text by Natalia Semczuk
Seven days of the week, nine choirs of angels, eleven dishes only for the aristocracy. As the years went by, the numbers were changing, as well as the recipes and the way of serving dishes. Finally, we have 12 dishes – the number of apostles, who were with Jesus during the Last Supper.
Today, it is still believed that tasting all the 12 dishes will bring material profit, or at least protect from going into debt. Each and every year at Christmas Eve Poles eat 12 lenten dishes and this is the only culinary tradition shared by the whole nation. Types of dishes differ in every province and, although they may seem similar at first sight, there will always be this one magical ingredient that will amaze everyone.
RED BORSCH WITH DUMPLINGS – Mazovia Province
This soup is cooked on vegetable and beetroot broth mixed with mushroom broth and sour fermented beetroot juice. Borsch is seasoned with salt and sugar, but not pepper. Borsch is ready to eat when it is sweet and sour, clear and intensely red. Dumplings, which are added to the soup are usually stuffed with mushrooms or meat.
KUTIA (sweet grain pudding) – Podlasie Province
It is traditionally prepared from cracked wheat, poppy seeds, malt, honey and dried fruit (containing also various kinds of nuts). Many recipes suggest to add milk or cream for dressing. Today, many other ingredients are added, which were not as popular and available in the past. These are, for instance, candied orange peel or almonds.
MAKIEŁKI (poppy seed dessert) – Greater Poland Province
This is a traditional Christmas dish prepared from poppy seeds, dried fruit, and light bread or noodles. Makiełki are arranged in alternating layers of bread soaked in milk and poppy-seed filling. In poor families milk was substituted with water and local fruits were used instead of more expensive dried fruit and nuts. Near Łódź in central Poland and in Silesia makiełki are also known as “makówki”. In those regions however, flour is used instead of bread and noodles.
FISH SOUP – Pomeranian and West Pomeranian Provinces
A kind of soup which basic ingredient is brew cooked on fish bones and meat. Sometimes seafood is used for the brew, as it gives the soup characteristic flavour and smell. But recipes most often include herrings, the most popular fish during Christmas.
ŚLISZKI (rolls with poppy seed filling) – Opole Province
“(…) Mother used to leave some poppy seed rolls without sprinkles for dinner. She soaked them in milk and sprinkled with crumbled gingerbread.” – from the Archive of Silesian Institute in Opole
CABBAGE WITH PEAS – Łódź Province
CABBAGE WITH MUSHROOMS – Świętokrzyskie Province
These are two dishes based on cabbage which have always been popular in Poland and eaten throughout the year. We can add various ingredients to easily create Christmas dishes which comply to the lenten atmosphere of Christmas. Today, those two dishes are often combined into one.
Above, we presented the most characteristic but frequently forgotten regional dishes. Apart from them, there are many other kinds of Christmas dishes like breaded carp, vegetable salad, poppy seed roll, gingerbreads and a soup from dried fruit (which is a perfect alternative for granny’s fruit compote). Where do these dishes exactly come from? Nobody knows. Yet, this is true that they are all Polish and definitely worth tasting.