Because I was at a friend’s bachelor all day yesterday, I thought this would be apropos:
Americans walk an average of 730 miles per year and drink an average of 20.5 gallons of beer per year. Which means that the average American gets 35.5 miles to the gallon.
A couple of unique beers I’ve had recently (not yesterday):
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.
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.
- 1 – 1 1/2 quarts [liters] of milk
- 5 large tablespoons of sugar
- 8 3/4 oz [250 g] of poppy seeds
- 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.
- 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.
Is it possible to have nostalgia for some place that you have never been? I just finished watching a BBC series called Michael Palin’s New Europe. It’s a really good documentary done by one of the Monty Python boys about life in Eastern Europe in 2007. It’s a typical travel show that is really well done, but that’s not the reason why I’m writing about it. Any decent travel show at least touches on the local foods. What I’ve noticed many times, especially with this series, is that when they show the traditional foods of northern Eastern Europe I get hungry and a bit homesick. This is because that food is what I’ve always considered comfort food even though for most people it is exotic and a bit disgusting and/or disturbing. Pickled anything, and I mean anything, gizzards, vegetables, pig’s feet, fish, just to name a few. Headcheese, regular cheese, bread so dense that it could be used in self-defense, duck blood soup (OK, I don’t like this one, it’s too sweet, but my mom loves it), sausages, sausages, and more sausages, mushrooms, herring and other small fish. vodka (duh), cabbage in all of its glorious forms, fat in so many forms and quantities that you wonder how the whole country doesn’t drop dead from a massive heart attack, and certainly not least, horseradish. I think you get the idea, and I’m hungry again.
As for the homesick part, I’m not sure how to describe it. When I see the Old World where my ancestors came from, it’s the same set of emotions that I get when I drive up to visit my folks on their farm. The sensations are almost physical in their intensity. It is a relaxing feeling, but with the knowledge that life isn’t easier out in the country. Simpler, yes, but not easier. I think I’ll just stick with that for now, relaxing but with an underlying edge of uneasiness. When these travel shows talk about the culture and the spirituality of the people, I can easily see why my family behaves as it does. Which is probably another factor in why I get homesick. Poles love food, hospitality, music, gatherings, all with an undercurrent of cynicism, and the more you can combine all of these, the better. Again, this explains a lot about my family.
That’s probably enough early morning ramblings for one post, so I’ll leave you with just one more thought and some pictures! Spirituality, specifically Catholicism, runs deep in both Polish culture and in my family. One of Grandma Rose’s happiest days was when my cousin Thomas took his vows as a priest. Back in 2004, he took a trip to Falkowice, Poland, where Dad’s side came from. Here are some photos from that trip.