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ON GOING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
by Edgar Guest
He little knew the sorrow that was in his vacant chair;
He never guessed they'd miss him, or he'd surely have been there;
He couldn't see his mother or the lump that filled her throat,
Or the tears that started falling as she read his hasty note;
And he couldn't see his father, sitting sorrowful and dumb,
Or he never would have written that he thought he couldn't come.
And the joy it would have given, or he never would have stayed.
He didn't know how hungry had the little mother grown
Once again to see her baby and to claim him for her own.
He didn't guess the meaning of his visit Christmas Day
Or he never would have written that he couldn't get away.
And the silver in the tresses; and he didn't stop to think
How the years are passing swiftly, and next Christmas it might be
There would be no home to visit and no mother dear to see.
He didn't think about it -- I'll not say he didn't care.
He was heedless and forgetful or he'd surely have been there.
Going home to kiss the mother and to show her that you care?
Going home to greet the father in a way to make him glad?
If you're not I hope there'll never come a time you'll wish you had.
Just sit down and write a letter -- it will make their heart strings hum
With a tune of perfect gladness -- if you'll tell them that you'll come.
I've had fun this month learning about the traditional Polish Christmas Eve meal (Wigilia). After fasting all day, the meal is celebrated after the first star appears in the sky, or on a cloudy day, when it is dark. Often the youngest child is tasked with announcing the star (symbolizing the star of Bethlehem). The table is set with a white tablecloth with hay under it to symbolize the manger. An extra dish is set on the table for a stranger that may stop by, or in memory of a deceased loved one. In the center of the table is the wafer (Oplatek) that will be shared by all at the beginning of the meal. Twelve dishes are usually served (referring to the twelve apostles) or thirteen dishes (including Christ). The meal must be meatless and includes desserts, poppy seeds, cakes, breads, soup, fish, and a dried fruit compote to aid in digesting the meal. Pickled herring, sour cream, carp or other fish, pierogi sauerkraut, peas and mushrooms, are favorite foods that will be served.
Joan Kazmierczak and her family follows many of the Polish Christmas Eve traditions in their home. Her children don't like all of the 12 dishes that are recommended to be served, so she serves seven. Her table is decorated as described above. When the star is sighted, the meal begins with the Father sharing the wafer - a thin wafer similar to the communion wafer only bigger with nativity scenes on it. Some families share more than one wafer, then take a bite and invite others to share their wafer, meanwhile wishing each other good health, a happy New Year, and telling each other how much they love them. Some families will send their wafer in the mail to family members that cannot come to the Christmas Eve meal.
Joan's menu includes mushroom soup, red wine, rice with raisins plumped in hot water, sauerkraut pierogi, fried haddock fish (dipped in egg and breadcrumbs), Placek, green split peas and sauerkraut. She also has bread and butter on the table with shrimp scampi, not a forbidden food, but not Polish. For dessert she serves Chrusciki. Polish cookies are served for a later treat.
Mushroom Soup (Joan Kazmierczak )
In a large saucepan, combine 1 quart water, carrot, celery, and onion. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender. Stir in mushrooms and simmer for 15 minutes. Add half and half and milk. Gently heat until hot, but do not allow to boil. Combine 1 pint of water with flour, stir into soup and simmer until soup thickens, stirring constantly.
Placek (Joan Kazmierczak )
Split Peas&Sauerkraut (Joan Kazmierczak)
Boil split peas until tender in water to cover. Add 1/8 teaspoon baking soda if you have hard water and peas will cook faster. Stir in sauerkraut and cook until heated through and tender. Salt and pepper to taste.
Pierogi Dough (Joan Kazmierczak )
Mix together the dough ingredients and knead on a floured surface until dough is smooth and elastic. Roll and cut into 3-inch circles and fill with sauerkraut mixture. To cook: place a few at a time in lightly salted boiling water. Cook until they float. Remove from water and drain. Fry in butter with a little bit of onion to until crispy and serve with sour cream.
Pierogi Filling (Joan Kazmierczak)
Place filling ingredients in a frying pan and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
Chrusciki (Joan Kazmierczak)
In a large bowl, combine the above ingredients. Chill overnight or they will be too sticky. Roll out dough on floured surface, cut into strips, slice down middle and pull one end through to make a knot. Fry in hot grease until very light brown, drain on paper bag (or paper towels), sprinkle on confectioners sugar when warm.
Kathleen Rumfola treated me the other day to some peppermint tea and some Chrusciki, a recipe passed down from her grandmother, to her mother, to herself, her daughter, and her grand-daughter. If served warm out of the fryer, the Chrusciki's will do the disappearing act. The polish pastry should be light, soft, and crisp. Don't let the grease get so hot that it start smoking. If your grease catches on fire, turn off the heat and immediately place a lid on the pan to cut off the oxygen supply. The fire will go out. Never leave hot grease unattended. The Chrusciki's will fry in seconds and will be best if just lightly browned. Kathleen also sent me the recipe for her mother-in-laws famous Pineapple Cheesecake and gave me an Oplatek made from the Christmas Wafer Bakery in Lewiston, New York.
Chrusciki (Kathleen Fliss Rumfola)
Mix first five ingredients until blended. Add flour. Mix well and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Roll very thin. Cut 3/4-inch wide strips lengthwise and angle cut. Make a slit in each section. Pull one end through the slit. They will resemble a "bow tie." Shake off excess flour before frying as excess flour can ruin the grease. Fry in deep fat until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with fresh powdered sugar to which a small amount of white granulated sugar is added and enjoy! Yield: approximately 6 dozen.
Pineapple Cheesecake (Stella Rudnicki Rumfola)
Place ingredients from first part into a large bowl and work the dough as you would for pie crust. Chill while preparing second part.
Combine ingredients from second part in a medium size saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and simmer until it thickens, stirring constantly as it scorches easily. Cool while preparing third part.
cinnamon to sprinkle over topMix ingredients together in mixer until fairly smooth. Finally spoon dough into 11x16x2-inch baking pan and bring it up the sides slightly. Then spoon in your pineapple filling. Then using a ladle, put cottage cheese filling over the pineapple filling. Sprinkle cinnamon lightly over top and bake at 350 degree oven for 1 hour.
Alita Dueringer shares her mother's recipe for Polish cutouts (Pierniki). She
said, "We made these every year at Christmas time. It wasn't Christmas if I didn't smell anise throughout the house and get scolded for getting colored sugar all over the floor. Growing up, every year at Christmas mom and I baked cookies to share with family and friends, and I continue the tradition myself making many types of cookies and cakes, but my favorite remains the
Combine flour, sugar, and baking powder in a mixing bowl. In another
bowl, beat butter until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating on low speed until blended.
Mix in dry ingredients, adding milk, anise and vanilla when it gets dry.
Refrigerate dough overnight as dough will be tacky. When rolling out, use minimum of flour as dough will get tough.
I wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. A New Year is fast approaching and it's that time to once again reflect on our shortcomings and resolve to do better. The Internet lists the top ten New Year's resolutions: spend more time with family and friends, exercise more, lose weight, quit smoking, enjoy life, quit drinking, get out of debt, learn something new, help others, and get organized. Today is a brand new day. Why not start on your New Year's resolutions now. You might even add another resolution - to try at least one of the recipes in my column each month.
Send your favorite family recipes to Marcella Stockin, 5200 Riceville Road, West Valley, New York 14171 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear from you. Providing you with recipes to help make you the best cook in the neighborhood. Visit http://www.cellascookbook.com and find out how you can order my cookbook.