It's been a while since I wrote a Food Memories post. The intention was to make them a regular series and I still want to do that. Having written about Rose Petal Jam in my last post, it makes sense for me to think about the Polish food I grew up with.
There's so much here that it would take a whole lot of writing. Instead of that, I want to look at snapshot memories - and some may be a little bit surprising.
My grandparents moved here after the War. They lived in Norfolk for a while then sailed to New York before finally settling in Bury. Apparently, after a short stay Stateside my grandmother wanted to return to England so return they did, and joined a sizeable Polish community over here. They initially bought a terraced house on Canning Street and then progressed to a 1930s semi a little further out of town. It had a tiny kitchen, an even smaller pantry and gardens to the front and back.
This tiny kitchen housed a fridge, a sink unit, an electric cooker and a built-in cupboard. The walls were tiled with brick tiles and there was a 1950s unit with sliding glass doors, a couple of drawers and a Formica top. Estate agents would probably describe the whole set-up as 'cosy'.
The built-in cupboard, I remember, was always furnished with a box of Ritz crackers and a tub of Saxa salt. And jars of sauerkraut (Krakus - Poles don't buy the cheaper, 'inferior' brands stocked by supermarkets. They go to delis or actual Polish skleps, as far as I know). My grandmother and grandfather were very partial to a Ritz cracker. Indeed, my - frankly rather scary - grandma has been known to send visitors packing if they don't arrive bearing a box at Christmas.
The front, or 'best' room was seldom used. It had my grandad's medals displayed on the wall, and net curtains and a fancy glass-fronted cabinet with mirrored panels on the inside. In the cabinet were dinky liqueur glasses and a variety of blow-your-socks-off spirit-based drinks. Upon arrival I'd be sent in there to get myself a little plastic bottle of lemonade, Panda Pops or similar. There was always just the one, and once I'd been it would be replaced with another lone bottle procured from the corner shop.
On the coffee table lived chocolates in a sellophane-wrapped box: dark ones filled with cherry liqueur, brought back from Poland by whoever had been over there last. Occasionally I'd be allowed one. You bit into them and there'd be the bitter taste of very dark chocolate, followed by the alcoholic sweetness of the cherry and the slight graininess of sugar. They weren't very nice. But they were chocolate. And when you're little any chocolate is better than none at all.
Yes, a lot of cooking happened in the tiny kitchen. And a lot of growing and harvesting went on in the garden, and drying and storing in the porch and garage.
But for now: little details of the store cupboard and drinks cabinet. I'll probably never eat a cherry liqueur again. But I do buy big jars of Krakus gherkins and sauerkraut. And I also love the greasy saltiness of Ritz crackers. A little too much. So they never make it into the shopping basket.