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.