Sorry for the long silence. I’ve just come back from a two-week long holiday in Poland. I had a lovely time, spending lazy days on visiting family, cooking, mushroom-picking (OK, just once, but still!), watching shooting stars, playing with kids. Oh, I did not want to go back to reality!
There is something really soothing about Polish countryside. End of summer is a quite nostalgic time. Everyone and everything is slowly preparing for the winter. The harvest is almost finished, the fields are empty, the grains are safely stored and ready to be taken to the mill, to make flour. Time for harvesting root and other ‘earthy’ vegetables: beetroots, carrots, parsnips, potatoes. And cabbage: whole fields of cabbage are being emptied. Every respectful housewife is making preserves: pickled peppers, beetroots. And all the beautiful fruits! Raspberries, plums, apples, pears. All ripening and waiting to be eaten or made into jams, compotes, syrups. My mum’s kitchen was constantly smelling of raspberries, there were so many! My mum would make each lot into either a preserve or syrup.
I don’t know what it is about end of August that makes it a perfect time for contemplating. Is it the the constant buzzing of bees, hornets, bumblebees working hard? Or is it the nature, not in bloom anymore, but in a state of mature richness, ripe and ready to give out the fruits? The trees are still green but here and there the leaves are slowly turning golden. The meadows are loud from insects, buzzing with life, but not as colourful as a month ago. Everything is of a similar hue: golden, yellow, orange. There is a reason people call this time in Poland ‘golden autumn’.
I have spent two weeks devouring my mum’s tomatoes. So sweet, juicy and crisp, unbelievably tasty. Beautiful! Freshly picked from my mum’s greenhouse, warm from the sun, I was eating them like apples, biting into the richness of flavour. And all the end-of-summer dishes! Light stews (leczo), soups (cauliflower, tomato, pepper, pickled cucumber soup), cakes (apple or plum pies), dumplings (with sweet cheese or apples or plums)….
The households are busy preparing for the winter, kids are busy preparing for the first day of school, which in Poland falls on the 1st of September. All the kids wear black and white smart clothes, all dressed up and nervous(if it’s their first time), unhappy their summer (two-month long) holiday is over but excited to see their school friends at the same time. All the excitement about buying new notebooks, rucksacks, pencil cases, pens and crayons, and textbooks. Maybe parents will get us some new clothes for the new school year? It’s so exciting! Going back to school after two-month break, with a brand new tan and adventures to be spoken about!
After September, the autumn is strongly felt. October can sometimes bring morning frosts. The leaves begin to fall, after changing their colours few times. It can rain. And be cold. And it gets dark so early! In July it’s bright until almost 10pm, but in September the sun goes down around 8pm. October and November bring even shorter days and longer nights. Winter is coming.
I’m really glad I had an opportunity to spend two weeks in Poland at this time of the year. I’ve tried my mum’s plum preserve, I picked a bucket of raspberries, I ate grapes straight from the vines, I went mushroom picking, I rode a bike and walked, inhaling the aromatic autumn air.
The recipe I am presenting here is my grandma’s specialty: pączki. Pączki are traditional Polish pastries, deep fried, usually eaten on a Fat Thursday. My nan’s version is much less traditional, she added sweet curd cheese to the dough and made them much smaller (about tangerine’s size) than usual, they weren’t filled with anything either.
Not exceptionally healthy (deep fried goods hardly ever are) but we all deserve a treat from time to time. My Nan made them for breakfast, sweet and slightly cheesy pastries, sprinkled with icing sugar mixed with cinnamon. Yum! Taste great with a coffee or a glass of cold milk. Let me walk you through a recipe. You’ll be surprised how simple to make they are!
POLISH MINI-DOUGHNUTS WITH CHEESE (MINI PĄCZKI Z SEREM)
for about 25 pastries
300g mild curd cheese or fromage frais
2 cups of flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp icing sugar
pinch of salt
2-3 tbsp sour cream or kefir
icing sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling
oil for frying
HOW TO MAKE?
1. Mix the cheese with eggs, sour cream and sugar. Add the flour, previously mixed with salt and baking powder. Stir until you’ll get a smooth mixture, add alcohol. Alcohol will prevent the pastries from soaking too much oil in.
2. In a medium saucepan, heat up the oil (about 1 litre) to about 170 degree Celsius, try to keep same temperature throughout all the pastry frying (if the temperature is too high, the pastries will burn quickly!).
3. Using small spoon (preferably round, like ice-cream scoop), take small portions of the dough and place them on the hot oil. The pastries should turn pout nice and round. Fry until the pastries are golden on both sides (you need to flip them when one side is done). They should flip easily, just tap them with a fork.
4. Fish your pastries out with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate lined with a kitchen towel (to soak up excess oil).
Give them few minutes to cool and sprinkle your pastries with icing sugar mixed with cinnamon. Taste best when freshly baked and still warm. Enjoy!