Cultural letter #5 Food and cooking
My kids begged for me to cook, really cook, while I was in the states on furlough. I don't think I used but about 10 lbs. of flour the whole year we were there. Of course there were lots of meals in your houses and on the road. However, I tried many different packaged mixes and purchased English muffins and breads, etc. My parents regularly go to a couple of different flea markets and could get English muffins 2pkgs/$1, bread, 3 loaves/$1, mixes and all sorts of prepackaged stuff for much cheaper than the supermarket. So, I could place my order with my mom and not have to cook much at all. With "web bucks" deals at the grocery store, sometimes they paid me for buying things.... It is hard to get motivated to make your own salsa if you can buy it for 50cents a jar. However, if you have to pay almost $4/jar (small one) like we do over here, I am very motivated. It is sorta like sewing. With beautiful dresses at Goodwill for $1.99, or even $4.99, or given to us by you all, it is hard to get motivated to spend $20 on material/patterns and buttons and sew, even if the end product is beautiful. I was repairing some jeans the boys had put holes in the knees and commenting to them as I ripped out the side seams while we were riding to the store, that if we were in the states I probably wouldn't even repair these, but would rather go to a yard sale and buy another pair for 50cents. However, the prospect of buying new here just isn't worth it to me--I'll fix the jeans. However, when the patches need patches, then I figure the jeans have about had it, and it's better to just retire them.
Do the Polish ladies "cook?" I'd say yes. They are masters at soups, as I mentioned before in another letter. They aren't big on casseroles as we know them, except something like bigos, which is a sauerkraut/kielbasa blend. It seems that everyone likes best the one that their mom makes. Pierogi, which the easiest way I could describe them to you, would be like a ravioli, a dough filled with white cheese--a sort of drained cottage cheese-, meat, or cabbage are too much work for me to want to make. I can buy them fresh or frozen if I want to eat them. They bread and fry a lot of foods, fix a lot of pasta and eat lots of potatoes, cabbage and beets. They do sell packaged soups that I like very much--instant soups. The "purist" Polish cook won't touch these, but the younger generation appreciates them.
When we've gone to people's homes, I know that we are treated royally, and so I'm not at all sure that what we are having is "normal." However, usually when we have been there, it has been soup first, then the main dish which often was a piece of meat, cabbage, potatoes or beets (1 or 2 or all 3), possibly a salad with about 3-6 different vegies in it all cut into infinitesimal pieces and gravy for the potatoes. Rarely was there bread. Then, dessert, if offered, was a cake that wasn't as sweet as we would be used to for cake, or some sort of cheesecake or a special very pretty cake made with layers of gelatin and fruit and some cake. I've had a carrot cake "down south" that couldn't be topped. Unfortunately it was when I wasn't talking yet in Polish and I didn't ask for the recipe.
Once when I was commenting to some friends that we were going to have watermelon for "kolacja" which is like a small meal in the evenings, a Polish lady laughed at me. She said, (roughly translated), "Oh my, my husband wouldn't stand for that, for to a Polish man, watermelon isn't kolacja (supper), but you have to have something hearty like kielbasa!" Since the big meal is in the middle of the day sometimes people don't even eat kolacja, and the only reason we were having anything at all was because watermelon was a good deal. However, I usually only buy kielbasa about 4x a year, because I know how bad it is for you, and even at that, Mike is the one who usually picks up some--not me. He does try to find the kind from turkey, though. [I wrote back in May that I had been terribly sick--I'm strongly suspicious that it was food poisoning from kielbasa I had for dinner that day--all the classic, acute symptoms that lasted from Thurs. afternoon through Sat. evening when the pain finally let up. Each of us had had our own small kielbasa. It is the only thing I could think of that could have attributed to my severe symptoms and me alone--there was no flu going around or sickness of any kind. None of the kids had anything (for which I'm thankful) and Mike stayed well. With those memories, I won't be in a hurry to eat it again.]
Back to camp:
A friend of mine who had been
Fruits/vegies available right now and prices:
Did you want to know this kind of thing? This way you can compare our prices to yours. These are fresh and this is the season for these things so they are at the best prices ever right now: I'll try to take the prices as given to me and translate them into price per lb. in dollars. (Of course it is sold by the kilogram and in zlotys, not dollars.) Prices fluctuate, so anyone reading this could differ with me and probably be accurate. I try to hunt down the best price for a decent quality. I won't buy the really old/tiny/bad stuff at a 20% discount.
wild blueberries (like in
American "tame" blueberries:
fresh sweet cherries (like Bing):
apples (not really the season yet):
yellow wax beans:
sweet corn (partially husked, wrapped individually and sold in about every sixth place in the farmer's market):