My Citizens, I am stretching myself to the utmost as I attempt to get back into my standard meter and cadence of regular posting – the last few months have weighed heavily on the troubled brow of your unmatched Leader, much as it did to this fine gentleman once he achieved his dreams of becoming King!
Like the many kingdoms that fell before Conan’s might, Poland has sadly been the victim of many different conquerors over the last millennia, but it has seen at least one major benefit from its many rulers – it has adapted elements of their cuisine into its own to the benefit of Polish culinarians to this very day! I have posted 7 different Polish recipes here on TFD over the last six years – see all of them here! For number 8, I wanted to provide TFD Nation with a simple yet supremely delicious garlic cheese spread from Krakow that will truly knock your socks off, Citizens!
Poland has a strong culinary tradition that combines the best Slavic, Turkish, German, Hungarian, Jewish and Armenian cuisine. As noted in a truly scholarly article I found on jeronimomartins.com:
A characteristic feature of old Polish cuisine was strict fasting, when people would mainly eat fish, vegetables and flour-based dishes. We pay tribute to this tradition on Christmas Eve, when we serve sweet-and-spicy carp or pike (the famous gefilte fisz or Jewish-style fish), red beetroot borscht with mushroom ravioli, cabbage with peas, and kutia (cereals with dried fruit and nuts).
Until the late 18th century, Polish people loved spicy dishes seasoned with black pepper, saffron, ginger and cloves, to which they added sugar, fruit preserves, lemon and vinegar. The exotic nature and variations in the taste of ingredients impressed food lovers. Towards the end of the 18th century, people were starting to appreciate local products more and more and decided that the flavour should be simple and uniform.
Chefs became increasingly inspired not by trendy novelties coming from the court of Versailles (which at this time disappeared completely), but by folk cuisine, based on the Romantic cult of nature. One example of such a change is the famous Polish bigos – sauerkraut and meat stew with mushrooms and dried prunes.
In the past, bigos was a meal made of chopped meat or fish, seasoned with wine vinegar, sour wine, lemons or unripe grape juice. Imitating this delicacy, less affluent cooks replaced the exotic ingredients with sauerkraut or cucumbers soured in brine (another typical Polish preserve) or sour apples. In the second half of the 18th century this new bigos was called “bigos with cabbage”, but today nobody in Poland calls it that as nowadays the basic ingredient of bigos is just that: cabbage (in the form of sauerkraut) with various additional ingredients.
Today, Polish cuisine is the fruit of various influences and inspirations. We can already notice this culinary exchange in the cuisine from the time of the beginnings of the Polish State. When Mieszko I, prince of the Polans who is considered to be the founder of the Polish state, was baptised in 966, the first missionaries started to import wine and olive oil to Poland.
In the 16th century, new customs and products (cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus and artichokes) were brought in to Wawel, the royal castle in Krakow, by Italian-born Queen Bona Sforza. Even today, we still call some vegetables włoszczyzna (the “Italian stuff”)… King John III Sobieski had the famous French cookery book of 1651, “Le cuisinier français”, in his library, and at the beginning of his reign, he knighted the author of the first Polish cookery book.
Today, at the Museum of King John III Sobieski at the Wilanów Palace in Warsaw, we publish the oldest Polish cookery books, and the museum chef Maciej Nowicki recreates old recipes, which we then develop at the Nicolaus Copernicus University. Nicolaus Copernicus, the famous astronomer, was also a medical doctor and an expert in dietetics. A family friend was the well-known Italian-born humanist, Callimachus (born Filippo Buonaccorsi). Callimachus lived in Krakow, but also spent some time living in Toruń, and was the hero of the oldest printed cookery book published in Rome in 1470. He was also the collaborator of the book’s author, Bartolomeo Platina.
Old Polish cuisine was above all diverse and varied. Nowadays, both around the world and in Europe, we no longer eat so many different types of game meat (game to this day is an ingredient that distinguishes Polish cuisine), we do not grow as many different plants and we do not know most of the wild fruit and vegetables. However, we have begun to rediscover the advantages of forgotten cereals, e.g. spelt, einkorn and emmer wheat, and have started using older fruit and vegetable varieties.
Internationally, if a Polish culinary tradition is used in other cuisines, it is referred to as à la polonaise, from French meaning ‘Polish-style.’ In France, the use of butter instead of cooking oil, frying vegetables with buttered breadcrumbs, minced parsley and boiled eggs (Polonaise garnish) as well as adding horseradish, lemon juice or sour cream to sauces like Velouté is known under this term.
Polish cuisine in the Middle Ages was based on dishes made of agricultural produce and cereal crops (millet, rye, wheat), meats of wild and farm animals, fruits, forest berries and game, honey, herbs and local spices. It was known above all for abundant use of salt from Wieliczka and permanent presence of groats (kasza). A high calorific value of dishes and drinking beer or mead as a basic drink was typical of Middle Ages Polish cuisine.
During the Middle Ages the cuisine of Poland was heavy and spicy. Two main ingredients were meat (both game and beef) and cereal. The latter consisted initially of proso millet, but later in the Middle Ages other types of cereal became widely used. Most commoners did not use bread and instead consumed cereals in the forms of kasza or various types of flatbread, some of which (for instance kołacz) are considered traditional recipes even in the 21st century.
Apart from cereals, a large portion of the daily diet of mediaeval Poles consisted of beans, mostly broad beans and peas. As the territory of Poland was densely forested, usage of mushrooms, forest berries, nuts and wild honey was also widespread. Among the delicacies of the Polish nobility were honey-braised bear paws served with horseradish-flavoured salad (now species protected in Poland), smoked bear tongue and bear bacon.
Thanks to close trade relations with Turkey and the countries in the Caucasus, the price of spices (such as black pepper and nutmeg) was much lower in Poland than the rest of Europe, hence spicy sauces became popular. The usage of two basic sauces (the jucha czerwona and jucha szara, or red and gray blood in Old Polish) remained widespread at least until the 18th century.
The daily beverages included milk, whey, buttermilk and various herb infusions. The most popular alcoholic beverages were beer and mead; however in the 16th century upper classes began to import Hungarian and Silesian wines. Mead was so widespread that in the 13th century Prince Leszek I the White explained to the Pope that Polish knights could not participate in a crusade as there was no mead in the Holy Land.
Also, vodka became popular, possibly among the lower classes first. There is written evidence suggesting that vodka originated in Poland. The word “vodka” was recorded for the first time ever in 1405 in Akta Grodzkie, the court documents from the Palatinate of Sandomierz in Poland. At that time, the word wódka (vodka) referred to chemical compounds such as medicines and cosmetic cleansers, while the popular beverage was called gorzałka [ɡɔˈʐawka] (from the Old Polish gorzeć).
Along with the Italian queen Bona Sforza (second wife of Sigismund I of Poland) many Italian cooks came to Poland after 1518. Although native vegetable foods were an ancient and intrinsic part of the cuisine, this began a period in which vegetables like lettuce, leeks, celeriac and cabbage were more widely used. Even today, some of those vegetables are referred to in Polish as włoszczyzna, a word derived from Włochy, the Polish name of Italy. During this period the use of spices, which arrived in Poland via Western Asian trade routes, was common among those who could afford them, and dishes considered elegant could be very spicy.
However, the idea that Queen Bona was the first to introduce vegetables to Poland is false. While her southern cooks may have helped elevate and expand the role of various vegetables in royal Polish cuisine, records show that the court of king Jogaila (in Polish Władysław II Jagiełło, who died in 1434, over 80 years before her reign) enjoyed a variety of vegetables including lettuce, beets, cabbage, turnip, carrots, peas and cauliflower. The court also imported various herbs and spices including black pepper, fennel, saffron, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon.
Polish-style pickled cucumber (ogórek kiszony) is a variety developed in the northern part of Central Europe. It has been exported worldwide and is found in the cuisines of many countries. It is usually preserved in wooden barrels. A cucumber only pickled for a few days is different in taste (less sour) than one pickled for a longer time and is called ogórek małosolny, which means “lightly salted cucumber”. Another kind of pickled cucumber, popular in Poland, is ogórek konserwowy (preserved cucumber) which is preserved with vinegar rather than pickled and uses different spices creating a sweet and sour taste.
The only indisputable fact is that the court of Queen Bona was fed in an Italian fashion, because she exclusively employed Italian cooks, some of whom were originally hired to prepare parties for aristocratic families but who were soon serving typical Italian dishes as part of the court’s daily menus. Court records show that Queen Bona imported large volumes of southern European, American and Western Asian fruits (oranges, lemons, pomegranates, olives, figs, tomatoes), vegetables (potatoes and corn), nuts (chestnuts, raisins and almonds, including marzipan), along with grains (such as rice), cane sugar and Italian olive oil.
Garlic and cheese are both mainstays in Polish cuisine, and this simple but totally delicious cheese ‘spread’ for crackers showcases both ingredients admirably. My guess is this is an old Jewish recipe, as it uses humble ingredients and a LOT of garlic and is from Krakow (where many Jews resided) – all that said, I cannot say this with surety this is a truly Jewish recipe or not, but I strongly believe it is due to its origins in Krakow. The first recorded history of Jews in Kraków, Poland dates back to the 13th century and Jews began to own land and homes in their quarter and in neighboring quarters of the city starting in 1312.
The city was an important scholarly center during the Golden Age of Polish Jewry (c. 1500-1648) and was home to prominent rabbis such as Rabbi Joel Sirkes (1561-1640), known as the Bach after his halachic work (published 1631-1640); and Rabbi Moses Isserles (1530-1572/82), author of the Mapah, glosses on the Shulchan Aruch of Rabbi Joseph Caro. There was also Rabbi Samuel Ehrenfeld (1835-1883), known as the Chassan Sofer. Until the Nazi invasion of Poland, the city remained a profound Jewish center.
During the Nazi occupation, most of the 68,000 Jews of Krakow were expelled from the city (1940), while 15,000 remained in the Kraków Ghetto until 1943 when they were deported en masse to Belzec extermination camp, where they were murdered. A tragic reminder of an equally tragic past in the country, one that I know virtually every Pole prays will never be repeated again.
As is typical of TFD, I have taken a few liberties with the classic recipe, adding my own flavor touches and noting my changes so TFD Nation can decide whether to incorporate My alterations or not. I have every confidence this simple but garlicky appetizer will find favor in your eyes, My Citizens – and for once, there are no unusual ingredients! Finn Crisp rye crackers are the ideal to serve with My recipe – you can buy them here.
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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