It is once again time to eliminate a contestant from the qualifying stages of The World Cup of Food and to promote another. This week’s cuisines, English and Polish, were, as usual, difficult to separate into a winner and loser, but that is exactly what we must do.
Polish cuisine as we know it today is the result of centuries of mixing of cultures, from Ukrainian and Lithuanian rule, the influence of the Polish royal court and its dealings with rival European powers, shortages experienced during the socialist Soviet influence of the twentieth century, and from a new era of multiculturalism. Poles of the Middle Ages got by on wild and domestic meats, cereal grains (it is from the Poles that we get kasha), and wild mushrooms and berries that thrive in the cold winters and hot summers.
Poles love their root vegetables. Celery root, parsnips, and especially beets are a cherished part of their cookery, but this was not always so. Chef Michael Baruch, a Chicagoan and champion of the merits of Polish cuisine, wrote in his The New Polish Cuisine that a Pole of old would scoff at the idea of ingesting any type of vegetable, and “would rather eat cold gruel as a healthy mainstay.” According to the 1985 HPBooks release (a publisher now focused on auto repair manuals, incidentally) Polish Cooking by Marianna Olszewska Heberle (Amazon affliliate link is to the revised 2005 edition), vegetables became an important part of the Polish royal court’s menu when their sixteenth century King Sigismund I the Old married the daughter of the Dutchess of Bari, who brought with her green vegetables and tomatoes from what is now Italy at her insistence. The vegetables were a hit and soon trickled down to the masses.