Miód is the Polish word for honey and Miodownik is a Honey Cake which usually contains spices.
These cakes have been known in Poland since the 12th century and the spices would have come from Turkey (originally brought back by the crusaders) or India.
The main spices used are cinnamon and cloves with the addition according to different recipes of cardamon, black pepper, caraway, nutmeg, and sometimes as in this recipe – ginger and then in later recipes allspice, which is from the New World.
Honey was the original sweetener, long before sugar and there are many traditional recipes that use honey not only in cakes, but also in meat dishes.
I learnt recently that my paternal grandfather kept bees and that my dad’s sister, my godmother, helped to look after them.
I was given this recipe recently and it is similar to one I have posted before, which was my mother’s recipe. Her recipe used sunflower oil which is a more recent addition to recipes in Polish cookery whilst this one uses soured cream.
I had a large jar of Polish honey and used some for this recipe.
It is a dense squidgy cake which is lovely and moist.
Honey cakes are served over the Christmas Period in Poland.
300ml clear honey
225g granulated sugar
3 eggs separated
250ml soured cream
290g plain flour
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon of ground cloves
½ teaspoon of ground ginger
½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg
Use a 23cm loose bottomed or springform tin
Grease and line the base or use a cake liner.
Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 4 – 180º C.
In a small saucepan bring the honey to the boil and then leave to cool.
In a separate bowl mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and the spices.
Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar.
Whisk in the soured cream.
Whisk in the cooled honey.
Add the dry ingredients to the mixture and mix well together.
Whisk the egg whites until they are stiff and fold these cake mixture.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.
Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for around 60- 65 minutes.
Take care as this has a tendency to burn at the top, you might need to cover it after about 45mins hour with a piece of greaseproof paper of aluminium foil.
Test to make sure it is cooked through with a fine cake tester.
Leave to cool in the tin.
Dust with icing sugar to serve.
This cake has a tendency to sink a little in the middle – nothing to worry about!
Tea plates – Bramble Rose by Duchess – from the 1960s
Tea cups – Harvest Pink by Queen Anne – 1959 – 1966
The instructions were for a round cake – the second time I made this I used a 32 x 22cm greased and lined tin.
The timings are roughly the same.
The cake is easier to cut into portions.
It is not quite as moist or squidgy as the deeper round version.
Wrapping it in aluminium foil and put in an airtight box will make it softer over time.
A loose bottomed deep square tin may be better and easier to get the cake out – but I do not have one of these.
Several years ago I got an Austrian cookery book which has many similar recipes to Polish ones and I made some babeczki or buleczki – little cakes, with a yeast pastry & poppy seed filling for Wigilia from it.
I thought I would have another go at these but with some changes.
The poppy seed filling I have changed quite a bit and it is easier than my traditional one. The recipe for the dough I have changed slightly and the shaping method quite a lot.
Poppy Seed Filling
180ml of milk (full fat or semi)
Around 100ml of runny honey (extra may be needed)
120g of poppy seeds *
50g of raisins
Strong Earl Grey tea
Grated zest of 1 lemon
* You can grind the poppy seeds – I used a little electric grinder.
Make some strong Earl Grey tea.
Put the raisins in a small bowl and cover them with the hot tea and leave till they go cold.
Into a small saucepan put the poppy seeds and the milk.
Bring to the boil then lower the heat.
Simmer gently for around 20 minutes, stirring constantly.
Take care not to let the mixture burn.
Add the honey and continue heating and stirring.
Drain the raisins and add them to the mixture and mix them in.
Keep stirring and try and drive off any liquid left.
Taste for sweetness – you may want to add more honey.
Leave to go completely cold before using.
Add the grated lemon rind.
If this is too much filling – you can always freeze some.
1/2 tablespoon of dried yeast
4-5 tablespoons of milk (full fat or semi)
250g of strong flour
Pinch of salt
120g of butter
20g of caster sugar
1 egg yolk
1 egg white for glazing (I always use just egg white now – it does not burn as easily as whole egg)
Warm 3-4 tablespoons of the milk to hand heat.
Add the yeast and leave it to froth up.
Place the flour into a large bowl and add the salt.
Cut in the butter with a knife and then make breadcrumbs with your fingers.
Stir in the sugar.
Make a well in the centre.
Add the egg yolk and the yeast mixture.
Use a knife at first to bring the dough together.
You may need some of the extra milk.
Use your fingers to gather all the ingredients into a ball.
Knead the dough for around 5 minutes till you have a smooth dough.
Leave the dough to rest for at least 45 minutes – covered with a tea cloth.
Grease and line several baking trays.
Cut the dough into 3 or 4 portions.
Roll the dough out thinly.
Use a 6cm cutter to cut out circles.
Place a small teaspoon of filling on half of the circles.
Place a second pastry circle on top.
Use a pastry fork to crimp the edges together making sure they are sealed.
Glaze with beaten egg white.
Pre-heat the oven to GM4 – 180°C (quite low for a yeast pastry!).
Bake for 12-13 minutes.
Dust with icing sugar whilst still warm.
Leave to cool.
You could drizzle with runny lemon icing instead.
Served here on Duchess – tea plates – Poppies from the 1960s.
Two months to Christmas and I am posting this recipe so you have time to prepare for then.
I have tried out several piernik – honey spice cake recipes & many of them have been dreadful!
But at last I have found one that I am happy to share – I would describe it as a sort of soft biscuit.
This is piernik staropolski (in the old Polish style) and is a recipe which takes time to make, as the mixture is left for several weeks before it is baked – (10 days is the absolute minimum). This maturing enhances the flavour of the spices.
I have been reading that some people make their dough even earlier say in September before they bake it
The science for this will be really interesting – I presume it is a slow fermentation that is taking place & the high honey/sugar content, low temperature & access to air prevents the dough from spoiling.
250ml runny honey
125g Trex™ **
230g granulated sugar
2 eggs – lightly beaten
550g plain flour (may need more)
2 teaspoons of mixed spices or piernik mix (ground cinnamon, cloves, cardamom in equal parts)
large pinch of salt
1 & 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
70 ml of warm milk
250g mixed dried fruit (raisins, peel, chopped dates and figs)
** The original recipe uses lard (pork fat) – I used Trex™ – a white solid vegetable fat.
Put the honey, sugar and Trex in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring the mixture till all the Trex is melted and the sugar dissolved.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool.
Mix the flour, salt & spices together.
Add this to the honey mixture and mix together first with a wooden spoon.
Add the beaten eggs to the mixture.
Dissolve the baking soda in the milk and add this to the dough and mix till you have a thick dough.
Knead this dough lightly for around 5 minutes (add more flour if the mixture is too wet).
Add in the dried fruits and knead them in lightly.
Form the dough into a ball.
Place the dough in a glass or ceramic bowl – not a metal one.
Cover with a linen or cotton cloth – tie the string around it to keep it covered.
Do not use cling film – as air needs to circulate.
You could use foil but you would need to prick in some air holes.
Place in a cool place (mine was put into my cool cellar) for a minimum of 10 days and up to 4 weeks.
I left mine for 2 weeks.
Ensure that the dough will not pick up any unwanted flavours such as onions or garlic by carefully choosing the place you store it.
Pre-heat the oven to GM2 – 150°C
Grease and line a 2 baking tins – 22 x 33 cm.
Take the ball of dough out of the bowl and cut it into two.
Flatten each piece lightly and make into a rough rectangular shape – can use a rolling pin.
Place this into the tim and with fingers push and press it into all the sides of the tin.
You can use the blunt end of a rolling pin.
Repeat for the other
Bake for around 55 -65 minutes – checking after 40 minutes and covering with greaseproof paper if it is starting to burn.
Leave the piernik to cool in the tin.
When it is cold, wrap it loosely in greaseproof paper and then a clean linen tea towel and leave in a cool place for 2 -3 days.
Cut each cake into two or three rectangles.
Remove the crusts – optional.
Dust with icing sugar or coat in chocolate melted with butter (40g butter : 100g dark chocolate).
You can use a thin white icing semi glaze instead of the chocolate.
You can store the piernik in an airtight tin – I think the chocolate coating helps to keep it longer.
I wrote a long post on pierogi and uszka over two years ago and this has lots of details on Polish pasta.
This post is an update on how to make uszka in advance and open freeze them.
Uszka – means ‘little ears’ and traditionally mushroom uszka are made for Wigila – the Christmas Eve meal to serve either on their own with butter or floating in barszcz (clear beetroot soup).
I usually make around 250 to 300 uszka on the morning of Christmas Eve.
Last Chritmas I was going to be taking the uszka to my sister’s to cook there and also needed some on another day to cook at home.
I knew that I could make them in advance and open freeze them; so decided that this year I would make them in small batches and freeze them up over the few weeks before Christmas Eve.
In Poland these will have been made with just dried mushrooms, here in England my mother made them with fresh mushrooms with the addition of dried mushrooms when she could get them. I like them like this the best.
Ingredients – Mushroom Filling
20g dried mushrooms
250g mushrooms – older open ones are better than button mushrooms.
Pour a small amount of boiling water into the dried mushrooms and leave these overnight.
You can remove the stalks from the older fresh mushrooms as these tend to be ‘woody’ and then cut the caps into thin slices.
Chop the onion into small pieces.
Fry the mushrooms and onions together in the butter.
Chop the reconstituted dried mushroom (You can save the liquor for other recipes) and add these to the mixture and heat them together for a few minutes more.
It does depend on the mushrooms and the way they are fried as to how much liquid is produced, if you get a lot, then let them simmer gently to evaporate as much as possible or strain some of this excess off (again you can use this liquor in soups or sauces).
Allow the mixture to cool.
The mixture then needs to be minced which used to take me a long time and much effort. I now use a hand blender which works really well indeed.
To the minced mixture add the egg yolk and enough breadcrumbs to make a stiff filling.
Add salt and lots of ground black pepper.
You can divide up the mixture into 3 or 4 portions and freeze these in plastic bags or tubs to use at a later date.
The dough is made from flour, egg yolks and water and I have seen many variations of the recipe. The following is my mother’s and I think it is the best I have ever used and tasted.
She never used whole eggs, just the yolks and this gives a dough which is soft and not tough and can be easily rolled out.
My mother originally used plain flour and added a tablespoon or two of fine semolina but now that strong flour or even pasta flour is readily available this is what I use the most.
Flour does vary and it is possible to add more flour to the dough as you are mixing it but you cannot add more liquid if it is too dry!
As you mix the ingredients in the first few minutes you should be able to tell if it will be too dry and you can add some more water initially but once it is all mixed together you cannot – if it goes wrong – just start again!
The quantities that I have given work well and but you should allow for extra flour if needed.
Depending on how thinly you roll out the dough, this amount should make around 70 uszka.
Ingredients – Dough
250g pasta flour or strong flour or plain flour & 2 tablespoons of fine semolina
1 tablespoon oil – sunflower or light olive
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
In a jug or bowl mix together the water, oil and the yolk.
Put the flour and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.
Pour in the liquid from the jug and initially use a knife to mix this into the flour and then use your hands to mix the liquid and flour to get a ball of dough.
Turn this out onto a floured board and knead the dough for a few minutes until you have a smooth ball.
Cut the dough into quarters.
On a floured board roll out a quarter at a time until you have a sheet of thinly rolled dough.
Now prepare a large tray and cover it with a clean tea towel and sprinkle this with flour.
Have a large surface such as a tray covered with a cotton or linen cloth which has been lightly floured ready and place the sealed uszka on this until they are all made, do not let then touch each other.
I usually make the uszka from squares of dough, about 4cm square, which are folded.
This time, I made the shape in a slightly different way – so that I got a much more uniform shape and size.
I cut them out using a 6cm diameter cutter. (I also tried a 5cm diameter cutter which was good as the uszka were smaller but much moretime consuming!)
The excess dough can be re-mixed and rolled out again.
Around a small teaspoon of filling is put on each circle and then they are folded over and the edges pinched together to make a good seal.
The two ends are the brought together and pinched to make a round “ear” shape.
You learn from experience how much filling to put in as too much will make it hard to seal them and if not properly sealed they will burst on boiling. Do not worry if you have a few mishaps – it still happens to me even with experience – it is hard to salvage one that has gone wrong – just accept that there will be a few that you do not cook.
As you are making them place them on the floured cloth.
You need to have a fairly empty freezer to do this
If you have a extra chill button on you freezer, switch that on.
You will need around 3 baking trays – sprinkle flour on these.
Place the uszka apart on floured baking trays so they are not touching and place the trays in the freezer for several hours – or even overnight – making sure the trays do not squash each other.
Once they are frozen, pack the uszka into boxes.
Cook them straight from frozen by dropping them individually straight into boiling salted water – 8 to 10 at a time.
As they cook they will float to the surface, let them boil for 2 to 3 minutes and then remove them with a slotted or perforated spoon and put into a colander above a pan for a few seconds to drain and serve. Continue boiling batches in the same water.
Uszka are served with melted butter or they can be served floating in a clear soup such as rosól – clear chicken soup or in barszcz – beetroot soup.
The convention is to serve three or five uszka in each dish.
Any that are not eaten should be spread out so that they cool with the melted butter around them.
later, you can then fry them up gently so they are golden in parts.
A new tradition which was stared by my mother is on Christmas Day morning to have uszka fried with bacon and eggs, we always make sure we have some saved!
So much easier making the uszka in advance, so I will continue to make them like this, slowly over the weeks before Wigilia.
I came across this recipe in the book my Polish friend, who lives in Leeds, bought for me in Poland this summer.
I thought it sounded interesting and I have adapted it slightly.
Piernik is a honey spice cake which has its origins in the 12th Century.
The spices used will have originaly been brought back by the Crusadors. I make up a mixture of equal parts of cinnamon, cloves and cardamon.
Piernik in Poland is associated with the Christmas season and would be made for Christmas Eve and for Christmas Day, it would also be made for Święty Mikołaj – December 6th – St Nicholas Day. This a day for present giving in Poland to children and I would always get a piernik shaped and decorated to look like the bishop that was St Nicholas.
As it is Święty Mikołaj next week on December 6th – St Nicholas Day – I thought this was a good day to post this recipe.
The addition of chocolate to coat the piernik is more recent. Chocolate made by Wedel in Poland started in 1851.
Here the chocolate is grated or chopped finely and added to the cake mixture.
The result is delicious and I will certainly be adding this to my Wigilia (Christmas Eve) menu.
I found grating the chocolate hard work – it was easier for me to chop this amount into very small pieces, using a cleaver type knife.
250ml runny honey
230g granulated sugar
2 large eggs (or 3 medium)
1.5 teaspoons of piernik spices (cinnamon: cloves: cardamon in equal amounts so a half teaspoon of each).
350g plain flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
100g dark chocolate – grated or finely chopped
100g chopped mixed peel
Icing Sugar to serve
Pre-heat the oven to GM3 – 160°C
Grease and line a 32cm x 22cm shallow Mermaid tin (use one sheet for the two long sides and the base).
Put the honey, eggs, sugar and the spices into a large bowl and whisk well together.
In another bowl mix the flour, baking powder, chopped/grated chocolate and the mixed peel.
Gently fold the flour mixture into the honey mixture and then mix it all together.
Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for around 1 hour 10 minutes, check it after 40 minutes and cover if it is starting to catch.
Test with a cake tester to check it is done and then leave it in the oven for 10 minutes with the door slightly open.
Then put on a cake rack to cool.
Dust with icing sugar before serving.
Plates, cups & saucers are Lyndale by Royal Standard from the 1950s
In Polish households fruits that have been dried from the summer often feature as one of the 12 dishes at the evening meal at Wigilia – Christmas Eve.
The main fruits that were dried were: apples, pears & plums.
The dishes are easy to make but you need to start the process 2 or 3 days before hand.
I use hot black tea to reconstitute the fruits & often using Earl Grey Tea to give it a little twist but you can use just hot boiled water.
A good deal depends on the quality of the prunes and Agen prunes from France are the best. You need to find good plump large prunes which still have the stones in them. However these last two years I have had difficulties find these and have had to used stoned prunes.
1 litre of hot tea – Earl Grey is good
2 tablespoons of rum
Place the prunes in a large bowl.
Make a jug of hot tea and leave to brew for about 4 minutes.
Pour the hot tea over the prunes, if using loose leaf tea, you need to strain it as you pour.
Make sure all the prunes are covered by adding more hot water.
Leave the prunes overnight to plump up.
Put the prunes and liquid (you might need to add some water) into a pan and simmer gently for about 15 minutes then leave to cool.
Add the rum when the prunes are cold.
500g dried pears ( they come as half a pear)
1 litre of hot tea – Earl Grey is good
Small piece of cinnamon stick
3-4 whole cloves or allspice seeds.
Cut the pears in half.
Place the pears in a large bowl.
Make a jug of hot tea and leave to brew for about 4 minutes.
Pour the hot tea over the pears, if using loose leaf tea, you need to strain it as you pour.
Make sure all the pears are covered by adding more hot water.
Leave the pears overnight to plump up.
Put the pears and liquid (you might need to add some water) into a pan, add a small cinnamon stick, 3-4 cloves or 3-4 whole allspice seeds and simmer gently for about 15 minutes 15 minutes, stirring occasionally . Take care not to cook for too long – you do not want a “mush”.
Remove the spices then leave to cool.
Dried Fruit Salad
My mother used to buy mixed dried fruits to make this & I have bought this in the past from the dried fruit & nut stall on Leeds Kirkstall Market.
When I enquired about this – the stall holder said that they had not had this mixture for many years! She did tell me that the mixture had consisted of dried – apples, apricots, peaches, pears & plums.
Some people make the dried fruit salad for Wigila (Christmas Eve) using 12 fruits ( another reminder of the 12 apostles.) So – raisins, currants, sultanas, cranberries, cherries, figs and other dried berries would be used as well.
500g mixed dried fruits
1 litre of hot tea – Earl Grey is good
Small piece of cinnamon stick
3-4 whole cloves or allspice seeds.
Cut the larger fruits in half.
Place the fruits in a large bowl.
Make a jug of hot tea and leave to brew for about 4 minutes.
Pour the hot tea over the fruits , if using loose leaf tea, you need to strain it as you pour.
Make sure all the fruits are covered by adding more hot water.
Leave the fruits overnight to plump up.
Put the fruits and liquid (you might need to add some water) into a pan, add a small cinnamon stick, 3-4 cloves or 3-4 whole allspice seeds and simmer gently for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally . Take care not to cook for too long – you do not want a “mush”!
Remove the spices then leave to cool.
When I make any of these at other times of the year, I often serve them with soured cream or plain yoghurt or a mixture of the two.
Grease & line a 2 lb loaf tin or use a paper liner
In a large bowl mix together the rye flour, plain flour and the spices.
In a small saucepan heat the honey to boiling point & turn it off the heat & allow to cool slightly.
Pour the hot honey over the flour and mix well.
Beat the yolks with the icing sugar until they are pale and fluffy.
Add this to the flour and honey mixture.
Mix the bicarbonate of soda with the water and mix this in.
Put the mixture into the prepared tin & smooth the top.
Brush the top with cold water.
Bake for around 40 minutes in the long tin & 1 hour in the loaf tin. Check earlier and cover with greaseproof paper to stop burning if necessary.
This piernik is not very sweet and could be split in half and sandwiched back together with powidła – Polish plum spread (see notes in previous piernik post) and covered in a chocolate coating made from melted butter & dark chocolate.
I just had it sliced and spread with powidła (Polish plum spread) or sour cherry or raspberry jam.
Served on La prune by Jet for Ter Steege in The Netherlands.
To understand a Polish Christmas one has to know about its historical and cultural background as these have shaped what we have today.
Poles love festivals and traditions and there seem to me to be more celebrations in Poland than in England with every possible Saint’s day or other opportunity for a gathering, with eating and drinking, taken.
Polish Recipe Books For Christmas
History & Background
In the first centuries AD, around the river Warta, between the river Odra (Oder) and the river Wisła (Vistula) was the cradle of Poland. (The Wisła runs from the Carpathian Mountains to the Baltic Sea.) This region was immense forest land but many areas along the rivers had been cleared. In the east of Poland there are still the remains of the primeval forest at Białowierza (White Tower), this is a National Park were bison and wild boar roam.
By the 5th century the “Amber Road” was the trade route from the Baltic in the North to the Mediterranean in the South.
In the 6th & 7th centuries, many different Slav tribes arrived there, and as by now more of the land had been cleared, they settled.
The People of the Fields
By the mid 10th centurythe Polanie tribe became dominant – these were the people of the fields – pole means fields in Polish.
Agriculture in General
Compared to England the summers are warmer and the winters much colder, a drier cold than in England, often up to -300 C, with lots of snow.
The fertile plains of Poland have made it an agricultural country and the people are close to the land and understand about the seasons and food production. Even now in towns people have vegetable gardens & allotments.
Main crops are wheat, rye, buckwheat, potatoes and cabbage.
Dill is a favourite herb, also flat leaf parsley and caraway.
Pork is the most popular meat.
Poultry and eggs are used extensively
Butter, milk, soured milk, smetana (soured cream), twaróg (curd cheese) feature in many recipes.
In the south in the Tatra Mountains they make smoked cheeses from sheep’s milk.
In the 16th century southern Poland was 40C warmer than it is today and grapes for wine were grown.
Food from the Forest
Mushrooms, fruits and berries are even today collected from forests, eaten, preserved or even sold at the roadside.
Fish are caught in rivers and lakes, fish farms are becoming popular.
Dried mushrooms provide a lot of flavour in the winter diet.
Food Preservation for the Winter
Fermentation with Brine
Jams – using sugar
Christianity in Poland
In 966 Duke Mieszko the First, Poland’s first recorded leader converted to Christianity.
By the 13th & 14th centuries Roman Catholicism was the main religion in Poland.
In the late 14th century the marriage of the Polish Queen Jadwiga to the Duke of Lithuania was on the promise of his and his people’s conversion to Christianity and the formation of a new enlarged Poland.
In the 16th century the Reformation did come to Poland and did have followers but it mostly died out following arguments between different factions & the Catholic counter reformation.
After the middle of the 17th century the main religion was again Roman Catholicism and is still so today.
Poland was more tolerant of different religions than many of its neighbours and by the early 20th century it had more Jewish people that any other country in Europe.
St Andrew’s Day – 30 November is celebrated in Poland, and the eve on 29November has many superstitions and traditions to do with foretelling the future especially with regards to future husbands.
The nearest Sunday to 30 November is the start of Advent, this can be from 27 November to 3 December so there are always 4 Sundays before Christmas day.
Advent is a time of reflection, prayer and preparation.
In the past Advent was like Lent; a time of doing without.
In Poland Christmas is celebrated from the evening of 24 December – Wigilia (the vigil) and parties and visiting relatives and family happens from then on.
It seems very strange to the Poles to have all the Christmas parties before Christmas when is still Advent.
The Christmas days are called Gody – days of Harmony and Goodwill
6 December – St Nicholas Day
Older pictures show Swięty Mikołaj (St Nicholas) in his bishop’s robes, newer ones tend to be more like the English Santa.
Presents were to be found on the doorstep or hidden in the house or under the pillow.
Pierniki – spiced honey cakes are given to children, often in the shape of the bishop.
He returns again on Christmas Eve after the evening meal.
It used to be that presents were given on just one of these days, usually 6 December and Christmas Eve was more about the meal and carols and Church.
Nowadays you are likely to get presents on both days.
Before the Second World War the presents were small tokens such as mandarin oranges (a luxury – as they were imported), chocolates, and an item of new clothes or a small toy.
The old Polish Tradition was to hang from the ceiling just the tip of a spruce/fir tree (tip side down) decorated with apples and nuts which were either wrapped in silver or gold paper or painted and ribbons. Old Polish Village houses are made of wood – so it was easy to attach the tree tip.
Doorways and walls were often decorated with separate boughs of the remainder of the tree.
This custom originated in pre-Christian times and texts dating back to the 15th & 16th centuries referred to this use of the tree as a pagan rite. Unable to halt the growing trend, the church then reinterpreted the tree to be the Tree of Knowledge – the tree of good and evil.
The tradition of using the whole tree came from Germany in the late 18th century and early 19th century first into the towns and then into richer villages and by the 1920s this had taken over.
In small flats and in towns, and with small funds, people often still just decorate a branch of a fir tree.
Decorations for the tree
Apples symbolise health & beauty, strength & vitality and paradise
Nuts wrapped in Silver or Gold guarantee prosperity & vitality.
When I was young we tied wrapped sweets & chocolates on the tree.
The Tree is put up on Christmas Eve (though nowadays maybe a day or 2 before) the whole family helps.
Decorated with glass baubles – in the past these were often blown eggs decorated with glitter. There are also many straw decorations – angels and stars.
Many of the old ornaments look like the apples and nuts of before.
Some of my mother’s old nut baubles with a few newer ones
Nowadays Polish Glass Factories make 2,500 glass baubles a day, some of them very elaborate and expensive.
Paper chains guarantee love within the family.
Candles and baubles guard the house from malevolent deeds.
The star on the top of the tree helps guide back absent family and friend
Bells symbolise good news
Angels are the guardians of the house.
Clip on candles holders with real candles though nowadays artificial lights are more likely to be used.
Photograph’s of my mother’s clip in candle holders.
Pierniki – spiced honey cakes with white icing were used in some areas.
Polish Cribs – szopka
Cribs are varied in Poland, mostly wooden and carved, often with the shepherds dressed in traditional Polish highland costume.
Every year In Krakow in the Grand Square (Rynek Glówny) there is a competition held on the morning of the first Thursday of December, of Christmas cribs.
Model makers come carrying their cribs and they are judged. The winners are kept in the Museum of Ethnography – the rest are sold.
I saw an exhibition of past winners when they were on tour in England in 2011 at The Lowry in Salford.
This competition began in 1937. It was intended to bring back to life a tradition which had died shortly after the First World War, that of the Crib Theatre and these cribs are portable theatres for traditional puppet Nativity plays.
These ornate cribs are very colourful and richly decorated. They are covered in coloured foils, and are inspired by the architecture of Krakow eg Wawel Cathedral and the unequal spires of The Church of the Virgin Mary – Mariatski
They can be from 15 cm high up to 2 metres high and some have clockwork mechanisms or lights.
In the past the Christmas cribs were mostly the works of Krakow masons in their idle weeks of the Polish rainy late autumn.
Nowadays it is a pastime of many Krakow dwellers of all walks of life. And the city boasts several dynasties of Christmas crib makers where two or three generations construct brand-new cribs every year.
In the past these were always postcards but now folded cards are coming in to vogue.
Copies of old cards from Zakopane from the 1930s – bought in the Folk Museum there.
From an Old Christmas Card from the 1930s
Cards are only sent to family and friends that will not been seen over Christmas.
In Communist times cards depicted, branches of fir trees and baubles, nowadays many religious cards are sent.
Often when Poles send cards to family abroad they include a piece opłatek. This was originally bread but now a paper thin wafer with an impression of the Nativity scene is used and is a symbol of forgiveness, unity and love.
The opłatek usually has the corner nipped off to show that this is being shared. My aunty in America always does this.
This is a very Important Meal – Poles want to be with their family on this evening.
This Christmas Eve supper became a fixed tradition in Poland in the 18th century.
It is a completely unique experience with an ordinary evening meal transformed into a celebration of family love and solidarity and it is also so strange that in a country of meat lovers this meatless meal is so important and loved.
The days before the meal were a time to thoroughly clean the house.
The day used to be a day Fasting & Abstinence as the last day of Advent – no meat on that day (abstinence) and only 1 main/large meal (fasting)
There are usually 12 dishes for the 12 apostles though some areas have an odd number of dishes either 7, 9 or 11.
I only make dishes which would have been available through food preservation in the winter or are seasonal.
If there are presents they are placed under the tree and opened at the end of the meal.
In some areas of the West of Poland– presents today come from Gwiazdor – Starman
In the South West of Poland from an angel or baby Jesus.
In Communist times to try and remove the religious idea – many tried to favour Gwiazdor often portrayed in red robes with gold star or even to introduce the Russian Grandfather Frost on January 1st – unsuccessfully.
However Gwiazdor had links with St Nicholas (Swięty Mikołaj) as he often carries a star in front of St Nicholas.
The oldest hymn/carol in the Polish Language is Bogurodzica (Mother of God) and is known from the beginning of the 13th Century.
Carols are rich and varied with examples from many different centuries with ones originating from:
to many with music from the Royal Court such as the Polonaise
to lively folk & dance music &
Many carols feature shepherds as the Poles from the countryside felt an empathy with them.
Bóg się Rodzi – a Polonaise( Polonez )– words from the 18th Century.
Przebieżeli do Betlejem – music from the 16th Century.
Carols are sung from midnight mass till 2nd February in Church.
Carollers went from the second day of the Holiday – 26 December until 6 January – carrying:
a stork – the New Year – new life
a baby goat – fertility
a bear – hostile forces of Nature
In some areas Carollers went from Christmas Eve – after their own meal.
They are welcome visitors however if your house is left out then this is seen as a sign of bad luck.
Food for Christmas Day
Many would say that this meal is just like a very special Sunday Dinner.
There are not as many must have dishes on Christmas Day
As with all Polish dinners there is soup to start and this would be most likely rosol – clear chicken consommé with small pasta pieces (the original chicken noodle soup)
There will be lots of MEAT with Pork Dishes mainly such as:
Tort – rich layer cake often made from hazel nuts.
Nowadays there will also there will be chocolates & these Polish dried plums with chocolate continue the tradition of dried fruits at Christmas time – I love them!
My China & Tableware – A New Tradition
Classic white china would be the norm for Christmas but over the last couple of years I have started to use china with poppies* and other red flowers at Christmas time as well as china with autumn and winter foliage from my collection of china.
*Although not a Christmas flower – these poppies are a remembrance to the Battle at Monte Cassino in May 1944 & the military song – Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino – Red poppies on Monte Cassino. As my father fought there, these are very special for me.
New Year’s Eve – Sylwestra
31 December is the feast of Saint Sylwester (Sylvester) and this is the name of the festival in Polish.
In the towns & cities the evening is often celebrated with a dance – no special traditional dishes – more of the Christmas Day type food.
Sleigh rides from house to house, with food at each, were popular in times gone by on the eve and on New Year’s Day.
The 3 Kings – 6 January – Epiphany
During the Christmas period the priest would visit all the homes of his parishioners and say prayers, bless the house and get an offering. He would also bless some chalk or blessed chalk would be obtained at the Mass on 6 January. This chalk is used on 6 January to write over the door frame in the house –
For example for next year – 2017
20+ K + M + B + 17
For the year and Kasper, Melchior and Baltazar – the traditional names of the kings.
To bless all who enter or leave in the coming year.
The end of the Christmas period
In the church – 2 February – Candlemas day – 40 days after Christmas – is the official end of Christmas and then karnawał starts – the festive time before Lent.