The Pleasures of Poland


She wears her sun-glasses at night...

This week, my Mother-in-Law (Patricia, or Mom2, as I call her) wheeled into town for a two-day visit. Usually, I cook dinner when she comes , but she insisted on cooking and “treating” us to a Polish dinner. Six years ago, I would have been much more alarmed, but I’ve been slowly accustomed to the realm of Eastern European cuisine. And while it’s certainly not my favorite, I have developed a tolerance, nay, even a fondness, for pierogi, bratwurst, and sauerkraut.

On her previous stop in Chicago, Pats hit up a Polish food store (hence the Culinary Tour of Poland). I’m not sure if she was stocking her fallout shelter or planning to open her own Polish Quickie Mart, but she arrived with a metric shit ton of Eastern European food.

I walked in from work to the scent of Poland wafting through the house. It’s a sharpness and a sourness — not unpleasant, just, well … Polish. We exchanged hugs and hellos and I surveyed the culinary landscape. Pot of soup bubbling on the stove. An obscenely large bratwurst heating up in the skillet. So far, so good.

Stop it.

But we were soon to find out that Patricia’s raid of the Polish Publix yielded more than we’d bargained for.

“Josh, you gotta try this,” Pats said, turning toward me with a surprisingly dark-colored link of sausage. “What is it, blood sausage?” I joked, only to realize it was not a joke at all.

It was sausage. Made with beef blood. Blood. From beef. Cows. Cow blood sausage. Hesitantly, I reached out to take it from her, and it was cold to the touch. Cold. The room grew quiet and I could hear my own heartbeat.

“Is it … [gulp] … cooked?” I asked, with a slight quiver to my voice.

“Oh, I’m sure it is,” she answered, turning to the fridge to forage for more Polish treasures.

I cut David a panicked glance, which he answered with widened eyes. I had no choice. If you’ve read the rulebook, no good comes from refusing food from your mother-in-law. Resigned to my fate, I went to work removing the casing of said blood sausage.

On a good day, with a familiar ground meat, I’m squeamish of sausage casings. We all know what it looks like. And THAT, my friends, is a revolting, disturbing, and conflicting culinary image. And I can’t even BEGIN to get into “natural” casings. Seriously, just writing about it makes me lightheaded and pre-nauseous. Usually I just don’t think about it. I go to my happy place, and just eat. But the Polish Black Death Blood Sausage would not permit me such escapism.

With Pats still rummaging in the fridge, and David pantomiming a dry heave, I discard the gray, filmy sausage casing. Commence full body shudder. Now there’s nothing separating me from the blood meat. To my horror, it’s mushy and unsliceable, so I proceed to fork-mash it into a spreadable consistency. I’m close to blacking out when I make my next disturbing discovery.

“Umm, Patricia, what are these … chunks?” My squirrel brain surged out of control: Fat? Intestine? Brain? GONADS?!!?

“Oh that’s just barley,” she responded, dropping my blood pressure about 200 points.

At this point, I’m still not 100% sure that the sausage isn’t raw, but I’m so relieved that the chunks are barley and NOT balls that I dive right in. So we grab some crackers and get to spreading.

I looked at David, he looked at me, and with the joint courage of our convictions, we placed the crackers spread with mashed blood sausage into our mouths and began our tentative chewing.

I focused every ounce of my attention on my tongue, anxiously awaiting a report from the front lines. The cracker began to break up, and it was time to taste the sausage. Was it going to pungent? Was I going to taste blood, like I had just bitten my lip? If I were to become a vampire, could this be a viable diet alternative?

But the report back was much less alarming than I had expected. It tasted like meat. Bland meat. Not blood at all. Which caused my blood pressure to drop another 50 points. I’m not saying I want to eat it everyday, or even understand why ANYONE would think that BLOOD is a good addition to ANY food item, but it wasn’t repulsive.

The rest of the dinner went without incident. In fact, it was quite tasty. The bratwurst was predictably good, as were the pierogi. Here’s a quick tour of our menu:

FYI: These were cooked in a STICK of butter. A STICK! Thank you, Polish Paula Deen!

Here, P-Diddy is cooking up some pierogi. You have probably heard of these before —they’re available in most grocery stores. They’re basically like ravioli, except with odd fillings, like potato, plum, or sauerkraut.

No, this is not one of those mortifying Halloween bloody brain dishes from last year’s Hallo-What the Hell is THAT? Post. This is a gołąbki. Huh? Gołąbki. What? Gołąbki. They pronounce it Ga-wump-ky. But it’s not spelled that way. Like the way you spell Colonel but it sounds like Kernel. Exasperating! Anyway, this lovely creation is basically mini-meatloaf, wrapped in cabbage, and topped with marinara. What kind of meat? Excellent question. I’m still not 100% sure. Neither was Patricia. Pork? Goat? Quarter horse? Your guess is as good as mine!

Apparently, the Polish condiment of choice is not mayonnaise, but Polonaise. Catchy name, right? It’s a brightly colored mixture of beets and horseradish. Please, try to control yourself. (It was actually pretty tasty)

All dramatics and jokes aside, it was nice to climb over my crumbling culinary Berlin Wall and get to know something different. Will I start wrapping chicken in cabbage, or pan-frying potato stuffed pasta in a stick of butter? Absolutely not. But I have to give Patricia props workin’ it out and gettin’ her Polish on! We had a good time, and it was fun to see David and his family share a “familiar” meal.

Besides, with enough good German beer you can survive anything, even Blood Sausage!

Now that’s my kind of mischief! 😉

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4 Responses to “The Pleasures of Poland”

  1. Matthew Says:

    I sooooo want to comment but you said, “Stop it” so I won’t.

  2. Judy Cloe Says:

    Josh, Rafe and I tried blood sausage in Argentina last January. It is VERY popular there and a favorite dish of our tour leader. Anyway, both of us couldn’t eat it. We each tried one bite and gagged. At least it was served hot and cooked for sure in Argentina, but it was also very red and soft. Just gross.

  3. David Says:

    For my Polishly challenged feyonce, that’s an obscene sized Kielbasa in the skillet, not a Brat. He tried though.


  4. Blair Oxford Says:

    Glad it was a good visit!
    And “metric shit ton” is my favorite amount of anything. Well, anything delicious.

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