How to Make Your Polish American
Harvest Festival Authentic
by Robert Strybel
WARSAW, Poland—The end of the harvest was the occasion for a major festival in old rural Poland known as dozynki. It was celebrated with ritual and pageantry, followed up by plenty of good food, drink, music, dancing and general merriment. This tradition is practiced to this day in many quarters of our American Polonia, but all too often it is dozynki in name alone. Here are a few suggestions on how to make sure your Polish harvest celebration does not end up as just another run-of-the-mill parish picnic or polka fest.
HARVEST MASS. The day of the harvest festival begins with Holy Mass which may be held outdoors. The harvesters (peasants) are decked out in their regional finery. If you have someone representing the dziedzic (squire, lord, nobleman) and his family, it might be nice to have them dressed in the formal attire of the 19th century (similar to the city dress of the U.S. Civil War period). During the offering, in addition to communion wafers and wine, harvesters bring the harvest wreath, other herbs, sheaves of grain, baskets of fruit and other crops symbolizing the abundance of the harvest.
HARVEST PROCESSION. The harvesters slowly process to the lord’s manor. As they go they sing typical, merry harvest songs, one of which runs as follows:
Plon niesiemy, plon W jegomosci dom.
Bodaj zdrowo plonowala,
Po sto korcy kopa dala.
Plon niesiemy, plon.
Carry harvest’s yield, to squire from the field.
May the harvest give its bounty
Biggest crop yields in the county,
Carry harvest’s yield.
The przodownica or best girl harvester wears the harvest wreath as a kind of headpiece. It is made of woven golden grain, decorated with meadow flowers, with small apples or clusters of mountain-ash berries and often beribboned for added color. She presents the wreath to the squire who hangs it up in a place of honor in his home. He then pours himself and the oldest male harvester a glass of vodka and toasts the entire company. The squire then invites all present to a feast.
HARVEST FEAST. Weather permitting, long tables were set up in the squire’s front yard. The priest blessed the food and the feasting could begin. Although the squire and his family and household staff joined the harvesters at the feast, the food was traditional, hearty peasant fare. This might include rye bread baked from the newly milled grain), cold roast bacon, head cheese, jellied pig’s feet, kiszka, cabbage and sausage (sauerkraut was usually not available in August and September), boiled pork hocks, boiled potatoes and/or buckwheat groats with fried salt-pork nuggets, noodles and cheese, buckwheat pie (especially in eastern Poland), plus brined dill pickles, tomatoes and cucumbers in sour. Beer was served to wash it all down. A kolacz (round yeast-raised cake) or placek (coffee cake) and fresh fruit (cherries, apples, pears, plums) set out in bowls were typical desserts.
HARVEST FEST ENTERTAINMENT. After the meal, the squire dances the first dance with the przodownica, and his wife dances with the przodownik (leading male harvester). Afterwards all are invited to join in. In a Polish American setting, the dozynki usually features a folk-dance performance. In addition, it might be a good idea for the folk dancers to circulate among the guests and ask them to dance. Perhaps the folk-dance group you invite knows of a genuine Polish folk band—one that features traditional acoustic instruments (violin, clarinet, accordion, bass fiddle played with bow) and can play all the old tunes. If such a band is not available, recorded music may be the next best thing.
HARVEST FAIR. Polish American festivities may include a fair at which gardeners and homemakers vie in different categories for the best fresh produce, pickles, jams, baked goods, etc. and offer them for sale. Stands selling various Polish souvenirs, gift items and delicacies as well as games of chance, amusement-park rides and competitions of various kinds (arm-wrestling, tug-o-wars, sacks races, pierogi-eating contests) may add to the general festivities. Note: Apart from having your Pol-Am club or parish stage dozynki as a separate event, it might also be worth considering setting up a Polish pavilion or booth featuring some or all of the above at a county fair or other event open to the general public.
Peasant Favorites for
Your Dozynki Table
by Robert Strybel
The food served at the traditional Polish harvest fest of yesteryear included the products obtained from butchering a hog (minus the best cuts such as the ham and loin which the squire had set aside for his family). You can recreate that climate at your club or parish dozynki by serving the followings foods.
COLD TREATS. The tables you invite your guests to should be laden with platters full of sliced cold kielbasa Cooked fresh and ready-to-eat smoked), krakowska, headcheese (salceson) and kaszanka (kiszka), plus brined dill pickles, radishes, small whole tomatoes, sliced cucumber spears, whole hard-boiled eggs, pickled herring, horseradish and plenty of crusty rye bread and unsalted butter. To recreate an old-style climate, serve draft beer in pitchers rather than in bottles or cans. If a toast is raised at the start, make sure it is with plain vodka. (Scotch, martinis, daiquiris, etc. would adefinitely be out of character!)
BOILED PORK HOCKS (golonka): Allow 1 hock per serving. If hocks contain any remaining bristle, singe it off over a flame and wash well. Place hocks in pot, drench with boiling water to cover by 3". Add 2 t salt and bring to boil. Skim away scum from top until no more forms. Cover and cook on med-low heat 90 min, replacing water that evaporates. For 3 lbs hocks add 2 carrots, 2 quartered onions, 1 stalk celery and 1 bay leaf and cook until meat is fork tender. Serve with rye bread or boiled potatoes and horseradish or Polish-style mustard. Beer is a “must” to wash it down! Note: Save the stock!
BRAISED CABBAGE (biala kapusta duszona): Strain and chill the stock in which the pork hocks were cooked. Remove and discard all but 2 T fat. Shred 1 large head of cabbage, place in pot, scald with boiling water to cover, bring to boil and cook uncovered 10 min. Drain. Return to pot, add 2- 3 c degreased pork-hock stock and cook on med.-low until cabbage is tender. In 2 T reserved pork-hock fat brown 2-3 T flour, stirring in a little cabbage stock to get a thick paste. Stir roux into cabbage and simmer covered 10 min longer. Season with salt pepper, caraway seeds (optional) and juice of 1/2 a lemon. Let stand several min for flavors to blend. Serve with pork hocks or kielbasa.
BAKED OR GRILLED KIELBASA (kielbasa pieczona lub z rustzu): Cut smoked kielbasa into 4-5" serving-sized peace and bake in greased pan in 350° oven about 60 min. Serve with rye bread or boiled potatoes with braised cabbage on the side. To grill sausage, make 5-6 slanted gashes along 1 side of each serving and cook on charcoal grill well away from flame, turning frequently, until evenly browned on all sides.
“KISZKA,”, BLACK PUDDING, BLOOD SAUSAGE (kiszka kaszana, kaszanka): Kiszka may be served cold or hot. To do the latter, cut kiszka into serving-sized pieces and fry in lightly greased skillet until browned on the outside and heated all the way through. Another way is to slice the kiszka and fry the slices. Warning: Be careful of the exploding buckwheat. A third way, is to remove the kiszka from its casing and fry it until it is fully heated through and a crust begins to form. Pickles, tomatoes and horseradish are good go-togethers.
HONEYED CUCUMBERS (ogórki z miodem): Peel cucumber and cut into spears. Drizzle with honey and serve. This old Polish treat tastes something like watermelon—only better!
SUGARED STRAWBERRIES (truskawki z cukrem): Place whole, hulled, washed strawberries in a bowl with a dish of granulated sugar next to it. Invite your guests to take the strawberries with their fingers, roll them in sugar and pop them into their mouth.
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