As a way of building intercultural connections between Poland and the United States, we have started an interview series with Americans who have lived in Poland to find out more about their story. We will learn about things such as what brought them to Poland, some of their memorable experiences and their favorite things about living in Poland. Follow along with us on this intercultural journey!
This week, we spoke with Lois. Lois runs the popular Polish cooking website called Polish Housewife where she shares all types of recipes for Polish dishes. She is also the author of the cookbook The Polish Housewife Cookbook: Traditional Recipes You Wish Your Babcia (Polish Grandmother) Had Written Down. She lived with her husband in Poznań for more than five years and has remarkable insights on Polish life, culture and food.
It’s not often that we get to speak with an American that has spent some time living in Poland. Can you briefly share your story with us? What brought you to Poland and what was your favorite thing about living there?
It was my husband’s work that took us to Poland. As a retired USAF F-16 pilot, he was a civilian contractor at the base for international pilot training here in Tucson. When the first class of Polish pilots came through, one of the commanders said they were going to open a training base in Poland, and they would like him to run the academic and simulator training for them. A year or two later, he and two colleagues were on their way to Poznań.
My favorite thing about living in Poland was the pace of life, the quality of life. Down to the person, every American I know who was returning to the United States, said, “I want to try to take this back with me, feeling less rushed, taking time to enjoy life more. I never knew I could live such a rich life with so little stuff.”
We have followed your blog closely over the last few years and really enjoy all of your recipes that we make. What first sparked your interest in cooking? Was there a person in your life or a specific experience that helped cultivate your interest?
I have enjoyed cooking from an early age. For my Grandma Rose, cooking was an expression of love. I think I picked up that mindset from her. I loved weekends in her kitchen. She was a woman of modest means, but there was always an abundance of food on her table when we visited.
When we lived in Poland, I always tried to watch and learn how to prepare meals from my mother-in-law. She is a wonderful cook, never used a recipe, and always made things look so simple. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to recreate her meals to the same level. How did you learn to cook Polish food? Was there someone in Poland who helped you learn?
I did everything I could to learn about Polish cooking. I have a huge stack of Polish cookbooks in English and in Polish. I would chat with waiters and chefs to ask about dishes and their preparation. My Polish friends knew I was interested. Klaudia would suggest restaurants that we should visit. Gosia from the international book club would email recipes for seasonal produce to me. She even hosted all the foreigners in our group for a cooking class in her home.
My friend Elżbieta is probably the one from whom I learned the most. She is a retired food technologist who had worked in a hotel restaurant. She had also been an expat when her husband taught in an American university for a year. She had empathy for my situation. I spent a lot of time in her kitchen asking questions and taking notes. And because she is Polish, she always fed me!
This may sound funny, but when I first spent time in Poland with Damian and his family, I had a difficult time adjusting to the meal schedule. In the United States, I was used to eating breakfast in the morning, lunch at noon, and dinner at six. In Poland, it seems like there are so many meals throughout the day! Breakfast (around 8), second breakfast (around 11), soup (around 3), obiad (dinner) (around 4) and kolacja (supper) (around 7). Is there anything you found unique about Polish eating customs or habits while you lived there?
The timing of meals can be confusing and can lead to misunderstandings. I invited a neighbor to visit me for a cup of tea one morning. She said that she would prefer to stop by when her husband came home from work at 3:00 PM because his English was better. I thought that was fine and assumed the three of us would have a cup of tea in the middle of the afternoon. I’ll bet Damian can guess where this story is going.
At 3:00, they arrived with a beautiful big bouquet of flowers. While bouquets are a common hostess gift in Poland, it seemed like too much for a cup of tea. I served tea and cookies. We chatted in the living room for an hour or so and then they wet home. The funny thing is, they never touched their tea.
Years later, I had occasion to cook with these neighbors. As we planned the meal we were going to prepare together, they said, we usually eat at 3:00. Then I understood. I think they were expecting obiad, the big meal of the day. They were probably saving their tea to have with their meal, which I never served at our first visit! It just doesn’t occur to an American to offer a guest a meal at 3:00.
Celebrating holidays and special events is an important part of Polish culture and they tie closely in with specific foods. Do you have a favorite holiday or event that you celebrated in Poland? What is your favorite food from this occasion?
I’ll say St. Martin’s Day, November 11th. It’s also Polish Independence Day, but in Poznań, the focus is on St. Martin. It is the name’s day of the main street after all. There’s a lovely parade with St. Martin on his white horse at the end. It’s also a day to eat St. Martin croissants.
The city of Poznań invited me to a media event on this regional pastry and arranged for a translator. The head of the baker’s guild hosted us in his bakery. We saw the pastry being made and got to try our hand at making them as well. It was a lot of fun, but I’m glad that I don’t work in one of those bakeries. That year, they estimated that Poznań would eat 60 tons of the croissants. The bakeries were working 24/7 to meet the demand.
Last year you self published (congratulations!) your first cookbook titled The Polish Housewife Cookbook. This book has over 50 recipes that cover a wide variety of traditional (and delicious!) Polish recipes. Do you have a favorite recipe from the cookbook?
You’re very kind, thank you! Two recipes stand out for me. The szarlotka recipe because my husband loves apple pie, and the recipe comes from my friend Basia, a very thoughtful Polish woman, who lived in France for many years, and made an effort to share the Polish art scene with me.
My second favorite is the smoked sausage, partly because it is wonderful, but mainly because I made it with my parents, experienced sausage makers.
Polish Housewife is a fun name for your blog. Is there a story behind the name?
It’s silly really. When my husband, Ed, first began working in Poland, we didn’t know how long we would be there. It could have been a year or even less. So I wasn’t keen to quit my job of 12 years that I loved. At first, I just traveled back and forth a lot between Poznań and Tucson. Even when you love a job, there are days that are frustrating and annoying. On those days, I would say to my work friends, “I should just quit and go become a Polish housewife.” I found myself saying that more and more.
Eventually, we came to our senses, and I did just that! I had a new, very general food blog at the time called Food is my Love Language. When I moved to Poland, I started a second blog called Polish Housewife. It was mainly to keep family and friends informed about our life abroad.
It was a pleasant surprise to discover that I had readers I didn’t know in the United States, a few who had grown up in Poznań. Before we returned to the USA, I combined both blogs under the Polish Housewife name and began to focus more on Polish food. That was where I was finding an audience.
On our Key To Poland tours, we are very focused on sharing with our guests quality, local foods. We strongly support the concept of slow food, which promotes using local small businesses, traditional regional cooking and sustainable farming and food systems while striving to focus on quality over quantity. Do you have a memorable dining experience from your time in Poland?
We had so many wonderful meals, long leisurely meals that go on for hours, with much of the food from our host’s garden. I don’t mean to slight them as I mention this extravagant one. It was just so different than things we usually do.
After being curious about the Transatlantic Film Festival for years, but not quite being able to figure it out as a non-Polish speaker, my friend Basia (of the szarlotka recipe above) invited us to accompany her and a group of friends to Transatlantyk Kino Kulinarne, the foodie portion of the film festival. We saw a film and then enjoyed an amazing many-course meal prepared by two of Poland’s top chefs. The food was so creative and the service was perfect - a performance art in itself.
If you could describe Polish cuisine in three words, which would you choose?
Can I count a phrase as a word? Fresh. Seasonal. Nose to tail.
Thank you Lois!!
Read our other interviews with Americans living in Poland. We have spoken with Russell who runs a popular Youtube Channel about life in Poland and Leah who runs an English language school and a popular blog about life in Poland.
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