yes, he did. But it was justifiable! At least as he told it. I never heard the other guy's side.) My uncle condemned the priests as "blazons" – lunatics. My Aunt Pavlina, Uncle John's sister, bought the church an expensive golden monstrance. My family.

This is what I suddenly remembered the other day, after my friend brought the groceries, including the epic rye bread: Aunt Jolana would pick up a loaf of rye bread, one as imposing as this one my friend had brought over on Friday, and hold it against her bosom, and, long knife in other hand, she would saw through the bread, toward her breast. She never even looked at the bread, never so much as glanced at the knife rapidly approaching her breast. The whole time, she would be gazing at me, smiling, as if I were a miracle baby she had found in the field of rye out the window. And then she would hand me a slab of perfectly cut bread. And the knife never so much as nicked the loose cloth of her dress. That long ago slice that Jolana handed me in Slovakia tasted just like the bread my friend brought over the other day.

I couldn't get the same payoff from even the best Indian meal as I got from this kielbasa, rye bread, and sauerkraut.

Eating these foods, very well made kielbasa, and sauerkraut, and rye bread, I remembered the best times in my family. The old folks would get together. They would speak in their own languages: Polish or Slovak and sometimes Yiddish, depending on who was there.

These people were not perfect. But this can't be denied: they survived. They survived so much. And sometimes, sometimes, they laughed, and danced, and sang, and managed a humanity that taught me about how deep and complex and untameable life can be. I used to feel so good, as a kid, just being in the background, maybe washing dishes or drifting off to sleep, hearing all the stories, the stories about how much they survived.

***

The cabbage saturated with pork fat is almost gone. The kielbasa is still floating my boat out to sea. The bread now dominates my kitchen.

So, no, I don't eat a lot of Polish food. But this food that my friend brought over the other day did a lot for me, reminded me of a lot, knitted a few things together, present and past, dreams and reality, muscle and bone, memories of my family and me, gave me the strength to go on for another day, in a way that only Bohunk food could.

Below is an excerpt from the very excellent book, Jan Slomka's "From Serfdom to Self-Government." Slomka describes the cuisine of average Polish peasants.



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As for articles of food, only salt and beverages were bought in the shops. Village folk lived mostly on what they themselves sowed and planted on their own land. Potatoes, peas, beans, buckwheat, cabbage, soup, and, of course, bread – these were the regular eatables at breakfast, dinner, and supper. Special breads or cakes were made for the yearly festivals from home flour, ground by hand or at the mill. People never bought flour at the village store. Beef was never eaten the year through, unless by the well-to-do, who would buy it for Christmas or Easter. It was used in case of sickness. Yet meat was cheap, only a few cents a pound.

Nor was it the habit to kill chickens or fry eggs for home use. Both were rarely done. Eggs were used almost exclusively at Easter time, or for sick folk. The housewife might fry some for a guest, e.g. the village priest, when he came for the Christmas offering. This was thought to e the highest mark of respect for him. The women preferred to turn these things into money to buy salt with.
The saying was that if you have salt in the house, you have everything. They begrudged both the expense and the time involved getting ready fancy foods, and the saying was: 'Am I to wrack my head, and make faces, and lose time!' The fact was that apart from the simplest things, they did not know how to make anything.

Fish was used a good deal, more than nowadays. They were caught in the ponds on the pasture and meadowland. Most common were carp and jackfish. They were eaten boiled.

Most common were the eels, and especially in the forest areas, where there were marshlands. They could be caught during the whole year, but best in winter. One set a trap under the ice, a so-called 'funnel' woven of wild vetches, with a bait of pea-straw inside. Eels were caught in heaps. When caught they would be nailed alive to stakes or rods, and smoked in order to keep them from spoiling. In this condition the peasants would sell them at the fairs, carrying them in bundles or baskets. They cost a few cents a pound, and were used chiefly cut up in soup instead of bits of sausage. They tasted good and were nourishing. One could eat one's fill of this broth, just as of porridge.

People used to gather wild mushrooms more than they do nowadays. There were many kinds, and they were stewed with buckwheat meal. When dried they were used in soup during Lent. For frying things bacon or tallow tht had stood a while was used, since then there was a 'flavor' to it, and a little sufficed. Every farmer, poor as well as better placed, took care to have a pig to kill in time of need, since in this way he was sure of fat for home use. The well-to-do killed two or three times a year, others only once – mostly in winter-time. Aside from this, butter was used, and during Lent the practice was to use only oil – mostly linseed.

For seasoning the commonest means in use were: mint, dried and crushed into tiny pieces; caraway, which was sprinkled into sauerkraut, and into the dough before the loaves were made, or scattered on top of the loaves; sage cut up, used in summer together with beet leaves in soup or for sausages; parsley in potato soup or with mashed potatoes, and finally pepper, used in vodka, sausages, cottage cheese, as well as in bouillon or broth.

For breakfast, there was soup, and with it rye bread. If there were potatoes enough, then as a second course we had fried potatoes, or boiled ones with salt. When bread was scarce, potatoes were used instead with the soup. For dinner we had two courses: cabbage with buckwheat or other meal to thicken the sauerkraut, while the second was a sort of milk pudding. At times for a change we had dumplings, made like doughnuts of coarse wheat or rye meal, ground at home. They were either done with milk or in fat. Again we might have little patties with cottage cheese, but during Lent instead of curds linseed was used, from which the oil had been pressed out. Supper was just another breakfast.

The head of the house, the children and the servants ate from one dish. The dish stood on a talbe, or bench, or the stump of a tree in the middle of the room, and all sat about it, or, rather, the elders sat while the children stood. Where the family was large some would have to reach by the othrs to get their food. Before the meal there was a tussle to get the biggest spoon. Only the housewife could not eat with the rest, since she was constantly bringing more food. While the soup was being eaten either the father or the eldest hired man was in trouble, for he had to cut bread for the rest, and only then had he a chance to eat. He would cut it in large slices, so that they would last longer for others and he himself would have time to eat.

In those days, folk had pretty good appetites. When soup was prepared the housewife had to reckon at least on a quart for each two persons, while each week the baking used half a sack of rye flour. As for potatoes or sauerkraut, what one man ate then would do for five nowadays.

Coffee, tea, sugar, rice, raisins, almonds, oranges, lemons – things sold today in every store with other articles of food – were virtually unknown in the village. One could find them only in one of the shops in Tarnobrzeg. If coffee or tea were used it was only on great occasions, such as at Christmas or Easter. In case a few coffee beans were left over, they were wrapped up with care and kept till next time.

22 comments:

  1. Thany you for this post Danusha! It was so personal and I so enjoyed your stories about food and family. Your words, writing enabled me to really visulize everything.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, Kim. I encourage whatever readers I have to visit your blog, between earth and sky. and we really ought to create a blog ring!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello again! Thanks for encouraging others to visit my blog! About the blog ring...would be cool! Not sure how to do what you're thinking but I have your blog listed on the left hand side of my blog with other "inspired blogs" I visit and like. So perhaps some of my readers head over to your spot every now and again? Been thinking of you and feel like it would be nice to talk sometime or write a letter or two about thoughts esp. regarding our connection and interest in Poland and Polish culture. What do you think?

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  3. Kim, would love to talk to you anytime. I just sent you my email address via a facebook message. Would also like to add a link to your blog on my page. I just tried to do that and accidentally removed some links from my page! I'm not very skilled at using blogger.

    ReplyDelete
  4. MB tried to post this himself, but didn't have any luck. He asks me to post it for him. If you have trouble posting ... try using Google chrome as the browser. That seems to fix it.

    From MB:

    Dear Danusha,

    That post was so magnificent, so moving on so many different levels, I am at a loss for words. I am happy to see you come around to kielbasa and bread, after reading about the other foods. Living in Korea, as I do, the thought of good, New Jersey Polish food is like a dream, but this is or course tempered with sadness at the topics as well. Man, I hope all goes well.

    I am going to have to re-read that story now.


    BR,
    MB

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  5. Another nice comment that came in via email. I prefer that readers post their own comments, but when the feedback is as positive as this, I'll post it. The post's author is a professional food writer:

    "Your piece is quite remarkable for its ability to evoke the sensuous nature of food beyond its value as fuel for the physical machine, and it speaks to your sensuality that you are able to apply to even the most elemental of foodstuffs that which is normally reserved for dishes you might find highlighted in the Larousse Gastronomique. I have no doubt that, given the chance, you live life fully and free of cynicism, and find joy beyond what most of us are capable of experiencing, because you pay attention. That you are possessed of the talent to express that to others through your writing. proves there is, on rare occasion, justice in the universe."

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  6. Great piece. Let's feature this in TheScreamOnline!

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  7. Really??? :-) I'll rewrite it. Work on it more. :-)

    I thank the anonymous donor who brought the food. A person who inspires me in several different ways.

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  8. I found your post through my uncle, Chet Szarejko, who thought I'd enjoy your writings on food and Polonia. He was so right. Thank you so much for this engrossing adventure through the rivers of time, place, and food. It brought back memories of my grandmother and her love of blueberries. I have an image in my heart that came to my head today, while reading your words, of her and her lady friends sitting on a porch in Perth Amboy on a late-spring afternoon, soup spoons in their hands, scooping up blueberries and fresh cream in between sharing the news and gossip of the day in Polish, which I never learned to speak or even understand. BTW, the kiszka's for you, although I'd love to share the bread. :)

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  9. Sherri, what a beautifully worded post. I'm not surprised to discover that you have your own blog! Meal planning for one. You are a good writer. :-) I'm honored by your visit.

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  10. "Polonia, I wish you cared. I wish you supported your scholars. "

    We are taxed to support everyone else's scholars. Ours, like your Bieganski in public libraries, are excluded by the Guardians of Progress.

    Their scholars are generally fed by the public, or some funded by someone who pays them to say the right thing, and doesn't pay them when they don't.

    By the way, I saw an interesting film on librarians. Librarians in Hollywood. more outlets than MacDonald's, more books issued than Amazon, more visits than all professional sports teams combined. something like that. Not being in public libraries hurts your book greatly. and the ALA makes much of banned books week.

    Your Bieganski book barely exists in public libraries, because it is excluded by the oh-so-enlgihtened and progressive. go to World Cat, check the public/private ratio.

    Nemo

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  11. It is hard to imagine what will come from today's US version of scholarship and education. The only European Americans that show in 20th century school texts are FDR and maybe, JFK. WWII is an odd war fought largely by African Americans to liberate European Jews. Iwo Jima, Patton? What's that? Tuskeegee Airmen, the Marshall Plan and Uncle Joe Stalin are where its at.
    Getting back to the specific blog post: it was moving and it is
    wonderful to see so many others joining in positively.
    MB

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    Replies
    1. I have to thank Sherri (from the comment above) for sending me a link to your wonderful blog.

      Though I'm of Polish heritage, I know little about the life my grandmother led when she lived in Poland. Your anecdotes are fascinating, and explain so much! Saving every bit of bacon grease and lard to use in cooking and the sauerkraut seasoned with caraway are part of my childhood memories.

      One particular thing you mentioned, your aunt cutting the rye bread against her chest, resonated with me. My mother used to do the exact same thing with the bakery rye!

      Your writing is fascinating and delightful! Thank you for the insights you've given me.

      Oh, and we do eat pierogies... :)

      Stephanie

      Delete
  12. Stephanie, your post is beautiful and means a lot to me. Whenever I post one of these blog posts, I think, why am I doing this; who will ever read this.

    *You* read it, and it brought memories to you of your mom slicing bread.

    That means a great deal to me.

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  13. Correction.

    I should have said "public/academic" ratio. Your book needs to be in academic libraries so that those responsible for shaping culture in the media and education are on top of all potential developments.

    Your book must not be allowed in public libraries, because then those who are not "intellectuals" might know what has been going on.

    Nemo

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  14. Please help me find more English translations of Jan Slomka's book. I am scouring the internet and am so happy to see part of it referenced here. The book is out of print and not available anywhere in the USA. Am njoying your blog very much.

    Our favorite guest breakfast food is unsweetened nalesnicki. We make large filled and folded pancakes and serve after baking we top them with sour cream. I prefer a ricotta cheese filling to the dry farmer's cheese.

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  15. i also love nalesniki

    i know slomka is out of print and that is a shame

    polonia, support your authors!

    i got my copy thru interlibrary loan

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  16. I am VERY sorry you had such an experience this year with job searches, though I am not surprised at such things.

    Other groups get their spokespersons into the academy, and often at taxpayer expense. I have seen this time and again that the Slavic response is to do-it-yourself ("I wish you supported your scholars").

    But the major problem is not that we don't support our scholars, since other groups don't mostly support their scholars, the public does/ (we) do. They don't have to support their scholars, we do that for them.

    IN some sense, asking Polonia to support its scholars, reasonable enough in itself, tends to hide the fact that the educational establishment excludes our scholars from the type of support that other groups' scholars get, and that for free.

    Nemo

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  17. "And, after all those job applications this fall, nothing. Not even an interview. I can't overcome the fate of too many of the ethnically incorrect working class in the Ivory Tower. "

    AGain, I am VERY sorry to see the above. It reminds of something I saw in some book, maybe it was one done by Father Greeley, who worked at NORC (National Opinion Research Center?). He found or cited some work that said that the gap between education achieved, and income achieved, for Poles, was particularly large and wide, wider than for other groups with lesser educational levels.

    Though educators and their ponces crow much about the increased income one gets over a lifetime from education, other papers have noted that the income/education correlate is more related to those with the connections and high status prior to education, getting the benefit of these connections and high status, which is the major contributor to their increased earnings. The education/income effect is more really a connection effect, ie, the education is only correlative, not causal.

    If you neglect to bow to their gods, neglect to tell them how wonderful they are, neglect to affirm the value of their fundamentally irrelevant cultural capital and poses, decline to affirm that they are as enlightened as they think they are, you might make the first cut, but not the short list. Thus, the Greeley(?) data above, and your experience.

    These positions have already been reserved for other people.

    Have you noticed however that when one sees Polish names in academia, they are surprisingly often from Poland, and not Polish Americans from the earlier migrations? Is this the effect of their having been held back by the communist system?

    regrets, Nemo

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  18. One might compare it to the Victorian colonialism, only here an internal sort of colonialism, with the exemplary enlightened products of careful breeding and optimal, carefully selected (and limited) environments always needing to tell us natives what we should be doing to be as wonderful as they are. Academic-media szlachta.

    Nemo

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  19. Don't give up, Dr. G! No matter what job you end up with, keep thinking.

    The food you described is similar to my father's family's. My SO introduced me to pierogies. I must say, you haven't had pierogies unless you've had them fresh and cooked in a frying pan on low with a few tablespoons of melted butter and a few tablespoons of water. Made that way, I love them.

    ReplyDelete

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