Sunday, August 28, 2011

Poland: Animal Vegetable Miracle

In the quiet moments of my days in Poland, I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle. It's the story of how she and her family grew their own food and ate local for a year.

And it's interesting to read this book in BiaƂystok, Poland, where most of the people live in quarters like this:

But here's the surprise. They manage to eat high quality, highly nutrient, tasty, local food. They pride themselves on food from Poland and even more from food grown locally. I've mentioned it before but I'll say it again. The tomatoes were fantastic. We ate them at every meal, including breakfast.

Sure they've got the big grocery stores with produce from every corner of the globe. But when I went into the little markets, I found bushels of locally grown fruits and veggies, delivered just that morning by a guy in a farm truck and muddy boots. This is very exciting for me.

I get off on dirty carrots.

Did she just say that?

I mean culinaryily speaking. Culinarily?

And here is another surprise: They have a knowledge of where their food comes from, unlike many in urban centers in the USA. I have a feeling it's because ladies like these grandmas walk among them and don't forget to educate—not just about the birds and bees—but of the potatoes and mushrooms as well:

Grandma? Is that you?
You know she's good at preserves.
When Christophe and I went for a walk in the local forest, I was told to forage for mushrooms. Now where I come from, we don't know which mushroom to throw in the sauce and which to throw in the potion. But Polish people know a thing or two about living off the land, especially during those bleak Communist periods.

After an hour of walking in the woods saying... "This one?" No. "How about this one?" No... I got the hang of what to look for and we came back with these creamy morsels:

On my return to Paris, I saw these selling for 25 Euro/kg.
I spoke with Christophe's brother about living in Poland under the pesky Communist regime, right next door to the USSR. He was young at the time, but mentioned that he remembers that the stores were filled with vinegar. Vinegar? Yes, because it's a basic ingredient from which you can make many foods from scratch.

And this education remains.

I was at the grocery store and they were selling what looked like a heap of weeds. "What is THAT?" I inquired.

"For pickles."

Ah, right. Yes, of course. All those bits we see floating around our pickles that we buy pre-made at the store. Here? When you grow your own cucumbers, you need the fixin's to make pickles.

Poland, like all modern societies, has it's share of imported food, but nary did I see a mealy, pink, blech-looking and even more blech-tasting tomato. Nope. They won't have it. They'd leave those stranded at the border before they'd let them be served up on the plates of the people.

There is also illegal local hooch of the vodka variety.

Now, I'm not saying I partook, but if I "did" partake, I'd probably notice that the first shot tastes a little like rubbing alcohol... and I think I know why. But the second shot "probably" tastes like a mild drunk grape... which is "probably" how I "would have" felt had I "partaken" in such activities.

And "perhaps" a bottle landed mysteriously in my suitcase on my way home.


All this reading and eating has made me want to grow an acre of my own produce and get all Martha Stewart about it, which is a strange thought for someone who has prided herself on her nomadic nature. But I can feel it in my toes, little roots wanting to grow right through my shoes and into my own acre of home.


  1. Jan I thoroughly enjoyed that blog but dont you remember the nightmare of the garden where y ou grew up.I guess gardening isn't my fortier ,all the weeding and the bugs to deal with.

  2. Another great post!!! I am also reading Animal Vegetable Miracle it is such an eye opener. And I deal with the same issue I crave the nomadic lifestyle but at the same time I want that small house out in the middle of nowhere living off grid. If only we could find a way to have both :)

    April H

  3. Your carrot comment made me snicker out loud. I'm in Utah and I honestly can't remember the last time I ate a really good tomato. It's rather tragic, honestly.

  4. Have you had a dirty purple carrot? Those are really hot.

    I think that there has to be a convergence of freedom and rooting when you have your own farm. Sure, you're tied down to it - but you're also free from having to go to the store to cook, free from turning to The Man to feed you. I think it's pretty liberating.

  5. Grow the garden - you'll love it. Trust me ;-)

  6. You gotta nip those little roots in the bud (you see my knowledge of gardening here). No soil can hold you...

  7. What happened to the scrolling blog updates? I liked them. Not complaining, just asking.

  8. Book is interesting, however I think there are some polemic chapters that could be eliminate because of eluding problems.


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