24 December 2006

My Christmas Eve Story

In Poland 24th December is the first and the most festive day of Christmas. I would say it’s the last one worth mentioning because later on you have two days of changing tables and relatives, having you forced to eat and drink incessantly and listening to questions of inqusitive aunts ("Where is your finacee, dear?") or comments of your very funny uncles ("I can't wait to see you domesticated").

But on the Xmass Eve - "Wigilia" in Polish - we are having these wonderful suppers, so traditional, so intimate and charming. The food is usually not so oppulent as traditionally people withhold themselves from meat or excess of any kind.

First you have the soup - which at my home is beetroot soup ("barszcz" - I love English people pronounciating this :) with "uszka" - small dumplings filled with mushrooms (dried and then boiled) that literally translate to "little ears". I guess they should bear some resemblance to this cute body part however I can't quite make myself think too much of a plate of ears...

In other parts of Poland they would eat almond, mushroom or fish soup with different kinds of dumplings or noodles.

Tradition says that you should have 12 dishes on your table but at my home it's much less because my grandma has always wanted to keep it very simple - and I like it that way.

So basically, we limit ourselves to pierogi - Russian ones (with mashed potatoes and cottage cheese, that in fact have nothing to do with Russia) and the most traditional ones - with cabbage, or rather sauerkraut, and mushrooms.

The latter are my number one and I just can't resist eating them with my hands what gives so much more pleasure. But of course is unacceptable... I've always been the criss-cross one :)

Aside, we have the lovely carp in two versions: pan fried and baked with onions. I always opt for the baked one which melts in your mouth tenderly. At my friends houses carp is often prepared Jewish style or in a grey sauce but they also have herrings, salmon and cod often. Wigilia is generally focused on fish.

I won't spoil your appetite with my fingers messing about the fatty fish...

Afterwards comes the sweet part with the fruit cake...

poppy seed strudel (very delicate and moist, made of yeast dough)...

cold cheesecake which is my brother's "must-have-or-do-not- count-on-presents-from-me" (this year I came up with the lemon and gooseberry flavor - refreshing acidity:)))

and my all-time favorite: Kutia! This is a dish that was originated in the areas previously Polish but nowadays Lithuanian and since my granparents both were born in the eastern lands we take over most of their food customs.

Kutia is a wonderful mixture of boiled poppy seeds, wheat grains, honey, nuts, raisins and rum. Awesome and really exhillarating, partly due to the fact that I do not have to count my intake of callories... I would already be lost in numbers!

I won't tell you what happened backstage, before these dishes were finally delivered, as the conflict of generations gets really hot in the kitchen :)

Tomorrow the heavy eating should start - with all the meats, hams, salads, more desserts, cakes and so on but fortunately I'm going to have myself evacuated with the little help from my friends :)

So Merry Christmas to everybody - no matter what do you have on your plates :)


Blogger isabella said...

Delicious post, Gagatka!

We also celebrated Wigilia here in Florida- with a few substitutions (dorsz instead of carp, mushroom soup instead of barszcz and just one kind of pierogi:-(

Never had kutia (even though my grandma was from Wilno), not even as a child in Sopot, but I did have something called paluszki which was finger-shaped doug rolled in honey and poppy seeds (I think). I remember patiently sitting through the whole 11 courses to get to them...and most times being to full to enjoy them;-)

Have a wonderful holiday season!

2:04 AM  
Blogger gagatka said...

Dear Isabella

I remeber my aunt in Ottawa stuffing her "uszka" with shitake mushrooms to save Polish tradition :) It's so touching that even in Florida people would still struggle to have their Wigilia! I hope you have a truly wondeful time with you family there.

As to poppy seeds desserts, they seem to have a large variety and strongly addictive influence :) Apart from paluszki and kutia I've heard abot sweet dumplins with poppy and "makiełki" which are made of baguette soaked in sweet milk and poppy seeds, raisins, nuts... Very lumpy but apparently scrumptious.

11:06 AM  
Blogger simon said...

HAppy New Year from Aus!

10:27 PM  
Blogger gagatka said...

simon Happy New Year to you, too :)

12:39 PM  

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