November tends to be difficult, at least for me. I don’t know what it is about this month, what makes it especially gloomy, nostalgic, grey? I have just realised that it’s already 26th of November… Where has the rest of the month gone? It’s almost as if I fell into a black hole and while spiralling down, gravity, or whatever other forces rule the universe, sucked out all the joy of living. the simplest of pleasures.
being Polish, for me November means two things: All Saints Day (1st November) and Polish Independence Day (11th November). Since I was a child, November always meant two extra days off school and shopping, for coats and boots, to be worn to the graveyard on the 1st of November, when all the family, from wherever they currently live, comes to their hometowns and meets with the family living locally.
even though it may sound odd for someone who hasn’t grew up doing it every year, for Polish people, it’s not such a sad occasion at all. the graveyards are being adorned with flowers and countless, countless candles, so they almost look festive. everyone meets there, sometimes you see people you haven’t seen in years, who have suddenly decided to fly back from the other side of the world to light a candle on their relative’s grave. everyone is dressed up, the atmosphere is different than on any other day of the year: almost pompous, but more solemn and serious, as if everyone was nodding in a common agreement: this is a precious time.
after the mass at the graveyard, everyone would drive to other graveyards in the neighbourhood to light candles on graves of friends, relatives or other people we knew and respected, but now they have passed away. after that my family would normally end up at my Grandma’s house, to have dinner with my family from dad’s side. in the evening though, all the local youth would gather at the graveyard again, to admire the fleeting, nostalgic beauty of thousands of candles lit up at the same time. the glow over the graveyard can be seen from far away.
I wonder, how many countries celebrate a similar holiday? it’s such a beautiful tradition: to visit graves of those who passed away, sometimes years and years ago. since I was a little girl, my mum and my babcia would take me to the graveyard and make sure I know who’s grave is where. they’d tell me that the graves have to be cleaned before the All Saints Day, that fresh flowers have to be bought, that everyone will meet here, on the 1st of November, to remember those who left. Babcia sometimes would tell me stories about her mum, who passed away when I was 3, or about her own babcia, whom I have never met. and I would suddenly realise: my babcia used to be a little girl too! and it’d be such a huge discovery for a 7-year-old me.
November is the time when nature prepares itself to rest. a well deserved, 3-month long rest, when almost everything is sound asleep. the leaves are gone, only bare branches left on the trees, there are no flowers, no insects, the bears and other hibernating animals are asleep, everything seems quiet. then comes the rain, making everything look excruciatingly sad, like nature was crying. it won’t be until it snows, when the world will look at ease again. when the meadows, fields, forests, parks, houses – will be covered with a layer of snow, which kept falling all night, silently and diligently, until the world is re-made, so everyone can wake up, look outside and be blinded by new, beautiful whiteness outside.
with the change of nature, comes the change in diets. since the vegetables and fruits are no longer available, and the need for comforting and warming foods arises, the root vegetables can finally shine. carrots, parsnips, beetroots, celeriac – suddenly become stars of dinners, completely forgotten and dismissed during the summer months. the time to consume all the pickles, jams, and other preserves has finally come and so mum would allow us to penetrate the pantry and choose anything we wanted. this is the time when all the hard work done in the summer months pays off.
the potatoes are cozily stored in the cellar, protected from both freezing and rotting.
the carrots and parsnips are buried in sand and stored in containers, next to the potatoes.
the cabbage has been turned into sauerkraut, fermenting peacefully in a big wooden barrel, somewhere warm.
the beetroots have been grated and pickled, stored in small jars, to be eaten with countless winter dinners.
cucumbers, too. pickled or fermented, now nicely lined up in jars on the shelf in the pantry, waiting to be used in salads or simply ‘on the side’ of many dishes.
onions and garlic are stored in wicker baskets, somewhere dry and fairly cool, to prevent them sprouting.
mushrooms are dried and stored away, or pickled into the little jars, each of them reminding about a trip to the forest.
everything is ready for the winter to come.
I love this atmosphere of waiting. is it Christmas everyone is waiting for? or is it first snow? or spring? with the days shorter than ever, everyone can finally rest, when it’s pitch dark outside, not much can be done.
perfect time to spare on roasting things away. there is no better winter dinner than a pot roast. when the meat is tender and soft, falling apart in your mouth, perfectly seasoned and balanced with the veg. the deep and rich flavour of roasted carrots, parsnips and celeriac, plays in unison with roast pork or beef, or even chicken.
that’s how I find my way to re-discover simple pleasures, stolen from me by the mean November gloom.
Roast pork with vegetables
4 slices of pork neck
1 small celeriac
3-4 garlic cloves
2-3 bay leaves
few allspice berries
2-3 juniper berries
freshly ground pepper
rosemary or thyme
how to make?
1. Start with seasoning the meat. To do so, rub the meat slices with olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary or thyme. Place in a bowl, cover with a lid and set aside (in the fridge) for at least 2 hours.
2. Peel and chop all the vegetables, in rather chunky pieces. Peel the garlic, don’t cut it. Thickly slice onions.
3. Preheat the oven to 190 degree Celsius.
4. Place the vegetables in a crockpot or casserole dish, add bay leaves, allspice and juniper berries. Place meat on top, cover with a lid and place in the preheated oven.
5. Cook for about 1,5 hour, without opening the oven. After that time, check if the meat is cooked, if not, leave in the oven for another 10-15 minutes.
6. Serve with root vegetables and mash. If you like gravy, it’s highly recommended, too ^^