Polish food is hearty, simple, and flavorful. Like all ethnic cuisines, Polish cooking carries the mark of the geography and history of the country: Lithuania, Russia, Hungary, and Germany have all given their contributions. Sour cream, dill, vodka, and cabbage-beet soups are from Russia; potato dishes come from Germany; the use of paprika as a spice is a Hungarian legacy. Even Italy left a culinary influence when, in the 1500s, a Polish king married an Italian princess and she introduced tomatoes, oranges, olives, figs, and chestnuts to the country.
Polish cuisine has developed into a unique blend of central European tastes, where you find side by side the sweet flavors of onion, cabbage, beet, and potato; the sour tang of pickled vegetables, sour cream, and sour cherries; smoked or boiled sausage; and Polish variations of international dishes like stuffed cabbage, pierogi (boiled dumplings), and savory potato pudding.
Margo is a superb cook. I had the privilege of experiencing the quality and the generosity of her food many times. At her dinner table, I have tasted the best of Polish home cooking. It is difficult to believe today that Margo hated cooking when she was young, and she disliked working in the kitchen. Her conversion started after she got married and she had to deal with a hungry husband. Finally, she realized that she needed her mother’s help. And help arrived in the form of a small notebook. Margo’s mother had received it from her mother, and she added many pages to it. The notebook came with the backing of an extended family of aunts and cousins, all ready to assist and teach.
Today, Margo keeps this little treasure jealously close and she adds her own recipes and experiences to it. She has a particular passion and ability for baking. For festivities, it’s a profusion of different desserts: layered cakes, plum cakes, babka (soft and flavorful risen cake), her famous “porcupine cake” covered with almonds, and the classic Makowiec (poppy seed cake). This classic Polish dessert is always baked at Christmas and Easter, but fortunately, throughout the year as well. Made with aromatic dough and a generous amount of poppy seed, Makowiec filling is a mouth-watering mixture of cooked and ground poppy seeds, honey, orange peel, and raisins. The top of the cake is then glazed with powdered sugar icing. Once you try it, you’ll be addicted forever because the aroma and taste are unforgettable.
As Polish people say at the start to any meal: Smacznego! Enjoy!