In the cycle of farming and preparing for the coming of winter, the harvest of grains was completed in Poland by the middle of September but it certainly did not mean that all was in readiness for the harsh winter months ahead. Before the onset of the first frosts, it was imperative to bring in the last of the fruits and vegetables. There were cabbages in the fields ready to be cut and prepared into barrels as sauerkraut. Apples and root vegetables still needed to be picked and stored. Among the most important crop that needing gathering from the fields was the all-important potato.
A staple in Poland for over 400 years, potatoes made an appearance in Poland for the first time during the reign of King Jan Sobieski III(1674-1696). Jan III sent them home to Poland from Vienna, where he had won a smashing victory over the Turks and told his gardener to plant them at his palace in Warsaw. Initially looked at with disdain, the potato began to replace parsnips, turnips and rutabaga, which had, up until that inconspicuous tuber made its appearance, been primary foodstuffs for the peasants. By the reign of August the II (1733-1763) all of Poland and Lithuania were eating potatoes every day. Its versatility, in that it could be made into soups, noodles, dumplings, pancakes and often added to flour to make bread, made it the single most important food item to keep the poorest peasant from starvation. If the harvest was plentiful, potatoes could also be sold in order to purchase other items such as kerosene for lamps to light the long, dark days of winter.
There were different names for the potato in different parts of Poland. Many 19th century books use the term kartofel, from the German kartoffel. For instance, author Łukasz Gołębiowski in his book Domy i Dwory (Homes and Manors) from the 1830’s refers to them as kartofle. In the Lwów regions it was called barabola; in the language of the Lemki it was komпepa or kompera; the Kaszub’s called it bulwa; in the Poznań region it was pyra; in Orawa, the southern part of the Tatra range of the Carpathian mountains, the potato was called rzepa which is the word for turnip in the Polish language but seeing as how the potato replaced the widespread use of turnips as a foodstuff, one can see the connection. The current word for potatoes, ziemniaki, did not get established until the 20th century.
Potato harvesting, called wykopki, from the word wykopać, meaning to dig out, began in September but continued on throughout the fall. The work of digging was usually the role of women although the men helped with more difficult tasks such as carrying the heavy baskets, and transporting the potatoes by wagon. Entire families would go to the fields to bring in the potato harvest as it was something done manually by hand from beginning to end. Oftentimes entire families, men, women and children were out in the fields as were neighbors helping neighbors, creating a sense of solidarity and community.
The potatoes were dug by hand using a motyka, a long-handled hoe, which required the individual to be bent over the entire time. The unearthed potatoes had to be picked up manually, sorted and poured into sacks, collected into baskets or wicker bushels and then onto a wagon to be taken to the barn cellar or specially created root cellars for storage.
The advent of the potato harvester, a horse drawn mechanism (and later, a tractor) with prongs called a kopaczka, unearthed the potatoes rather quickly and made things easier, but all the potatoes still had to be sorted and collected by hand. It was a hard day of work.
One of the treats and highlights after a long day of arduous labor was roasting the freshly unearthed potatoes over an open fire, a real treat for children and adults alike. The fire was started by collecting and lighting the dried potato stalks and fed with additional twigs. The beautiful autumn evenings, the smell of the newly turned earth and the drifting smoke from the fire created a pleasant opportunity to rest, talk, recount legends, sing and, of course, eat. Oftentimes, the women brought a pitcher of beet soup or sorrel soup to pour over the potatoes. In the Leżajsk region in south eastern Poland, the roasted potatoes were eaten with a bit of cheese, cream, chopped onion, chives or dill, even garlic. Sometimes they were eaten simply with a bit of salt.
My potato basket bought in Kraków in 1980. It must have been the blood of my forefathers calling out to me or maybe it's because I love a potato in any way, shape or form but I couldn’t resist buying it. I walked through the museums and shops of that sophisticated city carrying the large potato basket until we got back to the bus. It garnered a few looks of amazement from people but I was very gratified when I was stopped on the street by a few elderly Polish women who admired my purchase and wanted to look it over, telling me it was “silny” (strong) and “dobrze zbudowany” (well built). The handle is reinforced with wire to withstand the heaviness of the potatoes. I brought it home on my lap on the plane. I have it hanging in my kitchen and is queen among the various baskets I’ve purchased over the decades.
It's time to make potato soup!
Photographs from Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe except for photo of root cellars taken from Polish Country Kitchen Cookbook.
To Polish Americans, the term placek conjures up the image of a sweet yeast bread with a crumbly topping of flour, butter and sugar baked in a rectangular loaf pan.
Polish ethnographers studying the preparation of food and its consumption among the country folk feel that placek, the name given to a cake made of yeast that was baked for special occassions, is the modern evolution of the ancient kołacz, the special bread baked for weddings. Ethnographer Jan Bystron states, "in certain parts of Poland the kołacz is called placek. This is a baked item made from white wheat flour with cheese and raisins."
In light of the requests I received for the recipe after I posted this photo of the placek I made for St. Casimir's Church (Buffalo, NY) Our Lady's Street Fair, I'm posting it here for those of you who asked (thank you for the compliment!) and for anyone who may be interested.
4 cups plus 4 tablespoons unbleached flour
½ cup golden yellow or dark raisins
½ cup hot water
Two ¼ ounce packages active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
½ cup butter (one stick)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
⅓ cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
1.Bring eggs and flour to room temperature.
2.Soak raisins in the hot water for 30 minutes or until plump. Drain and squeeze raisins lightly to remove excess fluid.
3.Place ½ cup warm water (110º to 115ºF) into a 2 cup measuring glass or bowl. Sprinkle yeast over the water and mix. Add ½ teaspoon of the sugar to the yeast mixture and 4 tablespoons of the flour to make a tin batter. Set aside or 15 to 20 minutes. It should become bubbly and frothy.
4.Scald the milk in a saucepan, remove from heat and add the butter, salt nutmeg and vanilla. Cool to lukewarm (110º to 115ºF.)
5. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and remaining sugar until pale yellow. Add the lukewarm milk mixture and then the yeast mixture.
6.Gradually add the remaining 4 cups of flour, beating well. Add the raisins and mix thoroughly. The dough will be somewhat sticky.
7.Place in a warm area and allow dough to double in bulk about an hour(or sometimes more)
8.Grease and lightly flour 2 9x5 inch or 8x3½ inch loaf pans. Distribute the dough evenly between the pans. Cover and let rise again for 30 minutes.
9.While dough is rising, make the topping. Place dry ingredients in small bowl and cut the butter into the flour, sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon until it looks like coarse meal, as if making a pie crust. Or, place ingredients in food processor and pulse together for same effect.
10.Preheat oven to 350ºF. Sprinkle topping evenly over the dough and bake for 30 minutes.
Smacznego! May it be tasty!
Recipe from Polish Country Kitchen Cookbook by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab. Hippocrene Books, Inc.
On this day, August 24th, 1942 during the occupation of Poland by the Germans, Hans Frank, governor of the General Government, decided to starve the Polish people in order to provide more food for German troops and the German people. In a Cabinet session with his departmental chiefs in Kraków he ordered the stoppage of food rations for all Poles who were not working for German interests.
Hans Frank: “Before the German people are to experience starvation, the occupied territories and their people shall be exposed to starvation...The general Government has taken on the obligation to send 500,000 tons of bread grains to the fatherland….it must be done cold-bloodedly and without pity…you will essentially find an additional increase of the quota of foodstuffs to be shipped to Germany and new regulations for the feeding of the Jews and of the Polish population.” (1)
All food was seized for German consumption. Farmers in the Polish countryside were subject to compulsory quotas and levies developed by the Germans, resulting in the ruthless confiscation of wheat, cattle, eggs, honey, and poultry from farms throughout the General Government which left millions of Poles facing starvation. The absence of milk subjected an entire generation of Polish children to suffer from vitamin and protein deficiency.
Consumers were divided into broad categories in which each received rations in proportion to alleged needs and importance. All-important food groups were rationed at weekly or monthly amounts. Bread rations were cut drastically.
More from Hans Frank’s diary:
"…more than 3 million persons are non-German normal consumers (Poles), who do not work directly or indirectly in the interests of Germany"...and that these "non-German normal consumers will receive, from 1 January 1943 to 1 March 1943, instead of 4.2 kg of bread per month, 2.8 kg; from 1 March 1943 to 30 July 1943 the total bread ration for the non-German normal consumers will be cancelled." (2)
According to German regulations, each resident had to be satisfied with the amount of food he was entitled to according to the allocation set in the card system. The trouble was, they were starvation rations. Critical shortages of food arose in urban areas with people resorting to every possible means to find food. To try and fill the void, black markets sprung up, but being caught in any activity with black markets was punishable with a fine, months in a penal camp, or their life.
Photo: German soldiers during an inspection in search of illegal food.
Jadwiga Załuska, a nurse in occupied Warsaw, recalls:
"The food situation was getting worse all the time but being rescued by people bringing food to Warsaw illegally...Everyone in Warsaw had some kind of haunt where on a designated day they could obtain some dairy product and meat ...The business was generally conducted by women and their ingenuity was something. They brought in (from the outlying farms) sausage under their clothes, winding pork fat around their waist. The most difficult to bring in was eggs and cream...There were so many women raising their children alone that they would walk kilometers carrying potatoes or eggs, the entire time faced with the possibility of confiscation and a beating...the obtaining of smuggled goods was an impossibility - people didn't have the money and the majority were starving on food coupons. People were making up all kinds of dishes to quiet their stomachs. Sausage was being made from cabbage, pancakes from beans, spice cookies and cakes from carrots...and pumpkin."(3)
The situation for the people of Poland was critical. The few Polish-run charitable organizations allowed by the Germans were overwhelmed. The years 1942 and 1943 brought the greatest reduction in food available to the people of the General Government. Consistently malnourished, the people of Poland became easy prey to a host of diseases including tuberculosis, gastrointestinal and disorders, and communicable diseases. The people of Poland were doomed to suffer and starve right through to the end of the war.
1.Frank diary. Document PS-E-2233 Cabinet session 2 4August 1942 Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression. Volume 4
3.Chapter 5 . Wearing the Letter”P”. Polish Women as Forced Laborers in Nazi Germany 1939-1945
Child Feeding Station: New York Public Library: Poland in Photographs 1939-1944
Germans inspecting for illegal food: Narodowy Archiwum Cyfrowe
I’ve always been interested in knowing the names of plants whenever I see them flowering along a roadside or path. While walking along a marshy area at our state park recently I was looking over at the dark pink Joe pye-weed (wondering what it’s Polish name could be)
and the lovely pale lavender color of wild bee balm (Monarda fistulosa also known as wild bergamot) when I saw this other tall plant rising above them with an unusual pinkish-purple flower head.
I hadn’t noticed this particular plant before. If I don’t recognize a plant, I take a picture and then browse through books of wild plants specific to my region to try and discover their names. I know there are apps for this now that will tell you almost instantly the name of the plant but I haven’t moved on from my old-fashioned ways. I have lots of nice full color books that I like to pull out and browse through on a summer evening.
Its name is Verbena hastata or blue vervain, also known as swamp weed and its color can vary from blue to purple. True to the name it grows in soggy, sunny areas and is indigenous to North America but I don’t think it deserves the name swamp weed, as if it were some trashy old thing rising up out of the muck. I thought it rather lovely with its erect posture and its eye-catching cluster of flowers at the top.
There are lots of species of verbena world-wide and it is somewhat similar in appearance to Verbena officinalis which I’d read about it old Polish herbals. In Polish, Verbena officinalis is Werbena pospolita. Its folk name is koszyczki Najswiętszej Marii Panny meaning, baskets of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. A single petal appears as if it could be a tiny goblet or bowl or, to someone at some time in centuries past in Poland, a basket. This species of verbena is native to Europe and can be found in Germany (Hildegard of Bingen was familiar with it) England, France and most commonly along the Carpathian mountain range of southern Poland. Its flowers are pale pink instead of blue or purple and it tends to grow in dry places. Medicinally, however, they carry the same beneficial properties of boosting lactation in nursing mothers, in treating headaches, and combating fevers and coughs. In Poland, the leaves were steeped in boiling water and ingested as a tea or by teaspoonful when soaked in vodka or whiskey.
So satisfying to learn of two plants of the same species, continents apart, with a long history as a medicinal herb across many different cultures.
P.S. Joe pye-weed (Eutrochium purpureum) is known in Poland as Sadiec purpurowy
Photo of Verbena officinalis: Wikipedia.
Photos of Verbena hastata, Monarda fistulosa and Joe pye-weed by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab
If you'd like to read more about the plants once essential to the people of Poland utilized in their customs and traditions as well as medicinally I suggest my book: Polish Herbs, Flowers and Folk Medicine.
.Sometimes it takes many years to find our way to our life’s true work and purpose. Oftentimes it begins in a completely different place. You find yourself meandering off in various directions. Nothing sticks until one day there’s a particular moment, a sudden epiphany, and the path straightens and the way becomes clear.
Such was the case with Adam Chmielowski, in later life better known as Brother Albert. He began his career as a student, became a soldier who lost a leg while fighting for Poland’s independence, found fame as an artist, joined a religious congregation, got sick and become a patient in a mental institution. He overcame his depression, began using his artistry to renew the interior of churches and the small roadside shrines that dot the landscape of Poland. Then one day a priest friend lent him a book on the Rule of St. Francis. For Adam it became his “Aha!” moment. All the pieces fell into place and he finally found his way to his life’s purpose. Utilizing St. Francis as his role model, Adam began working with the poor and homeless of Poland.
He went on to established his own branch of the Franciscans, the Servants of the Poor, who are sometimes called the Albertine Brothers. A few years later he helped found a women's congregation with the same intent of helping Poland's poor.
Much can be written about how he created homeless shelters and lived with those he served. He created decent life conditions and jobs in order to give dignity to the hopeless and needy. He established houses for homeless children and teenagers, facilities for people with disabilities, for the elderly and the incurable. He showed the world how, in his words, ”to be as good as bread” to others.
Brother Albert used bread as a metaphor to indicate how it sustains and nurtures life and that we can be like bread. We can sustain and nourish others though our behaviors and interactions with others. I know I am not capable of such great acts such as Brother Albert’s but his guiding principle in life raises this question for me: If I can’t be a whole loaf of bread for others like he was, doing great, monumental things, can I be at least a bite of bread for others each day? Can I do small things to help sustain and nourish others, both physically or emotionally?
For all the twists and turns along life’s path, Brother Albert eventually came to be called “Blessed” and later “Saint” Albert Chmielowski. He is depicted here in a stained glass window at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Pile, Poland as a Franciscan, holding a loaf of bread. Others depicted (from the left) are Jacek Odrowąż (St. Hyacinth), King Kazimierz(Casimir) Jagiellończyk, and Edmund Bojanowski.
He asked of us “to be as good as bread” (in Polish, “ powinno być dobry jak chleb") to others. His feast day is today, June 17th.
Photo of Albert Chmielowski: Wikipedia
Today is the feast day for 108 Catholics from Poland who were killed by Nazis during World War II. The group includes three bishops, 52 priests, 26 men and eight women from religious communities, three seminarians, and nine lay people.
Pictured here is Sister Julia Rodzińska(1899-1945) of the Dominican order, one of the eight religious Polish women beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1999.
At the time of her arrest by the Gestapo in July 1943, Sister Julia was head of an orphanage in Wilno and against all the rules of the German occupation of Poland, secretly taught Polish language, history and religion to the children of the orphanage
She was charged with political conspiracy and contact with underground partisans, jailed and tortured, and then sent by cattle car to Stutthof concentration camp where she was given the number 40992. From that time on she was brutally treated and suffered starvation along with the other women of Barrack 30.
She shared her food, her clothing and rendered what care she could to those suffering from the typhus epidemics that were raging through the camp. Sr. Julia would not abandon the sickest among them even though the piles of dead bodies surrounded the barrack kept growing. At a time of tremendous physical and psychological trauma, of beatings and unbearable workloads, Sr. Julia constantly called on her faith to keep her strong and inspired her fellow prisoners.
Her life ended on February 20, 1945 at Stutthof, infected with typhus while serving the dying Jewish prisoners. Surviving witnesses stated: "In the conditions of degradation, she was able to direct us to other values, spiritual values ... For us she was a saint, she gave her life for others.” Her naked body was thrown on a pile of dead corpses that surrounded the barracks. At a time when a blanket or a piece of cloth meant the difference between warmth and life and the very possibility of freezing to death, someone covered her lifeless, naked body with a piece of cloth, out of honor and respect.
Requiescat in pace.
On May 3, the Catholic Church in Poland celebrates the liturgical feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Poland. She has held the title since the time of King Jan (John) Casimir II Waza (reigned 1648 – 1668) during one of Poland’s darkest hours.
It was the time of the “Deluge” in Polish history (in Polish: potop szwedzki), when Swedish armies invaded the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the country was almost totally conquered by the foreign invaders. The king was in exile. It was thought that all was lost but one of the places that still resisted the Swedes was the holy monastery at Jasna Góra- the most sacred place in Poland containing the icon of the Black Madonna, known as Our Lady of Częstochowa.
The news that all was not lost galvanized the country into greater resistance against the Swedes. A new army was formed in support of the exiled king. John II Casimir managed to reach Lwów - one of only two major cities of the Commonwealth not seized by any of Poland's enemies (Gdansk was the other) and marshalled his forces.
On 1 April 1656, during a Mass in the Latin Cathedral (also known as Archcathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) in Lwów (today Lviv, western Ukraine), John II Casimir entrusted the Commonwealth to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom he announced as The Queen of the Polish Crown and of his countries. In a painting depicted by Jan Matejko in 1893, the royal vow is depicted by a scarlet banner with a white eagle. Dressed in a black, the king kneels before an altar accompanied by his queen Maria Ludwika. Witnessing the event was Stefan Czarniecki, the master of warfare, holding a saber, kneeling at the foot of the stairs.
An excerpt from his oath - known as The Lwów Oath (Polish: Śluby Lwowskie):
I choose you today as my Patroness and Queen.
Great Mother of God, Most Holy Virgin. I, Jan Kazimierz, for the love of Your Son, King of kings and my Lord and Your merciful King, having fallen at Your Most Holy feet, I choose You today as my Patroness and Queen of my countries. I place both myself and my Kingdom of Poland, the Duchy of Lithuania, Ruthenia, Prussia, Mazovia, Samogitia, Livonia, Smolensk, Czernichów and the army of both nations and all my peoples, to your special protection and defense, I humbly offer my sorrowful Kingdom against the enemies of the Roman Church.
Because of your extraordinary favors I am compelled, together with my people, to a new and passionate desire to dedicate ourselves to Your service, I vow, therefore, that I, as well as senators and my people… will worship you in all the lands of my Kingdom and I will spread my devotion to You….
The Commonwealth forces finally drove back the Swedes in 1657 and the Russians in 1661.
In later years, when King Jan Sobieski (reigned 1674-1696) began his fight against the Turks at Vienna in 1693, he also entrusted his kingdom to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and saved Europe from Muslim domination. Through national triumphs and tragedies, amidst the demands of enemies and hostile governments, the Blessed Virgin Mary has held the people of Poland steadfast in their common goal as a country and they have emerged whole. "To your protection we flee o Holy mother of God" (Pod twoja obrona uciekamy, święta Boża Rodziecielko) has been the prayer of Poles for centuries and continues unwavering to this very day.
Photos: Wikipedia and Wikiwand.
Painting by Jan Matejko can be seen at the National Museum in Wrocław.
April 14, 1945 marks the liberation of my mother and father from forced labor during World War II by British troops. This fact is true, discovered in German documents. Both my parents had been taken from Poland and forced to work against their will in an armaments factory called Rheinmetall-Borsig in Unterluss (Unterlüß), Germany. One of the facts that has eluded my research is determining which specific British troops actually liberated my parents. Most documented sources I’ve come across simply say “liberated by British troops.” But I think it’s important to know such a detail. I want to know who to give credit, thanks and respect to, if only in my own heart and mind, for such a giving act, for their service. So, I keep plugging various search terms into the internet hoping to find something…and recently I did.
In the book titled Monty’s Northern Legions: 50th Northumbrian and 15th Scottish Divisions at War 1939-1945 author Patrick Delaforce writes that after capturing the undefended city of Celle, the 15th Scottish Infantry Division, British 2nd Army, “continued on the 13th (of April) north-east to Eschede and Uelzen with Highland Light Infantry leading.” I recognized the names of these cities and towns as they are all in the same region where my parents were forced laborers. (See attached map.) In order to get to Uelzen from Eschede (assuming they stayed on the main roads) they had to have passed through Unterluss (Unterlüß). And this one and only sentence gives me hope that I am on the right track: “Lt. Green became Mayor and Military commander of Unterluss for one day.” Eureka!! They did enter the city, which is really more of a small town, as I’ve been there as part of my research. It must have been these troops that liberated my mother and father. The date of the 14th of April would fit. Do I know this for sure? No. Who is Lieutanant Green? And what did he do in that role? That I also don’t know but if the Highland Light Infantry was leading the advance, I’ll begin my research there. One line in someone’s book can give an important lead and at the same time open up more questions but for today, I celebrate what I have discovered and try to build on that.
Wearing the Letter P: Polish Women as Forced Laborers in Nazi Germany1939-1945(Hippocrene Books) explores the history of forced labor during the occupation of Poland during World War II and focuses on the experiences of Polish women as forced laborers.
A Polish country cottage garden was a mix of decorative and useful herbs, vegetables, flowers and shrubs such as roses, raspberry, gooseberry, or currant bushes. It served as a flower garden and as an herb and kitchen garden, useful in a way that brought edible food, as one Polish garden writer stated, " directly into the pot." There was no specific garden plan. Flowers and herbs were usually grown in clumps near the fence or in beds beneath the windows of the house according to the preferences of the housewife. Vegetables were occasionally mixed in. The walkways were made of tamped soil and wide enough for a person to walk through. If a bit of decoration was wanted, large rocks were gathered, painted white and fashioned in a circle. Inside, a special flower or herb was planted.
The housewife grew flowers to brighten the outside of the house, to adorn the altars at church on Sundays and holy days, and to decorate the roadside shrines that were located within the village boundaries. The unmarried girls of the house tended lilies, rosemary and rue for bridal wreathes as well as lavender to place between the linens in her marriage chest. For cooking and to spice the daily fare, some culinary herbs were planted. There was marjoram for sausage, dill for pickling cucumbers, and parsley, sage and fennel for enhancing soups and stews. Many Polish housewives made their own herb vinegars from water and sliced apples that were allowed to ferment for a few months. The mixture was strained, crushed herbs added, sealed in bottles and stored in a cool pantry or larder. Herb butters were also made and packed down into crocks to use in the middle of winter or to give as a Christmas gift. (Photo :Foxglove)
Interspersed among the flowers were vegetables such as cucumbers, radishes, water cress, horseradish and lettuce. Sometimes there were beets, carrots, garlic or onions depending on the needs and tastes of the owner. It was Queen Bona Sforza who introduced various green vegetables to Poland including beans, cabbage, cauliflower, onion, celery, parsnip, cumin, coriander, caraway, hemp, asparagus, artichoke, tomato and nasturtium. Spinach also traveled to Poland from Italy, brought by monks who followed Bona in her marriage to Zygmunt. From nearby Germany came horseradish and pumpkin, which also made its appearance in Polish cottage gardens.
Excerpted from: Polish Herbs, Flowers and Folk Medicine. Revised edition. Hippocrene Books.2020
During Holy Week, on Tuesday April 14, 1394, the Keeper of the Accounts for Queen Jadwiga of Poland (reigned 1384-1399) and her husband, King Władysław Jagiełło (reigned 1386–1434) documented the purchases made for the king and queen’s table for the upcoming Easter holiday:
“Two niecki (long,deep wooden bowls) for holding cheese; 160 cheeses; two graters and payment for bringing it from the market square; 160 cheeses for baked goods (he added in Latin ad tortas – that is, for making tortes); one sack of white flour for the torte’s; 30 miarek (meaning measures, a system based on volume but not specified in the accounts) of fine wheat flour taken on credit from Wacław, called Stokłosa, to be paid on the Green Holidays (Pentecost). The butcher slaughtered 12 pigs and also prepared słonina (rendered fat) called loszijna (from the word łosia, meaning elk) for the king.” The king was an avid hunter. (Photo left: Image of Queen Jadwiga as imagined by artist Jan Matejko)
It seems even kings and queens ran out of money and had to buy on credit! And what’s this about the queen’s kitchen needing the delivery of two graters? Some poor flunky had to trudge up Wawel Hill to the castle kitchen from one of the wooden market stalls in the square…the same square we know today as Rynek Glowny, the Main Square, the largest in Europe…only then it was filled with wooden stalls and merchants from all over Europe and Asia selling their wares – silk, gold, silver, spices and herbs, shoes, pottery and…graters. I can just imagine some cook’s helper waiting for the delivery… maybe needing to grate the horseradish to accompany the pork?
Engraving of Wawel from the north from 1581
And if 160 cheeses seem excessive, it must be remembered that between the queen’s and king’s retinues, family members, clergy, guests, knights, there were often hundreds of individuals who usually sat down to table. It’s clear though that the kitchen was preparing to break the long Lenten fast which was taken very seriously by the King and Queen. Two hundred days were given over to fasting – the period of Advent, the eve before all major holy days, various penitential days, every Friday and of, course, the long period of Lent. Fasting meant one meal a day, consisting of some kind of vegetable, without dairy products or animal fats. Everyone was ready to end Lent.
Later that week, on Good Friday, the keeper of the accounts notes the costs for the queen and her retinue for placki called płaskury (a baked good made from płaskurka, i.e., emmer wheat, sometimes called farro wheat, an ancient grain), bułki (rolls) and obwarzanki(rings of baked yeast dough that can still be bought in the main square in Kraków today).
“On Holy Saturday,” he writes, “on the eve of the Great Night, there was white bread and obwarzanki for the queen and her court” and “payment had to be made for delivery of it from the market square; half an ounce of saffron for the placki and 1200 eggs.” It is a known fact that Queen Jadwiga really liked her obwarzanki. Its purchase from the square for the queen is mentioned frequently throughout the years of the accounts. (Photo: saffron)
“On Easter Sunday, the 19th of April,” the accountant writes,” for white bread, 3 grosze (unit of small money), which was bought yesterday: and today 1 achtel (the equivalent of half a barrel which corresponded to approximately 130-141 liters) of previously brewed mead.” King Jagiełło abstained from alcohol, as did his father before him, which may explain the low amount for such a big crowd. Perhaps drinking wasn’t encouraged.
Historians have not found any source that describes how Easter Sunday was spent at the court of Jadwiga and Jagiełło or what specific dishes were served but we get a general idea from the purchases. "Tort" cakes, mainly cheesecake, were baked with the numerous cheeses using the fine wheat flour and surely with a portion of the 1200 eggs, as were the placek’s(shape unknown), enhanced with what was at the time, very expensive saffron. There was pork served in some manner(maybe whole with an apple in its mouth?) and all washed down with mead.
How fortunate the accountant did not throw away his records when they ceased to be needed and left it to future generations to pour over. I realized that the Easter table of today among Polish Americans is not so different, in essence, from that of the Middle Ages. We still bake something special, with or without saffron. If we can’t find our grater, or maybe it’s broken, we have to get a new one. We eat eggs and some version of pork. We enjoy a honeyed Polish vodka or some other libation of choice.
Tradition continues over the centuries. Wesołego Alleluja! Happy Easter!
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.