By all standards, our home was small. We had what was called in those days a "front parlor" that faced the street. It was reserved for guests who came to the front door, had better furniture and where we put up the Christmas tree every year. Then there was the room with a couch, a stuffed chairs and space heater where we gathered in the evenings to watch Ed Sullivan and The Beverly Hillbillies. We didn't have a dining room. What we had was a big kitchen with a white Kalamazoo stove that was part wood burning and part gas. There was room for the coal scuttle and the wood that fed the stove, the barrel of sauerkraut that fermented in the corner each November and a table and chairs for the six of us. There wasn't a lot of counter space so all the chopping, kneading, and pierogi making for Wigilia, the Christmas Eve meal, took place on the table.
One of the early preparations for Wigilia was making square noodles, in Polish called łazanki, for the mushroom soup that we ate only once a year on this night. The broth for the soup was made with mushrooms sent from Poland by my mother's family. In spite of Communist rules that forbade sending or taking mushrooms out of the country, a friend of a friend makes a visit to Poland, smuggles it out in their suitcase and then, once in the U.S., sends it to our address. Sometimes it was the other way around. Someone from Poland received a Visa and came to America with a hidden kilo of dried mushrooms and our address. It was the same when my mother sent packages to Poland. The packages were opened, inspected, and sometimes the better things were stolen so what could you do if you wanted to bypass the controllers? You sewed money into the hem of some not so great dress or the cuff of pair of pants and you ask in your letter (also censored) "Were the pants for Peter the right size?" As always, through 120 years of domination by Russia, Prussia and Austria or through the decades of Communist rule, you just had to find ways to circumvent the oppressor.
The mushrooms we have so now to make the noodles. They are square and homemade. My mother pulls out her stolnica, her battered and scarred wooden dough board, reserved strictly for anything having to do with dough, on the table. A chustka, a scarf, covers her hair and is tied back at the nape of her neck. As always, there's an apron over her house dress. Using a cup with a broken handle as a measure, she scoops out a couple of cups of flour onto the center of the board. Making a well in the middle, she breaks in two eggs, sprinkles everything with a little salt and begins working the mixture together with her hands. It's my job to dribble small amounts of water on the mixture while she keeps squeezing and incorporating the ingredients together. Her hands are here in America but as she kneads the dough, her thoughts are back in Poland. She tells me how, armed with baskets and pails, she and her siblings searched for mushrooms on the forest floor, the air filled with pine and resin from the trees; how the mushrooms were threaded on a string and strung across the enormous stove to dry completely and then stored in cloth bags in a cool, dry place.
Adding flour under and over the dough to keep it from sticking, she rolls it out paper thin across the entire board. With a sharp knife she cuts the dough vertically into thin strips and then horizontally across the strips until she has nice small squares of egg dough. She transfers the little squares to a clean dish towel sprinkled with flour and lets them dry over the next few days, tossing and turning them periodically so that they dry thoroughly on both sides. She stores them in a paper bag.
On Christmas Eve our first dish after sharing the opłatek is the mushroom soup made from mushrooms that sprung from Polish soil and the little square noodles. A little bit of Poland in America.
Łazanki (Square Noodles)
2 cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2-4 tablespoons water
In a medium sized bowl or on a pastry board, combine flour and salt. Make a well in the flour, add the eggs (they can be slightly beaten if desired), and mix. If needed, stir in 1 tablespoons water at a time until a nice pliable dough is formed.
On a lightly floured surface, knead dough for about 3 to 4 minutes. Adding more flour to bottom surface as needed to keep from sticking, roll dough out until thin.
Use knife to cut into ¼ or ½ inch vertical strips along entire dough. Then cut the strips vertically also ¼ or ½ inch wide.
Transfer the noodles flat on floured surface to dry for a few days. Avoid excessive overlapping as the noodles may stick together until properly dried. Store in covered container or paper bag. Cook and cool noodles ahead of time and pour mushroom broth over the noodles or cook right in the mushroom broth. If latter approach is used the broth will thicken.
**Łazanki can also be used to make noodle/ cabbage/sauerkraut dishes for Christmas Eve.
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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.