The Polish cuisine (kuchnia polska) in the Middle Ages was based on dishes made of agricultural produce (millet, rye, wheat – proso, żyto, pszenica), meats of wild and farm animals and fruits, herbs and local spices. It was known above all from abundant salt using and permanent presence of groats (kasze). A high calorific value of dishes and drinking the beer as a basic drink (unlike the wine spread in south and west Europe) was typical of Middle Ages Polish cuisine. A beer and a mead (piwo i miód pitny) were most popular drink for a lot of time, but with time an expensive wine, imported mainly from Silesia and Hungary appeared.
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Medieval chronicles describe Polish cuisine as very pungent (cierpka, pikantna, ostra), using large amounts of the meat and groats. Indeed, medieval Polish cuisine applied prodigious seasonings amounts (when compared with other countries of Europe), mainly pepper, nutmeg and juniper (pieprzu, gałki muszkatołowej i jałowca). Thanks to close trade relations between Poland and countries of the Orient, prices of spices were lower in Poland than in many other countries. Up to today’s times mentions of aromatic, dense and very spicy Polish sauces behaved (‘jucha szara’ and ‘jucha czerwona‘, nowadays unknown). Apart from that balm, the turnip and pea (rzepa i groch) were common. What’s interesting in the Middle Ages a flatware wasn’t used at all.
‘Compendium Ferculorum albo zebranie potraw’ by Stanislav Czerniecki is the oldest Polish cookbook. The book dates from 1682. Only a century later in 1786 a next great work of this type was published – oeuvre of Wojciech Wieladko ‘Excellent Cook’ (‘Kucharz doskonaly’ in original), a book unusually popular and repeatedly resumed. What’s interesting reprints of this book are also available in Poland nowadays – but rather as the certain curiosity or position for fiends.
A little bit later in the end of 18th century Jan Szyttler, disciple of the famous royal chef Paul Tremon, became an author of first, systematic cookbooks on Polish land.
In history choice of the meat in the polish cuisine depended on the forestation. In contrast with other countries like France or Hungary, in medieval Poland forests were not being cut down to convert the land into pastures. Neither Poles grazed cattle on a great scale. Farm animals has been rather kept in corrals as a source of dairy products above all valued.
Pork (wieprzowina) was peculiary popular meat in Poland. Pigs were grazed in forests and people willingly took advantage of the wild sylvan game, as a source of meat too. Therefore the meats typical of the Old Polish cuisine are dishes of the pork, the poultry and the various game – from rabbit or birds to roe deer or wild boars.
Little requiring poultry was bred in corrals for nutritious and nourishing eggs, as well as for the readily available meat in the case of any fowl population surplus. Poles come economically up to the cattle earmarked for slaughter. Whole animal was used, including giblets and blood, from which the black pudding (kaszanka) and bloody soup (czernina) were made, what as the culinary curiosum was known in the whole Europe. To this day the black pudding remains popular, however czernina is not being eaten already.
The contemporary Polish cuisine replaced groats being the staple in history with potatoes, while game dishes are replaced today with the pork and the farm poultry. Tomatoes won the great popularity also. Also eating easily available meat increased, while eating giblets reduced. Producing cheap sugar from beet readily drove and replaced honey in baking and desserts.
Similarly as in other national kitchens, certain regional specializations appear also in Polish cuisine. Saltwater fishes are popular particularly on the Polish coast of Baltic Sea today, sheep’s dairy products in the mountains, whereas freshwater fishes in the Land of Great Mazurian Lakes. In times of wars and loss of the independence differences deepened, and regional cuisines adopted some meals from the cuisines of three occupying nations.
Polish regions have unique menus, but to some extent only. List of regional foods is not so long, and most traditional dishes are considered national. For example chicken broth is associated with Silesia as typical food, and for the main course meat with dumpling. On the other hand tripe and pork chop with cabbage and potatoes could be served in Mazovia. In Greater Poland German-Polish dishes are liked (ajntop; meat jelly known as the aspic or ‘cold legs'; myrdyrda), whether in Lublin dumplings with the buckwheat groats and the curd cheese are number one. Apart from some of such regional food, main dishes of modern and Old Polish cuisine are universally known and consumed throughout the country.
The dinner in Poland is usually had about 2 p.m. It consists of three dishes. Soup constitutes the first dish. In keeping with tradition on Sunday a chicken stock (broth – rosół) is typical given. Main course is a meat dish usually (or fish at Fridays), e.g. pork cutlet (‘kotlet schabowy’) which is served with boiled potatoes (in chunks or crushed on puree) and with vegetable ‘surówka’ (shredded root vegetables with lemon and the mayonnaise or cream). To be a little bit more traditional replace potatoes with groats. During the Polish dinner a dessert consists of a cake as a third dish. It might be for example the poppy-seed cake, the cheesecake or the yeast cake with fruits. In the majority of families compote or juice fruit is served during main course.
Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)