Great Feast

Text and photos: Anna Plaszczyk

2 March 2017

Polish cuisine was famous not only for its "the schabowy" (chopped pork breaded cutlet) with potatoes but also for its variety. Chestnuts, capers, venison (meat of the game), crayfish were on the tables frequently. Not only arts and culture but also a table and its contents are proofs of the development of the society - we look into the Antonina Piętkowa cookbook "Modern Homemade Cuisine" from 1935. It is surprising that many nutritional problems of Poles living nearly a century ago, are still relevant today.

"Modern Homemade Cuisine" is a set of surprising recipes, to the extent that it is hard to believe that they were prepared almost 100 years ago in Poland.The first edition of the book appeared nearly 20 years after the discovery of the vitamins by Polish-born biochemist, Kazimierz Funk. The author devotes a lot of attention to vitamins and their importance in the everyday diet. She thinks that Polish cuisine does not take enough advantages of the nature and in her opinion this is the reason why people are suffering from diseases of affluence. In the introduction, entitled "The principles of the rational nutrition", Antonina Piętkowa writes: "the cardinal mistake in our diet is too big meat consumption. Human, due to the structure of the teeth, the gastrointestinal tract etc... is not similar to carnivores or herbivores, but is designed to feed with the mixture of meat and vegetable with domination of vegetables and fruits over meat. Unfortunately this rule in Poland is still valid. Perhaps the awareness and knowledge that during interwar period was possessed by doctors and nutritionists, have been destroyed, not only by the Second World War, but also by many years of deprivation in the communism.

Professor Jan Piętka, authors husband and co-author of the book, in the preface notes that in the new dietetics there is a slow increase of interest towards the so-called "vegetarianism" - eating only plant foods and food that comes from living animals (milk, eggs, honey). Another issue raised by the professor, still current - 100 years after writing the book, is low consumption of brown bread (from whole grain flour). After all, it is a much more valuable than white one, richer in microelements and vitamins. However, in the interwar period there was a problem with getting a whole grain flour. Just like today, mainly the mills produced the full milling flour. Professor Jan Piętka even recommends that people should supply with manual grinder and grind grains and make bread by themselves.

The recipes have more than 700 pages and they surprise with multitude of ingredients and dishes. Lemon soup is one of the first described, after the broth, beetroot and tomato soup. But Antonina Piętkowa gives also the recipe for oyster, caraway, asparagus and beer soup. The recipes include any meat, including game, fish and vegetarian dishes in such an amount that the author emphasizes: "Housekeeper and her cook will find the recipes for dishes made of both meat and vegetarian, in sufficient quantity, enough to prepare vegetarian food for the whole year, if it is necessary". Meanwhile, in order to make your curiosity about the century-old book bigger, we quote a recipe for the watermelon jam. The jam is made of the green part, that we used to throw away. We already tested it and we assure you that jam is delicious!

1kg of watermelon rinds
1kg of sugar (editor: you can give less than 1kg)
vanilla pod
400ml of water
3 lemons

Editor note:
cup of fresh mint leaves
20 grains of green pepper

Watermelon, should be without green, thin rind and it should be cut into strips. We cook it with water for about 30-40 minutes to make it soft. The color should change from intense green to almost transparent. After this amount of time, watermelon should be drain off on the strainer. We put it to the pot, add water again (cold!) and after a while we pour out the water. We prepare syrup from two glasses of water and sugar. If sugar dissolve, we will add boiled watermelon. Then we cut vanilla along, drill grains and put them into pot along with the pod. But remember to remove the pod before putting jam into jars. We fry jam till the water reduces its level. Then we add the juice from the squeezed lemons, finely chopped mint and ground green pepper. We fry all for about a minute or two. Then we put it into the jars and in pasteurize it.