Memory of a Dollhouse
Exploring the pantry - Dąbrowa Mazowieckie (1910)
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When my Ksiᶏżyk Grandfather visited his grandparents Paulin (1844-1921) and Julianna (1842-1919) in Dąbrowa, his interest for the pantry was hardly contained. In this tiny room, his Grandmother stored cold and cured meats, household's preserves, and grocery products. Many distinctive flavors have left a footprint in his childhood memory: dried mushrooms, smoked sausages, dry cured ham, fermented cabbage, pickles, aromatic herbs...
On "cheese days", milk curdling in large wooden jars was sending a welcoming signal with a sour odour. This dairy smell was the promise of a delicious twaróg (quark) and many other homemade products. Today, the Polish Twaróg is a cottage cheese proposed with several varieties: tłusty (fat), półtłusty (semi-fat), chudy (no fat). Twaróg is also named ser biały (white cheese) as opposed to ser żółty (yellow cheese) or ser twardy (hard cheese) that refer to cheeses with longer fermentation. Twaróg is the main ingredient to make sernik (cheesecake) or pierogis (filled dumplings).
All his life, my Grandfather has treasured his favorite dish: mash potatoes with bacon, fried onions and a generous serving of sour milk. This is also a memory of my own childhood, when my French Grandmother served this delicious dish, saying "aujourd'hui, on mange polonais". Her "lait caillé" was made in a small bowl left one night and one day in a hot place of the kitchen.
As other countries in Central Europe, Poland is a land for cabbages of all sorts. Some jarmuż (kale cabbages) are so big that they can exceed a 1-meter diameter. Preparing kiszona or kwaszona kapusta (sour cabbages also known as sauerkraut) is a ritual that farmers repeated every year before October. The cabbages were first chopped in 2 parts, grated on a large wooden board, then piled up in a barrel or a wooden chest. A young girl trampled them with her feet to squeeze. We don't know about our ancient family receipe but we suspect that some carrots and apples were added to the different layers of salted cabbages.
Several times a week, the big wooden sauerkraut trunk was opened, liberating a strong, acid and persisting smell. Sauerkraut is widely used in Polish cuisine to prepare kapusta (cabbage soup), bigos (cabbage stew) or pierogi z kapustą (cabbage-filled dumplings). Potatoes are the best friends of cabbages. The harvest was stored in the cellar with a few kilos kept at hand in the pantry.
We cannot imagine a family pantry in Poland without an impressive stock of kasza, a catchall word for groats. Kasza is a daily staple of cereal grains such as
- barley (kasza jaglana);
- buckwheat (kasza grzyczana);
- millet (kasza jaglana);
- oat (kasza owsiana);
- rye (kasza żytnia);
- wheat (kasza manna/semolina).
Kasza is not only used to prepare soups, porridges and cakes but is also served in a large number of dishes. Today, kasza remains a very popular staple in all the regions of Poland. Cheap restaurants (bar mleczny) propose a wide choice of dishes with delicious gravies. In supermarkets, shelves are full of all sorts of mixed, roasted, smoked, aromatic, bio, pre-cooked and diet kasza.
My Great Great-grandfather stored his cereals harvest in the first floor of a large barn separated from his house. Fire, floodings and rodents were the main threats and a farm worker who slept in the barn was in charge of protecting the crop. In our pantry scenery, different sorts of kasza are displayed in glass jars as well as in the big and small jute bags. Six generations later, kasza is still part of our family food tradition. I was raised by my Grandmother with wheat semolina served with garlic or sugar. My day begins and ends with an oat porridge served for breakfast and late evening snack (kolacja).
In the pantry of the Dąbrowa house, the main point of interest of my Grandfather was the wooden cabinet where his Grandmother stored her most precious products: sugar, tea, coffee and chocolate. The cabinet was locked and Babcia Julianna kept the key on the keychain hanging off her belt. At this time, all these kolonialny products were a luxury. A piece of sugar or a licorice stick were the most common treats for children. Candies, toffies and other confectioneries were reserved for special occasions such as Christmas or Easter. Sugar was kept in a box locked with a small key.
Most of the kolonialny products were sold in bulk at the local grocery, a small shop that was pompously named sklep kolonialny (colonial shop). This store also sold spices and rice. At home, sugar cones and chocolate blocks were wrapped in newspaper, stored in tin boxes and cut into small pieces whenever needed. Green beans of coffee had to be roasted and grinded. Loose tea, sometimes sold in leaves, was also stored in tin boxes. In Europe, the years from 1880 to 1920 were the golden age of screen-printed tin boxes. In Poland, they were rather rare and often written in Russian or German.
In this regards, kolonialny products from Polish companies (fabryka) were also a luxury. Many brands such as Wedel or Blikle had already developped a successful business still existing today. In 1910, imported products usually came in original boxes with a paper label written in Polish and glued in the back or at the bottom. In the years 1900 to 1920, some iconic foreign brands such as Lipton (Great Britain), Maggi (Switzerland), Meinl (Austria) or Meunier (France) were circulating. The French Fosfatyna Faliera (Phosphatine Falières) was stored for sick or recovering persons. Of course, we don't know exactly what was in Great-Great-Grandma cabinet some 110 years ago. Our little pantry scenery displays the following Polish brands:
- Chocolate: Wedel, Markowski i Jaskiewicz, Fuchs, J. Zbrozek i S.ka, Jean Fruzinski:
- Tea: Tryumf, Indochina, Atlas, Schubuth;
- imported products: Fosfatyna Faliera (Phosphatine Falières, France), Van Houten (chocolate).
Zapraszamy in our country pantry six generations ago.
- Thank you to Myrande Ksiazyk for her precious family memory, excellent ideas and relevant advices.
- Thank you to Jolanta Ilnicka for her kind attention and support. She has a wonderful blog about old times Polish cuisine: http://genalogicznakuchnia2.blogspot.com/
- Thank you to Katarzyna from the Polish Bookstore in Paris for her outstanding help in finding sources. We strongly recommed a visit to the Librairie Polonaise/Księgarnia Polska 123 bd Saint Germain Paris.
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