‘The fifth edition of Cook it Raw took place in the Suwalki region of Poland, within its landscape of exceptional purity of lakes and hills shaped by glaciers in prehistoric times. Suwalki is an ethnic mosaic of Poles, Lithuanians, Germans, Tatars, Jews, and Russian Old Believers – the perfect setting in which to explore the concept of culture as a permanent flow of influence.
Suwalszczyzna is one of the culinary regions of Poland that has not been full discovered yet. Its characteristic feature is a huge contrast between using simple products and creativity in their processing.
Cusine traditions of Suwalki are conditioned by the geographical situation. The climate is severe with its snowy winters and dry summers. Another factor is poor soil quality which provides only such plants as potatoes, onions and cabbage.
Potatoes successfully replaced dishes based on flour, which are used in another regions of Poland. Most popular dishes based on this vegetable are potatoe pie “Babka ziemniaczana”, potatoe sausage “Kiszka ziemniaczana” and potatoe dumplings stuffed with minced lamb meat “Kartacze”.
Being a region on the borderlad of Poland Suwalszczyzna is also a mosaic of nation, cultures and religions. On a small area Poles coexist here with Lithuanians, Belarusians, Germans, Jews, Tatars and Old-Believers. This mixture injected such dishes as German Baumkuchen (Sekacz) or Tatar Lamb Dumplings “Kolduny” in regional cooking tradition.
(Potatoe dumplings’) name comes from its shape – a round cannon ball. It is a huge oval shaped dumpling filled with lamb or pork minced meat seasoned with garlic and marjoram which is a typical herb used in the “potatoe” cusine. The dough consists of both boiled and raw potatoes and the proportion is a culinary secret of local householders. In Lithuania a similar dish is known as “Zeppelin”.
Babka ziemniaczana (Potatoe pie) is one of the most popular dishes on the Lithuanian-Polish-Belarusian borderland. Its ingrediens are grated potatoes and onions with addition of some pork fat and pieces of bacon. The mixture is “glued” with eggs and then baked until golden.
Kiszka ziemniaczana (Potatoe sausage) is a pork intestine filled with a dough similar to potatoe pie and then baked. The combination of the taste of gut stuffed with potatoes is very special and unforgettable. People love it or hate it, there are no any intermediate reactions.
(Tree-cake) is the most interesting cake of the Suwalki region. It is used to be baked on open fire using a special spit and dry birch wood. Its preparation and baking requires being adept at this and having best and freshest ingredients. The basis of the dough is a huge amount of eggs – 40 per each cake.
The name of it refers to a tree characterized by numerous tags looking like knots. It consists of many layers poured one on the other which form “graining of wood”. Sekacz became a wedding traditional cake of the area and it is hard to imagine any marriage celebration in Suwalszczyzna without Sekacz proudly exposed on the table.
(“Bread beer”) is a popular drink of the Polish and Lithuanian borderland that is obtained by the fermentation of the old bread using some yeast, sugar and water. It has a light brown color , naturally sweet-sour smell and taste of freshly baked bread. Being not too sweet it is a good to quench thirst. It long keeps low temperature after cooling.
The percentage of the alcohol is around 1-2% however kept in room temperature it increases up to average beer norms.
(Lentil) is a full of protein leguminous. It contains also ferrum, calcium, starch, phosphorus, folic acid and thus its considered as a highly nutritious plant. Nowadays it gets more and more popular among vegeterians and organic food enthusiasts. However lentil was known for a long time. It was popular in ancient Greece and Rome, and even mentioned in Bible. Lentil’s low demands on soil quality led the plant to be cultivated on a sandy and rocky ground, such as Suwalki region, and become a nourishment for indigent living people. This way its cultivation has widely developed in Suwalszczyzna. The traditional lentil dish of the region is called ‘soczewiaki’ (from Polish name for lentil – ‘soczewica’). It’s a potato pastry with a lentil stuffing. Lentil has to be soaked overnight and then grounded with fried onions and bacon and enriched with sour cream. Then its being covered with a thin crust made with boiled and smashed potatoes, eggs and flour. The handysize “soczewiaki” are be baked in the oven and glazed with bacon and onion.
(“Pork fat”) is a pork speck located under the skin of pig’s rump. This fat has a solid consistency and frequently was melted into grease for further consumption. Słonina by itself was prepared on Polish-Lithuanian borderland as a product for long term storage. The slices of the raw fat thick up to ten centemetres were rubbed with salt and optionally with spices (black pepper, majoram, garlic). So prepared słonina matures for around two weeks.
(“Honey”): Beekeeping in Suwalszczyzna in an old tradition that was performed in surrounding primeval forests, which are frequent in here. The wild beekeeping was carried on in Suwalszczyzna even before the Christianity that came here in the 14th centrury. Honey is a natural product made by bees out of a nectar of blooming plants and sweet liquid emitted on the branches of trees (honeydraw). It has a great taste and health value. Honey from the Suwalszczyzna is known to be the best quality one thanks to the clean environment and plant diversity (the most characteristic for the region is the existence of many varieties of herbs). The unspoiled nature gives what Suwalszczyzna is famous for – a multi-honey made from many different wildflowers, with its little bitter in taste and has a deep aroma. Another kind made from buckwheat flowers can be distinguished by its sweetness and black tea color. On the contrary, the linden flowers honey has a bright amber color and its taste can vary from sweet to spicy and its also often found on Suwalszczyzna.
“Sielawa” (Coregonus albula L.) and Powan “Sieja” (Coregonus lavaretus L.) belong to the family of moron (Coregonidae). These species are closely related and are classified as so-called “fond-of-cold” fauna with the origin of the Arctic Sea. Their presence in Suwalszczyzna’s waters is related to the last Ice Age – the Baltic glaciation. After the withdrawal of the ice, in areas released from ice crust, the lakes were formed. In the deepest, having originally connections to the sea vendace and whitefish settled. Reservoirs of natural occurrence of vendace and powan in Poland is low. These fish actually live in a few lakes located mainly in the northern parts of the country, including Wigry lake. The fact that powan and vendance in Wigry occurred centuries ago is known from “The Registry of the lakes of the Grodno Area”, drawn up in 1569 by the King Sigismund Augustus. The Wigry lake is described like this: “The fish in it: salmon, powan, vendance, bream, crucian, perch and trench and many other.”
In the late nineteenth century, the number of whitefish in Wigry was so low that authorities imposed a total ban on the catch. However, this did not lead to significant improvement. The situation changed only after the construction fish hatchery at Wigry lake in 1928, that exists until now.
Vendace and powan, may be found deep, cold, well-oxygenated water that is rich in plankton. The shape of vendace and powan’s body is fusiform, well suited for lively lifestyle. Both species are similarly colored – they have a greenish back with variable shades (depending on the color of the water) and a silvery white sides and belly. Vendance, compared to powan, is more compact. This feature is indicative of their close relationship with Salmonae fish: salmon, trout and sea trout.
Vendance and powan are among the few species of lake, where reproduction takes place in late autumn and winter. When the water temperature drops below 6C, which is usually in the second decade of November, vendance ripe for breeding follow spawning grounds where they spawn and lay eggs. Focused so far on the deep waters, vendance begin to “pull” toward shallow water. Spawning takes place mostly at a depth of 2 to 10 meters on a sandy bottom, covered with gravel or vegetation, and lasts for about 2 weeks. The intensity of spawning occurs just after dark. Spawning of powan has a similar course like vendance, but depends on weather conditions with a 1-2 week delay.
Nowadays the hatchery in Tartak village receives annually about 25 – 30 million hatching of vendance and 3 million hatching of powan. This fry goes to the many lakes, both the Wigry National Park lakes (Wigry, Pierty) and to areas in other Polish regions, often several hundred kilometers away. Owing to the vendace and powan hatchery – the relicts of the Ice Age still live in polish waters.
This enables the sustainable exploitation of stocks. In Pierty and Wigry lakes conducted by the catches regulators, about 13 tons of vendance is annually harvested. All the fish, mostly smoked, hit the local market and gives taste pleasure to Suwalki residents and tourists.
(Distillate) is the alcohol produced by amateurs, using simple equipment, is a Polish equivalent of balkan Rakija or italian Grappa. It’s obtained by distillation of the periodic (in contrast to continuous distillation in the distillery industry) from a mash of alcoholic fermentation. Depending on the materials and method of purification bimber has different smell and taste. Frequently made of the cheapest products (corn, potatoes, candy, sugar, molasses) without any additional rectification, is colorless and has a sharp, unpleasant smell, but purified with carbon, is present in liquers and gives the impression of mere taste spirits.
During both world wars it was a common means of payment.
Until now the production is still the traditional and popular for economical reasons – it is much cheaper than vodka and spirits.
Bimber distilling was banned on Polish territory and fought at least since the mid-nineteenth century. The Second Republic introduced state monopoly on the production of spirits – initially in selected provinces and across the country. The production of bimber was severely punished in both the Second Republic, as well as in the communist period.
Tinctures, once called cordials, probably came to Poland with the king, Henry Walezy and established here for good. In any aristocratic, noble or bourgeois house tinctures used to be produced, and the recipes were diligently guarded and handed down from generation to generation. In addition to the well-known today, cherry tincture, plum titcture, morelówki, rowan tincture and Lithuanian honey liquores, strong herbal tincture based on honey or honeycombs was made, with herbs and fresh or dried fruit added. Old Polish tinctures had a content of alcohol of 25 up to 70 percent. Fruit tictures based on pure alcohol were always weaker (20-30-percent). Usually the method of production was to put fruits in barrels covered with bimber after the third distillation and to store in the basement, exposed to the sun or buried in the ground. Tincture matures in barrels for 3 months to up to three years. Then is poured it into bottles and wait to be tasted for next six months.
Liqueurs are like wine: sweet and dry, weak and very strong. Old Polish feasts started with a glass of absinth tincture as an appetizer, then treated with tincture of sloe to hare pate, roast turkey and roast duck in the company of black currant liqueur, then roast wild boar and a glass of cherry brandy. For the desserts sweet and sweet liqueurs were served, which today we would call liquors.
Old Polish tradition of producing liqueurs survived despite the wars and turns of history. They are no longer made out of necessity, but for fun as a hobby.
(Pork smoked ears) are one the most popular Lithuania beer snacks. They are served smoked, after “hair removal” treatment. They can be given in whole or cut into strips (cut into thin strips do not raise enough negative emotions. It is worth to pour some boiling water on it before serving because then they are so hard. They may be called “Lithuanian crisps”.
Other Lithuanian beer snacks are:
-garlic bread (Lithuanian brown bread, fried and rubbed
garlic), optional fried with cheese
-smoked pork leg
smoked pork stomachs (cut into strips)
-smoked chicken gizzards
-boiled peas with bacon