I Am Fed Polish

The smell of dough and mashed potatoes wafts through the air, cut only by the pungent sourness of sauerkraut. Flour covers the hard wood table, filling in the cracks. A white cloud forms when a ball of dough hits the center of the flour mountain. The family is making pierogis, a type of Polish dumpling with a potato and cheese filling. The task takes all day and thousands of pierogis are made.

Babcia[1] (grandma), is the ring leader of the whole event. It is her kitchen table that our family gathers around. While everyone’s hands work, pinching, filling, rolling, my dziadek[2] (grandfather) tells stories of his time in the war. Which war, depends on the story and the audience that he has.

When the cold weather creeps up on the edges of summer, there is cabbage boiling in a pot on the humming stove. Ground beef sizzles in a pan joined with onions, cooked rice, and paprika. In yet another pot, a mixture pureed tomatoes, tomato juice, garlic, and tomato paste bubbles from the too high heat. Grandma is making Golabki[3]. Golabki, stuffed cabbage rolls, are an indulgent meal which we only have the pleasure of partaking in when my grandmother makes it. My matka[4] (mother), never learned how to roll the Golabki, therefore grandma is the only one who makes it.

Christmas is in the air and so is a mist of powdered sugar. Fragile, broken at barely a touch, cookies as covering the kitchen table. The sweet smell of butter and sugar combine with the scent of cocoa that is rising from our mugs. I am sitting on a wooden chair, the cushion is sliding from underneath my butt, and my back is hunched over. Hands are working quickly to roll out the thick, almost pasta like, dough and cut even strips. My fingers twist the strips and pinch pieces together to create the Chrusciki[5]; Polish Angel Wing cookies.  Hundreds are made in minutes and just as many consumed in less time. Oil is popping from the fryer and onto our skin as we drop the angel wings in. We spend the day with our hands and I see powdered sugar in my grandmother’s hair. Dough is smeared on my mother’s face, and I do not even want to think about how terrible I probably look. Everyone is smiling and singing to Christmas carols. Warmth drifts from the oven and encapsulates my frozen sock-less feet.

My family likes to joke that you are not Polish if you do not eat Kielbasa[6] on everything, and I do not use that term lightly. Kielbasa is a Polish sausage and is delicious at any time of day and with any food. Kielbasa Kolaches[7] or hash-browns with Kielbasa make the perfect breakfast. Kielbasa sandwiches for lunch and Kielbasa with Sauerkraut for dinner. I also enjoy this staple in homemade mac and cheese or simply the sausage with a pile of mustard. My favorite though, is when I am sitting at the table in the middle of the night, I am working on homework or reading, and I am munching on a cold piece of Kielbasa leftover from the night before.

In the summertime, I find a bowl of Mizeria[8], a Polish cucumber salad, amidst the bowls of chips and vegetables that cover the kitchen table. It is an open house and I load up my plate with potato salad and Mizeria on my way to the back yard. My family is sitting along the benches that sit on either side of a long picnic table. This table has been there since I was born and I smile as I sit beside my brother. He hands me a can of Faygo Rock and Rye soda that my grandparents brought back from Michigan.

This fizzy red drink comes in bottles that you stumble on in hole in the wall gas stations or in the 12-packs that my grandparents bring every year. They make the pilgrimage to Michigan every summer for Kielbasa and Faygo, and of course family. I try to make my can last the whole day, but I finish it quick and am resigned to drinking Verners ginger ale.

These foods always make me homesick for a place that I have never been, but I can suffice for the tastes of my ancestors’ homeland for now.

[1] Pronounced bob-cha

[2] Pronounced gah-dek

[3] Pronounced gaw-wump-key

[4] Pronounced mawt-kah

[5] Pronounced crew-shticky

[6] Pronounced kEEl-bah-suh

[7] Pronounced CO-law-cheese; a piece of Kielbasa and cheese, wrapped in dough

[8] Pronounced mitS-airy-ya; translates to misery


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