My maternal grandparents were born and raised in Lublin, Poland. When we spent time together at the dinner table they would share conversations in their native Polish language and sometimes in Yiddish.
When I was a teenager, my grandfather shared a food memory with me. It consisted of spaghetti with a dark brown sugar sauce. While the pasta was cooking he showed me how to make the sauce by simply melting the sugar with a bit of water over a low flame. He called it peasant food and I still remember the sparkle in his eyes as he was anticipating the first morsel. He was like a little kid again. Grandpa Jack never forgot where he came from. He always reminded us how he came from a poor family and he was always thankful; even for a glass of water. When he asked for Paula’s hand in marriage, her father had serious concerns: how would he take care of her? He promised her father that he would. They were childhood sweet hearts. As my Great Aunt Helen used to say, “They knew each other since grade school.”
Make no mistake, this simple dish of caramelized sugar and pasta was such a treat. It was utterly delicious! The sugar transformed into a syrupy concoction that clung effortlessly to the pasta, leaving not even a drip behind.
Fast forward twenty plus years and I came across a wonderful Polish cookbook author named Beata Zatorska whose family emigrated from Poland to Australia when she was a young girl. Inside Sugared Orange: Recipes & Stories from a Winter in Poland I found recipes for kutia or Christmas pudding, (made with milk, poppy seeds, spelt, honey, raisins, almonds and clementines) kompot, (a seasonal drink: during Christmas is it made with smoked dried plums and dried apricots) and pierogies, (a Polish ravioli).
A few weeks before my son Julian was born, I found myself in the kitchen making pierogi, for the first time in my life. In Italy the weather was already summery, as it was the end of May, but that didn’t contain my cravings one bit.
Grandma’s Recipe Box
My Grandma Paula came from a wealthy family who owned a paper mill. In fact Grandpa Jack told us, after she passed away, that he taught her how to cook. He said that she didn’t even know how to boil a pot of water. Growing up, I thought my Grandma was the best cook ever, besides my mom of course. One Passover holiday I remember she made a pizza out of matzah and we were in awe of her even more! She kept a small metal box with blue and yellow flowers and stripes for some of her most prized recipes such as meatballs and chocolate cake.
Back to Brooklyn via Miami
My parents kept Grandma Paula’s recipe box safe and sound and so during a recent trip to Miami they graciously handed it over to me. My grandma wanted to assimilate to the American culture as much as possible as an immigrant. I would say the recipes she wrote down by hand are a mix of some of the new foods she was fond of in her new home and even a few hand written ones from her sister-in-law/my Great Aunt Helen. There was even a recipe from a dear friend of hers Mildred Bain (whom I remember from the Florida Association of Realtors) for Swedish jul glögg, a festive drink!
The other day, I made Grandma Paula’s meatball recipe. My brother Steven had asked me about it some months prior. She also wrote down a recipe for tomato sauce and as a side note added to serve it with potatoes, which I did. I must say, I was more than pleased when Julian, our four-year old, took a liking to it. The recipe and aromas were just as I had remembered and brought me back inside her kitchen, even if just for a little while.