In Poland's current turmoil food has been an important factor, as both cause and effect. Labor troubles have emerged from food shortages, and more severe food shortages have been forecast by the government in the event of strikes. Keeping in mind Bertolt Brecht's advice in "The Threepenny Opera," "First feed the face, and then talk right and wrong," today, in the Food Section, we address how Poland is dealing with that first step. We present a look at food in Poland today and yesterday, with Madeleine Lundberg's recent visit to Poland and her interviews with charismatic union leader Lech Walesa, and Jessica Josephson's interpretation of her mother's memories of a long-gone Polish era. -- Phyllis C. Richman
IT WAS clear that spring was coming to the Polish countryside, in the year 1705, for the nobleman who ruled the surrounding lands and forests had organized one last hunting party to stock the larder of the manor. The stable boys, their eyes foggy with sleep, rolled off their straw pallets in the pre-dawn night. The horses that slept nearby awoke, their noses trembling, sensing the activity.
In another part of the darkened courtyard, the serving maids, supervised by the ladies of the manor, were hustling about the warm kitchen house, making the provisions ready for the hunting party: cheeses from the stores of the lord, local full-bodied red wines, loaves of freshly baked breads and other foods to be eaten during the day while on the hunt.
The men of the manor had been awake since midnight, consulting with the grooms and menservants as to the logistics of the day's trip. Wrapped in sheepskin coats, tall fur-lined boots and furry hats and gloves, they inspected the glistening weapons, cleaned, oiled and polished the night before. i
It was still dark as the party moved in a slow line from the stone walls of the manor compound into the surrounding forests; there was an icy layer of frost on the ground, and twigs and branches broke and crackled as the party moved deeper into the woods. Men, boys, dogs and horses plunged into the fragrant darkness.But they were not alone.
As dawn crept over the eastern hill, the light revealed the presence of parties from other estates in the neighborhood converging toward a spot in the forest where, for hundreds of years, a clearing had existed and had served Polish huntsmen.
There they set up a base camp. Large fires were built; the horses were watered, fed and brushed. The menservants went about busily setting out the food for the day, and setting up the large black iron cauldrons in which was cooked bigos, a Polish hunter's stew prepared by the women of the manor several days before.
After a short breakfast of the bread and cheese, and a flagon of brandy to keep warm, the hunters set out with the dogs, servants and a boy or two and commenced the day's activities.
From the countryside manor houses to splendid palaces and castles, the hunt was a custom shared by Polish men, not only to provide food for their dependents, but also to get together to show each other their hunting and firearms-handling skills.
At the completion of the hunt, the boys arranged the killed game on the carts that had hauled the large full cauldrons of bigos. A horn blew, signaling the hunters in the woods to the clearing. All the participants trudged to the blazing bonfire, where they would relax, warm up and exchange the day's stories and gossip. The smell of the bubbling bigos proved irresistable, and the hunters lined up at the pot to dig in, ladling the mixture into iron bowls. Accompanied by red wine and vodka chilled in a nearby brook, and huge chunks of black bread slathered with freshly churned butter, it was a feast.
The hunter who bagged the most game received the high praise of his companions, along with the major share of the kill, and was proclaimed King of the Hunt.
After many helpings, toasts and singing, the full and tired hunters were settled into their carts, bundled with furs for their ride home, followed by the killed game, already frozen, and the empty cauldrons.
Today the hunt is a forgotten ritual. Men are no longer required to haul home cartfuls of bloody meat for the families' sustenance.The much tamer butcher shop will do. But bigos, the hunter's stew, can still be eaten adapted to modern palates, still robust and rich as in the days of old and marvelous on a cold spring night. Other Polish recipes handed down in my family were originally made in the manor house kitchen, but also have been adapted for modern use. POLISH DILL PICKLE SOUP (6 servings) 6 cups of beef or chicken stock 1 cup sour cream 1/2 cup heavy cream 1 tablespoon flour 2 large potatoes, half-cooked, peeled and diced 1 cooked veal kidney, sliced very thin 4 large dill pickles (from a deli barrel, never from a jar), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes Dash of lemon 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Have the hot broth bubbling in a soup pot. In a separate bowl, mix together the sour cream, heavy cream and flour. Take 2 cups of the hot broth and, in a very slow dribble, add the liquid to the cream and flour mixture, all the while beating rapidly. Pour into the broth pot, stirring vigorously.Add the potatoes, sliced kidneys and pickles to the soup. Simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. Add a hard squeeze of lemon. For serving, pour into individual bowls and top with chopped dill.
NOTE: If it seems a bit too sour, sweeten with sugar to taste; generally, 1 teaspoon for the entire soup will do. BIGOS (polish Hunter's Stew) (10 to 12 servings) 1 medium head of fresh cabbage (about 3 pounds), shredded 5 whole dried Polish mushrooms (soaked in 1/2 cup water and sliced) 4 cups boiling water 1/8 teaspoon salt 5 pounds sauerkraut, drained and rinsed. 4 cups ice water 1/4 pound salt pork, cut in 1/2-inch cubes 1 1/4 pounds Polish kielbasa, sliced 1/2-inch thick 6 slices thick-cut bacon, cut in 1/2-inch pieces 1 pound lean boneless pork, cut in 1-inch cubes 1 1/2 pounds beef, cut in 1-inch cubes 1/2 cup butter 4 cups coarsely chopped onions 2 bay leaves 20 juniper berries 20 peppercorns 4 whole cloves 2 tablespoons black cumin seeds 6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped 4 cups full-bodied dry red wine 1 cup tomato sauce Salt and pepper to taste
Place the shredded cabbage in a large cast-iron pot with the soaked mushrooms and their water. Add the 4 cups of boiling water and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil; then turn down to simmer for about an 1 hour.
While the cabbage is cooking, drain and rinse the sauerkraut in a colander under running water until the rinse water runs clear. Place it in another large cast-iron pot with 4 cups of ice water. Bring it to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes. Watch the pot to be sure that the mixure is moist and does not burn. Add more cold water if necessary.
While the cabbage and the sauerkraut are cooking, brown the cubed salt pork over medium heat until golden, in a heavy cast-iron frying pan. Reserve the meat. Repeat this process with the kielbasa, bacon, pork and beef, in that order. Add the butter to the pan in which the meat has been browned, and add the onions. Saute the onions over moderate heat until they are golden, about 15 minutes. Drain and reserve the onions, leaving the butter and the renderings from the meat in the frying pan. Add all the spices to the frying pan. Saute in the buttery mixture for 4 minutes over medium-low heat. (If there is a very little butter in the pan, add another 1/4 cup.)
By now, the cabbage and the sauerkraut should be completely cooked. Mix together all the ingredients in one big pot, preferably a cast-iron one, with a lid.Add 2 1/2 cups of the red wine, and simmer the mixture for 1 hour, watching to be sure that the bottom doesn't burn. Refrigerate overnight. The next morning, reheat the bigos. Add the remaining red wine and the tomato sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, turn down and simmer for 30 minutes. Let rest at room temperature. Just before serving, bring to a boil, simmer for 15 minutes, add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with chilled Polish vodka or aquavit or dry red wine and hunks of black bread and sweet butter. BOEUF A LA STROGANOFF A LA POLONAISE (10 servings) Marinade: 6 cups water 1 cup red wine vinegar 1/4 cup salt 1/4 cup olive oil 1 large onion, finely chopped 1 tablespoon pickling spices 3 pounds of beef tenderloin Stroganoff: 3 tablespoons butter 1 large onion (quartered, blanched for 3 minutes and grated) 3 slices of thick-cut bacon, finely chopped 6 anchovy filets, soaked for 3 hours in water, boned and chopped 1 cup chicken or beef broth 2 cups sour cream 1/4 cup heavy cream 1 tablespoon flour 1 tablespoon capers 1 tablespoon meat-extract paste
Combine marinade ingredients and heat to boiling point, then pour into a large, shallow, nonmetal bowl or dish. Add the meat and be sure it is covered with the liquid. Marinate 6 to 12 hours in the refrigerator, turning occasionally.
Take beef out of marinade. Dry the beef; discard the marinade. In a large heavy pot, heat the butter and brown the beef well on both sides over a moderate to high flame. Set meat aside. Add to the pan the grated onion, chopped bacon, anchovies and broth. Bring to a boil. Add the meat to the boiling mixture. Turn down the heat, and simmer on low to moderate heat, covered, for 35 minutes. Uncover the pot, remove meat and set aside.
In a separate bowl, mix together the sour cream, heavy cream, flour, capers and meat-extract paste. Pour a cup or two of the hot liquid gradually into the cream mixture, stirring vigorously, then stir into the pot. Bring to a swift boil; then turn down the heat, add the meat and simmer on low to moderate heat for 10 more minutes. Take the meat from the sauce. Slice into 1-inch-long strips. Return to sauce, stir. Serve over hot buttered broad noodles, accompanied by a lightly blanched green vegetable with lemon-butter sauce. APPLE DESSERT A LA QUEEN BONA (3 servings) 3 tart apples, preferably mcintosh, peeled and cored 1/2 cup raspberry jam 1/2 cup sugar 4 eggs, separated 3 tablespoons plain breadcrumbs 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel Chopped almonds and extra sugar for garnish (optional)
Boil the apples in water to cover until they are crisp-tender, about 15 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Stand the apples upright in a buttered casserole. Fill the apple centers with jam, then sprinkle 1/4 cup of the sugar onto the apples. Beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar. When the mixture is smooth, add the breadcrumbs and lemon rind. Mix well. In a separate dish, beat the egg whites until they are stiff. Fold the white mixture into the yolks, and spread it over the apples. (As an optional touch, sprinkle chopped almonds and sugar over on top.) Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 25 minutes, removing sooner if the begin to brown.