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Grandma Rose was holding out on us!

One of the traditions that we had growing up at the Czeck Christmas gatherings was a dessert called Makówki (pronounced mah-KOOV-kee).  The way that Grandma Rose made it sort of defies explanation.  You almost have to experience it to fully understand and appreciate it.  Of course, being genetically inclined towards the stuff doesn’t hurt either.  You’ll understand that point better in a little bit.

The “official” recipe that Grandma Rose used for Makówki was like all old family recipes.  Not exactly big on measurements.  I’m sure someone has a version written down that has some actual numbers associated with it, but I’m too lazy at the moment to find out, so here’s the version that I have.  Take homemade bread (it has to be homemade) and tear it into chunks, then let it sit out on the counter and get stale.  Next, you make a simple syrup solution with ground poppy seeds in it, and build up layers, alternating between the bread and syrup in a bowl.  Refrigerate it for at least several hours and then serve.  What you end up with is a really soupy, sweet, soggy bread with a crap load of poppy seeds in the mix.  Sounds appetizing right?  I don’t think many of the in-laws actually eat the stuff.  I’m not even sure how many of my cousins do.  I know that at least some do, because my cousin Stephen and I were talking about it at Roy’s wake with a couple of my aunties.  It was established that our respective wives won’t touch the stuff, but we actively sought it out.  I also found out that my aunt Rosie has the official Makówki pottery bowl, and of course it’s green.  Rosie mentioned that her brother Mel was supposed to have been the one to keep the Makówki recipe alive.  He took the time and made it with Grandma Rose so he understood how to make it.  But unfortunately he passed away over ten years ago and no one took the opportunity to learn it again while she was alive.  I know that Mary Ann made it a couple of times, and it is possible that one of Mel’s sons has it.  I’ll have to make inquiries into some kind of official version in the near future.

A reasonably close picture of how Grandma Rose’s Makówki looked.

When I started actively collecting recipes and searching out different dishes, I always was on the look out for this recipe.  I had flipped through every applicable section of any Polish cookbook that I could find hoping to discover a variation of this dish.  I even read through the index looking for the recipe.  I was becoming increasingly convinced it was something that Grandma Rose had made up.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one that came to this conclusion because Rosie mentioned that she too was convinced of the same.  Grandma Rose was well known for combining odd things and making them taste amazing.  Her punch being one example (some odd combination of 7-Up, fruit juice, kool-aid, and who knows what else).  I guess living through the Depression and raising nine kids forces you to become creative in the kitchen.

You can’t even imagine my surprise and delight when I literally stumbled across a Makówki recipe while browsing the web.  I finally had a starting point outside of my family to do some research!  It seems that outside of Silesia, this dish is not well known.  In fact, many people in Poland haven’t even heard of this dish.  Talk about your regional cuisine!  This would explain why I’ve never seen it in any of the cookbooks.  Although I was impressed that there is a Wikipedia article on it (a few key selections):

The main ingredient are: sweet white bread and finely ground poppy seeds boiled in milk with butter. Other important ingredients include: dried fruit (figs, raisins, apricots, dates, etc.) almonds and other kinds of nuts (the choice of nuts and dried fruit varies). It is flavoured with sugar, honey, vanilla, cinnamon and rum.

Silesian cuisine can be very conservative. The tradition of makówki/mohnkließla/mohnpilen is well maintained amongst Silesians, i.e., it is hard to imagine a Silesian Christmas without this foodstuff, and it would be rather unorthodox to serve it outside the Christmas–New Year period.

I basically only found two versions of the recipe doing a Google search.  This one is fairly close to what Grandma Rose made (which strangely enough is the one that was in Polish).  The measurements in brackets are the originals, I have converted them to US standard.

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 1 1/2 quarts [liters] of milk
  • 5 large tablespoons of sugar
  • 8 3/4 oz [250 g] of poppy seeds
    (ground dry)
  • 2 small wheat buns
  • 5 1/4 oz [150 g] hazelnuts
  • 1 3/4 – 3 1/2 oz [50-100 g] walnuts
  • 5 1/4 oz[150 g] of raisins

Mix the sugar and milk together in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Add the ground poppy seeds and bring back to a boil (the recipe doesn’t state how long you need to boil this mixture).  Refrigerate the poppy seed mixture until cool.  Meanwhile, cut the buns into slices and chop the nuts quite finely.  In a large glass bowl, alternate layers of bun, nuts, raisins, and the refrigerated poppy seed mixture.  Repeat until you use up everything.

Grandma Rose’s version did not have the milk, nuts, and raisins.  Also, she used white bread instead of wheat buns.

The other version that I found sounds completely over the top compared to what I’m used to eating.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups poppy seeds, ground
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 8 tablespoons honey
  • 3 ounces rum
  • 6 ounces Amaretto
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup raisins (pre-soaked in a little rum)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 loaf raisin bread (sliced 3/4 thick)
  • 2 ounces chocolate, shaved (bitter sweet)
  • 1 tablespoon sliced almonds
  • whipped cream (optional)

Prepare a day before because this needs to refrigerate over night.  It is sometimes difficult to find ground poppy seeds, so I use the poppy seeds, put them in a coffee filter and pour boiling water over the poppy seeds twice, to soften them up, then put them in the food processor, set aside.  In a large pot over medium heat bring the milk, cream and butter almost to a boil.  While constantly stirring with a wooden spoon, add the honey, rum, amaretto, cinnamon, raisins, walnuts, and almonds.  Reduce heat to medium low and let this cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Turn the heat off and add the ground poppy seed, stir twice and let the mixture sit for 10-15 minute (its important to have the heat off because the poppy seeds can become bitter if heated too much).  The mixture should be slightly thickened.  In a large glass bowl alternate layers the poppy seed mixture and the bread slices, starting with a ladle of the poppy seed mixture and ending with poppy seed mixture.  Should be 3 – 4 bread layers.  Cover the top with chocolate shavings and almond slices.  Cover and put in the fridge overnight.  Can be served with whipped cream.

Personally, I think the chocolate and the whipped cream are completely unnecessary.  I do like the idea of adding the dairy to make it more like a bread pudding.  And if you are going to do that, you might as well add the nuts and dried fruit because they go well that style of pudding.  Adding a alcohol to a dessert, to my knowledge, has never hurt anything.  But by the time that you get here, you’ve got a fairly typical bread pudding with poppy seed in it.  While it may be the more traditional Silesian version, I think I’m going to stick with Grandma Rose’s for the familial tradition and personal memories.

A Proud Polack Passes Away.

Monday night my uncle Roy (he married Dad’s sister Mary Ann) passed away from a massive stroke.  I haven’t posted anything about him until now because I’ve spent the last week trying to come up with some kind of summery of his life.  Do I take the outdoors angle where he loved to fish and hunt?  His seemingly endless tall-tales that he loved to tell?  The grocery store that he and Mary Ann, used to own about eight miles from Mom and Dad’s?  That he put new meaning behind the the phrase “proud Polack?”  Or do I start with his growing up near Mom?  After attending his wake Thursday night, I’ve decided to go with a short blurb of each of those because he was all those things and more.  Since I like to be difficult, I’m going to start at the end with the wake since that’s the beginning of my making sense of Uncle Roy’s life.

Roy Jurek, 1931-2012

Like I said earlier, I went to the wake on Thursday night.  The wake was held in Pierz and our current job is in Eagan, with a quick stop at our apartment for a 5 second shower and a change of clothes (which strangely enough was on the way).  For those not familiar with the layout of Minnesota, the trip from Eagan to Pierz goes roughly “Poland, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Venezuela, Africa, Beirut, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and then Switzerland…” (thank you Eddie Izzard).  Which translates into about 2.5 hours with no traffic.  So I was figuring on taking off from work at 3 to be up there around 6-ish.  But, there was rush-hour and construction going on and really no way around either of them.  So that meant my 2.5 hour journey turned into almost 4 hours worth of travel.  Really it was the construction that got me.  It took literally an hour to go less than 2 miles to get through the construction zone.  Why am I telling you about my woes?  I just wanted to illustrate what I went through just to say one last farewell to my uncle.  On the way I did make a very quick stop to see Grandma Bert (I was practically driving by her place, also, it was in order not to get yelled at).  I did managed to get up to Pierz for about 45 minutes of the wake.  The first person that I ran into was Roy and Mary Ann’s youngest, Dan.  We chatted for a bit and then I sought out Mary Ann.  She was doing very well, all things considered.  Tired, but doing well.  After that I made the rounds with my relation and caught up on life and shared Roy stories.  The real lynch pin for putting things into perspective was reading through the eulogy printed with funeral information.  Here are a few of the excerpts that I found very appropriate and a bit amusing:

“Roy was the second son of a second generation Polish immigrants and farmers . . . with his 10 brothers and sisters, he learned early the values of hard work, integrity, family, church and one-liners.”

“In 1957, he caught an unsuspecting neighbor taking gravel from his family farm and ten months later . . . he married the gravel hunter, Mary Ann”

“Roy enjoyed catching and not releasing sunnies, napping on deer stands, and boasting (about) his self-proclaimed command of the Polish language.”

I have no idea if the stealing gravel story is true because it sounds like something that Mary Ann would do, but also something that Roy would say to pull your leg.  Along those lines, here is one of my favorite tall tales told at Czeck get-together quite a few years ago.  Roy was telling a bunch of the younger kids that when he was growing up how poor they were.  They could only afford one bullet and his dad told him to go out and get some food for supper.  Roy was walking through the woods and he happened to see three turkeys sitting on a wooden fence.  He noticed that they were all sitting with some of their toes in a crack in the top rail.  Roy being the brilliant man he was, he shot the rail and pinched their toes so they couldn’t fly away.  He just walked up and bopped them on their heads and his family ate well for a week.  This story may not be verbatim, but you get the idea of the stories that he would tell.

Tall tales aside, you could always ask Roy about his last hunting or fishing trip.  It seemed like he was always either going on one or just getting back from one.  Once again, some were more believable than others.  You could count on Roy and Gary (another uncle) sitting in a corner at every family get together BS-ing about something or another, and usually fishing was involved at some point.  When Roy was young, he even helped out on Grandma and Grandpa’s farm when Mom’s folks would go up north for their own fishing trips.  Roy was just that kind of guy.

I don’t remember the exact year, but when I was pretty young, Roy and Mary Ann bought a small convenience store in a town about eight miles from the farm.  It was a great place to pick up odds and ends that you forgot to get on the regular grocery trips.  Plus they rented movies and even for awhile they rented out Super Nintendo systems.  My best memories of that place was when us kids talked Mom or Dad into letting us have a dollar to buy candy.  Seriously, if you want to teach your kids about frugality and math, only let them have a dollar and two minutes in a candy store.  We could stretch that dollar so far it filled a #4 bag.  We got very good and min/maxing quality and quantity in a time crunch, i.e. Mom or Dad standing over us telling us to hurry up.

Roy loved to throw in a Polish phrase or two randomly into a conversation.  Never understood a word he said.  I have a feeling that is part of why Roy kept doing it.  It was like his own personal joke.  Keeping with his playful nature, Roy also loved to give anyone a hard time about not being Polish.  Gary (a Swede) and Roy loved to throw jabs at each other about their respective ethnicities.  When I was in high school, we had an exchange student, David, from Spain (I think), that was staying with the extended family of one of the in-laws.  That Christmas, they came to the Czeck get-together and Roy was being nice and talking to him.  Of course one part of the conversation that I over heard was Roy asking David if he was Catholic.  I don’t remember what David’s answer was, but the next thing I know was that Roy was talking about how the Pope was Polish and how Roy was Polish, so the Pope was just like Roy.  Strange, I just realized the direction of the comparison.  Egotistical, yes; funny, hell yes; and just like Roy.

So this one is for you Roy: Na zdrowie!