Polish Word of the Day | Christmas

My Dear Hungry Friends,

‘Tis the season again. This year went by in a flash for me. For the first quarter of the year we were busy getting organized in our new home, setting ourselves up in our community and finding our new normal.

Before we knew it, it was summer and long-awaited trip to Poland. We were happy to have been able to attend my brother’s wedding and celebrate his new wife. Sadly, we also said good-bye to my culinary and life inspiration, grandma Stasia. The fall brought a new job for me and challenges of juggling work and personal time, and staying available for our daughter. Thankfully, my husband’s schedule allowed a lot more flexibility than usually, and team Hurning has managed to pull the rest of the year off without a snag.

It’s Christmas again. I start thinking about it probably mid-November. What to make (like it’s ever a surprise, since we eat same food each year), when to make it, and how delicious it’s going to be…. Mainly the last part. I made sauerkraut and mushroom pierogi right after Thanksgiving and pasztet is also ready ahead of time. The rest will be done on Friday and Saturday, time to spend time in the kitchen with family, cooking, me being bossy, and trying to not frustrate each other… ya know, the usual family stuff.

For friend’s who joined the blog this year, welcome and thank you. For friends who continue to come back and stay connected, thanks for your continuous support. Please keep sharing pictures of food you make and enjoy. It brings a lot of joy knowing that someone is on the other side of my screen and listening.

polish christmas recipes

And now, sharing the post from last year about Polish Christmas. Have you tried any of the recipes?

Poles celebrate Christmas for 3 days, enough for the cheer to last us the next 12 months. Main meal in on Christmas Eve, and then there is 1st and 2nd Day of Christmas. THAT’S A LOT OF EATING!!  

Let’s start with choinka (Christmas Tree). In my home, we normally decorated a day or two before Wigilia (Christmas Eve), and that’s pretty much standard for Poles.

Wigilia is the most important day of the holidays for my family, normally spent with close family, traditionally eating meatless dishes. Tradition of meatless Christmas Eve has changed a bit for me since I moved to the US and the rules on eating meat that day were loosened. We now eat “bigos” with meat in it, and sometimes the beet or mushroom soup is made based on a meat stock. Many Poles strictly stick to the tradition though and on Christmas Eve serve meatless dishes only. 

Dinner starts when the first star shows up on the still pale blue sky. My brother and I were in charge of looking for it, when we were kids. Good way to keep us out of the kitchen, I guess. We were extra hungry by then, as we could only get away with sneaking cold pierogi the first couple of times.  

Preparation for Christmas at my house starts early, and I’m not talking about shopping for gifts. Everybody knows that cabbage has to sour for bigos and pierogi for at least 10 days. As soon as I start cooking sour cabbage, my husband says it smells like Christmas.  And I agree. 

Christmas to me also smells like oranges. During the communist time in Poland, Christmas was the only time we would get oranges (if we were lucky). Not because we couldn’t buy them, but because there weren’t any available. We would get them in our gift bags under the tree, along with some sweets. My brother and I had to compare who got how many and how big, just to make sure it’s even and fair. 

Dinner table is set with the special china and silverware saved for special occasions. Traditionally, there is always an additional place setting set for an unexpected guest. We also place a handful of hey under the white tablecloth, to symbolize the manger. 

For my family Christmas Eve dinner starts with all family members sharing “opłatek” (a thin wafer, kind of like the one you get at communion) by everyone breaking a piece of the one you’re holding, eating it, and wishing each other Marry Christmas and other appropriate wishes for the upcoming year. 

Then is the fun part… food!! Minimum of 12 dishes to represent the 12 apostles (some parts of Poland its 13). These dishes vary just a bit from region to region, and home to home, but all include some of the favorites.

1 & 2 We start with “barszcz” (beet soup). Traditionally, it’s a meatless dish,  with broth based on vegetables and dried wild mushrooms. It’s served with “uszka”, a small version of pierogi, filled with wild mushroom filling. My version of barszcz has evolved a bit over the years, since getting real Polish wild mushrooms was challenging, and the strict rules on eating meat on Christmas Eve loosened. Many Poles still stick to the old tradition and continue with consuming meatless dishes only on Christmas Eve. 

3. “Pierogi” filled with sauerkraut and wild mushrooms – my personal favorite.

4. Sauerkraut with Lentils – “Kapusta z Grochem” – sauerkraut cooked with lentils and spices, served hot. 

5. Fried Carp – “Karp” – this sweet water fish is largely sold around Christmas time and rarely eaten otherwise. It’s a specific tasting fatty fish, lightly floured and pan fried ‘till golden brown.

6 & 7 Herring in Sour Cream – “Śledź w Śmietanie” – mixture of salted herring, shredded apple and onion, with sour cream, served over hot potatoes.

8. Jellied Fish – “Ryba w Galarecie” – cooked white fish filet pieces, surrounded by cooked carrots and peas, suspended in savory gelatin.

9. Greek Style Fish – “Ryba po Grecku” – this is a cold dish of battered and fried fish filets, surrounded by a mixture of shredded carrots, onions and spices. 

10. Hunters Stew – “Bigos” – a mixture of sauerkraut, cabbage and mushrooms. 

 11. Vegetable Salad – “Sałatka Jarzynowa” – a mixture of cooked vegetables mixed with mayo.

12. “Kutia” – a mixture of poppyseed, pasta, nuts and dried fruit, sweetened with honey.  

13. Dried Fruit Compote – “Kompot z Suszu” – drink made of dried apples, pears, and plums, spiced with cinnamon and cloves, served hot or cold.

That’s a lot of food!! Let’s not forget desert! Poppyseed cake “makowiec”, ginger bread cookies “pierniki” and my grandma’s sugar cookies are just a few of my favorites. Those will have to wait until after the midnight mass.  

We eat until we cannot eat anymore, and then opened gifts. 

Many attend church that night for the midnight mass called Pasterka, to celebrate the birth of Jesus and sing kolędy (Christmas Carols). Kids love this part. They get to stay up extra late and watch the revealing of the Szopka (Nativity). Very exciting stuff.

Wigilia is preceded with, the 1st and 2nd Day of Christmas, normally spent with extended family, or friends eating, chatting, taking walks, and enjoying each other’s company. Meat dishes are added to the mix on 1st and 2nd day of Christmas. Each year we change it up and cook something else. Sometimes duck or a beef roast, depending on requests from the family. December 26th is a day when everyone gets sad, because all pierogi are gone. Each year I tell myself I’m going to make enough and not run out, but that’s never the case.

Merry Christmas to you all, my hungry friends. Wishing you memorable time spent with family, enjoying each other’s company, savoring and tasting, being happy and staying healthy. May the New Year of 2017 bring a fresh start, new inspirations, strength to be adventurous and good to each other.

With love,

Anna