The Christmas season is around the corner again. It is the best memories of any person’s childhood because so many delightful flavors come flooding in. These are memories where dishes flavored with excitement, happiness, and curiosity.
No other memory is as exciting and as sharp as that of Christmas cheesecake, homemade pierogis, and mushroom soup. Christmas fare was always characterized by aromas of cooking when I was growing up.
My family members loved hanging out in the kitchen as we helped in cooking. As the aromas flew about from the kitchen, I often dashed out, playing with cousins and decorating the Christmas tree. Christmas cooking was a special time of bonding with my relatives and close friends.
I could spend many long days in the kitchen just cooking with my dear grandmother. Our house was almost always full of food during the entire Christmas period. There were decorations everywhere on the walls.
We had so much candy to match the upbeat mood. We used to pick up the Christmas fish from the river or lake a few days in advance. We used to keep our catch in the bathtub alive! My brother and I nourished them with a generous serving of bread.
On Christmas day we took one of them to the park and freed him in the pond, we visited him over the following days. On New Year’s Eve, we wished him good luck. Things were a little different in communist-era Poland!
The week before Christmas was filled with so much frantic energy. All of us were running around like crazy. We were busy shopping, and getting food from my uncle’s farm to our own kitchen.
Polish tradition has quite a list of requirements, and we had a lot of fun fulfilling it! Decorating the Christmas tree in the morning before Christmas Eve, fasting all day before dinner and this was after a week with no meat.
The evening particularly started with the children all eagerly searching the sky for the first star. This represents the Star of Bethlehem, as we are staunch Christians. That would mark the official beginning of the festivities.
Then we would share our delicious Opłatek – a blessed wafer, which is so similar to the bread wafer used in Holy Communion by the Catholic faithful. At the start of dinner, everyone would grab a piece of a wafer, turn to a family member next to them, and make a wish on their behalf.
Next, we would break off a piece of the wafer and place it in our mouths. We wished each other good health or success at a new job or a promise to be better next year. The wishes and breaking of the wafer then get reciprocated, and the good wishes continue all around the table.
Since Christmas Eve marks the end of Advent, traditionally, we only eat fish during that dinner. Thirteen dishes have to be on the table (representing Jesus and the Apostles), and an extra plate is set for an unexpected guest.
The menu includes items such as pan-fried carp, cod in a tomato-carrot sauce, pickled herring, pierogi, and mushroom or beet soup. Others were noodles with poppy seeds and walnuts and honey, stewed fruits and makowiec (poppy seed cake).
Traditionally we leave one empty plate on the table in case a homeless person will knock on the door. In the warmth of the home, we sang Christmas Carols. This was the only time of the year we sang together, and it brought so much joy to our family.
It was torture for us kids because opening our gifts came after that! We couldn’t wait. Of course, that was the best part of the day. We had such warm family conversations, joking around, laughing and playing.
The time just flew. Then we all went to midnight mass wrapped in warm clothes to wait for the Christ to be born. It was so much fun! Even now those memories are still fresh and make me feel homesick and nostalgic.
Polish Hunter Stew
I am sharing with you one of my favorite recipes for Christmas fare. It is a Polish Hunter stew. It is made from sauerkraut, meat, and veggies. Originally it is made with pork sausage and some bacon along with some beef.
In this recipe, I used beef and turkey bacon. You can also make yourself a vegan version if you do not eat meat. You will just take out the meat form the recipe. Hunter Stew is a traditional Polish dish, which is very popular especially during the holidays. Your family and close friends will praise your name long after the Christmas season.
1 box of turkey bacon
1 ½ kilogram of beef
2 jars of Bubbies sauerkraut
1 mushroom stock – Pacific
¼ lbs. dried mushrooms
1 celery root
1 cup red wine
1 cup dried prunes
1 medium green cabbage
3 tablespoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons avocado oil
3 tablespoons onion powder
4 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons dried basil
4 bay leaves
2 tablespoons marjoram
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 Rapunzel cubes bullion
- Soak the mushroom overnight and keep the water
- Dice the onion and brown it in the frying pan- transfer to a large pot.
- Shred the carrot, parsnip, celery root in the food processor and transfer to the pot.
- Strain the mushroom and coarsely chop. Transfer to the pot.
- Add mushroom stock and water from the mushrooms to the pot.
- Chop cabbage, apples, and prunes and add it to the pot. Wait until it boils, then transfer to the slow cooker.
- Cut beef into small pieces and stir-fry in the frying pan with avocado oil. Transfer to the slow cooker. Add spices and cook for 4 hours.
- Add wine to the crockpot and strain sauerkraut and add it to the slow cooker. Add bullion and let it cook for 3 hours.
- Chop turkey bacon and stir-fry in the frying pan, then add it to the slow cooker at the end of cooking.
Serve and enjoy! Let me know the results by leaving your comments below.