Sunday, December 4, 2016

Christmas Eve Traditions - Polish Style

Witamy ! 
When Peter was growing up, Christmas was never such a big commercial spectacle as it is now.  His Mom told stories about Christmas in Poland before WW-II that the celebrations were always simple and no one sang carols until Christmas Eve.  Wigilia, the traditional Christmas Eve supper (which means vigil or waiting for the birth of Jesus) was totally based on traditions and dishes that had been handed down for generations upon generations. 

The feast begins at the light of the first star.  At maybe 5 or 6 years old Peter remembers running out on the porch and looking up for that 1st starlight so they could get started with the sharing of the Communion wafer (Oplatek) – an important tradition. Peter’s Mother would always use a communion wafer mailed to her from Poland that had been blessed back there. 

The white, almost translucent wafer is a symbol of love, friendship and forgiveness. It is broken into bite size pieces and shared with everyone at the table along with wishes for a happy and healthy new year. 

It is customary to set an extra place at the table for the lonely traveler who may knock at the door...Twelve dishes were served for the twelve apostles and poppy seeds were always a part of Christmas Eve supper as a symbol of peacefulness as was honey for sweetness. 

The meal is traditionally meatless.  Our own menu is right out of our books, starting with clear beet soup, called Barszcz, which is a delicious peppery, deep red beet broth served in fine china cups. 

The second appetizers are Crepes stuffed with mushroom and sauerkraut, breaded and sautéed lightly in plenty of butter…our daughter and son-in-law would be perfectly happy if these crepes were the only menu item for the whole dinner! 

White fish - herring or carp - is the traditional fish course but for years Peter’s Mom would buy a very fresh salmon and actually freeze it in a block of ice.  With a nod to changing tastes and availabilities, we serve haddock or flounder or cod or whatever white fish is fresh and available.

For dessert Laura always serves a variety of Polish baked goods and American Christmas cookies. 

The Polish Nut Roll and Poppy Seed Roll are always requirements.  Laura usually makes a dozen or so for sharing with the neighbors.  Peter loves trading sweets with our Greek friends who trade Poppy Seed Rolls for their wonderful Baklava. 

We also love Kolaczki  a very traditional cookie of delicate dough squares wrapped around fruit preserves.

Or our Gingerbread Honey Cake which is so popular and easy to make. 

And our dessert table would not be complete without the stately Warsaw Fruit Cake which is not loaded down with cloyingly sweet candied fruit.  Peter likes to pour a little Polish brandy over his slice, just for an added kick. 

After Wigilia has ended, Peter’s Mother always insisted that they sing Christmas carols together – both Polish and English – before opening their gifts.  The evening ends at Midnight Mass, after which everyone falls into bed stuffed to the top, exhausted but happy. 

All these traditional recipes are in our two cook books – Polish Classic Recipes 

          and Polish Classic Desserts.
There are lots of books on the market with Polish holiday traditions and Christmas recipes, but the traditions and dishes in our two books are truly authentic heritage recipes which have been extensively tested (to the delight of our neighbors) and just updated for modern kitchens.  So no more pinch of this and pinch of that.  There are over 90 beautiful photographs in each book, stories, traditions, and plenty of tips on preparing each dish successfully.  If you live in the U.S., each book will autographed by the authors – that would be us – and personally dedicated to whomever you’d like, as long as you get your order in by December 15th.  If you don’t live in the U.S. your best bet will be Amazon. 

So if you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, or can’t find Babcia’s recipes, or just want to treat yourself,  please click on the “add to the cart”  button above, before the 15th, and we’ll do the rest!  Thanks!

Wszystkiego Najlepszego, Happy Holidays and Smacznego!