Sugared Orange – Like sipping a cup of tea in a cozy kitchen as you watch the snow fall outside

My grandmother’s family immigrated from Poland in 1913, and though my grandmother was raised in the United States, she preserved certain Polish traditions at home. I grew up with homemade Polish dishes such as pierogi, golabki, barszcz bialy, and a variety of yeast breads and pastries with farmer’s cheese, poppyseeds, and fruit. Unfortunately, babcia did not write down many of her Polish recipes. Last year, I was looking for authentic Polish cookbooks that would capture some of her homestyle Polish cooking and stumbled upon the beautiful Rose Petal Jam: Recipes and Stories from a Summer in Poland, so I was very excited to see that “Sugared Orange” was coming out.

“Sugared Orange: Recipes and Stories from a Winter in Poland,” is the second in a series of four books chronicling the rhythm (and flavors) of the seasons in Poland. The first volume, “Rose Petal Jam,” traced Beata Zatorska’s childhood memories and flavors of a Polish summer across different cities including Warsaw, Poznan, Torun, and Zamosc (a town near my family’s ancestral city) via her grandmother’s recipes.

In “Sugared Orange,” we are taken on a journey to Lublin, Warsaw, Krakow, and Lodz, treated to the many scenes of a Polish winter, and invited to participate in winter holidays like St. Nicholas’ Day, Christmas Eve (Wigilia), and New Year’s. For a young Beata, hard-to-get oranges represented Christmas as well as a taste of the exotic; Beata’s grandmother used to make sugared orange peel every winter and “the perfume of orange peel infused my brain with dreams of tropical lands, orange trees, and exotic adventures for when I grew up.” Beautiful reproduction advertising centering around oranges (and the color orange) is sprinkled throughout. Many orange-infused recipes are featured prominently, including a light, delicate sugared orange cake, a Polish cheesecake studded with sugared orange peel and raisins, orange ice cream, orange shortbread tart and poppyseed pancakes with orange. As candied orange peel can be difficult to locate in the United States, a basic sugared orange peel recipe makes a convenient starting point for many of the later recipes in the book.

“Sugared Orange” features many familiar dishes that my babcia used to make, including Christmas Eve sauerkraut with split peas, grated beets with horseradish, stuffed cabbage, and sauerkraut and mushroom pierogi. I also discovered some new favorites such as piernik (gingerbread cake), a loaf rich with spices, chopped candied ginger, and chocolate. Another new find was the savory buns with cabbage and mushrooms (kapusniaki); yeast dough surrounds a filling of sautéed onions, mushrooms (I used cremini), and sauerkraut. The directions were straightforward and easy to follow; I would recommend letting the rolls rise for at least 45 minutes to an hour on the second rise (the recipe specifies 15 minutes). They freeze very well and make a great snack or side for soup or salad. I also loved the Lublin barley cake (kaszak lubelski) – the mild flavor of barley, farmer’s cheese and orange peel reminded me of an Italian ricotta Easter pie.

Ingredients are listed in American measurements and metric; I used the metric measurements when I tested recipes. Patriotic red and white ribbons make it easy to quickly bookmark your favorite recipes. The alphabetical (Polish) list of recipes is somewhat easier to use (and faster) than looking up ingredients in the index: for example, you won’t find a listing for cabbage or sauerkraut in the index, though the book includes several recipes featuring them.

Beautiful photographs by Simon Target of Polish cities, Christmas markets, various foods and ingredients are interspersed with vintage Polish Christmas cards, advertising, paintings, and bilingual poems and carols that form a time capsule of a bygone Poland. Many of Beata’s family photographs and stories resonated with me, such as the photo of her grandparents’ evacuation orders (I still have copies of my great-grandparents’ passports in Russian, as they lived near the border of present-day Ukraine). I know very little of my grandmother’s early years in Poland; by reading Beata’s stories and looking at the beautiful winter photographs, I could imagine my young grandmother playing in the snowy Polish countryside and running inside for a quick warmup of sauerkraut-filled rolls as Beata herself used to.

Part living history, part cookbook, “Sugared Orange” is a beautifully crafted tribute to Poland’s traditional hearty cuisine and its winter holidays, regional traditions, and sometimes tumultuous history. Poland’s once-thriving Jewish population is touched upon; you’ll find a recipe and photo for a four-strand challah and photographs of a beautiful Baroque synagogue saved during WWII. Beata’s family history and reminiscences of growing up in Poland (she moved to Australia at 19) give context to the many recipes and traditions, and reading (and cooking from) “Sugared Orange” is like sipping a cup of tea in a cozy kitchen as you watch the snow fall outside.

(Review copy courtesy of Tabula Books)

Kapusniaki (savory buns with cabbage and mushrooms)
Kapusniaki (savory buns with cabbage and mushrooms)
Piernik (gingerbread cake)

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