Antique Cookbooks: The Meals of Poland's Past
small, Antique Cookbooks:
The Meals of Poland's Past, Cover and page from Stanisław Czerniecki’s ‘Compendium Ferculorum’, 1682, ed. Jarosław Dumanowski & Magdalena Spychaj. Photo: Wilanów Palace Museu, compendium_ferculorum.jpg
Thanks to digital archives, everyone can explore vintage Polish fare by delving into fascinating old Polish cookbooks.
Pepper & saffron, Your Ladyship
The first Polish cookbook, Compendium Ferculorum (1682) by Stanisław Czerniecki – Aleksander Michał Lubomirski’s chef from Wiśnicz – was a bestseller in pre-partitioned Poland. Intended for refined chefs, it was reprinted many times in the 18th century (and as recently as 2010). Later, sometimes under different titles, it reached the provinces in the 19th century – a ‘homecoming’ of sorts. Adam Mickiewicz is said to have loved the book and carried it in his trunk while travelling.
This compendium of 333 recipes – with a list of utensils, ingredients, staff, and notes on the work of ‘culinary teachers’ – was a token of the times. It also revealed the gustatory fancies and aesthetics of Baroque cuisine, which was wholly unlike modern cookery or even that of a century ago – not only because of the fiery spices and exotic additions to each dish (ginger, galangal, saffron, cinnamon, coriander, lime) but also its references to contrasts and ‘illusions’.
These dishes looked and tasted astounding, with a biodiverse multitude of edible fish species ranging from Gdańsk and Danube salmon, salted, fresh and smoked loach, to Turkish caviar, groupers, platajki, Atlantic cod, amernice, oysters, turtles, snails and crayfish. These were mostly consumed during long periods of fasting.
Ten Meals from Ten Polish Regions
standardowy [760 px]
Frontispiece to ‘Kucharka Doskonała Wiedeńska, Podaiąca Przepisy Różnych Przednich Potraw’ (‘The Perfect Viennese Cook, Serving Recipes of Various Outstanding Dishes’)
An equally fascinating classic was the anonymous cookbook entitled Moda Bardzo Dobra Smażenia Różnych Konfektów i Innych Słodkości, a Także Przyrządzania Wszelkich Potraw, Pieczenia Chleba i Inne Sekreta Gospodarskie (‘The Fashion for Deep-Frying Various Confectionery and Other Sweets, and Preparing All Manner of Dishes, Baking Bread and Other Household Secrets’). It became known as ‘The Radziwiłłs’ Cookbook’ and was probably written in the late 17th century at the Radziwiłł family estate in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Unlike the Compendium, its recipes were more detailed, mentioning weights and measures. The bulk of its 350 recipes were for confectionery – sweets, cakes and fanciful fruit-and-herb concoctions. The book even begins with advice on preparing sugar. The author also wished to surprise readers by altering foods’ original tastes (‘illusions’) and included recipes for grain-free ‘porridges’ made out of brains, kidneys, breadcrumbs and crayfish
7 Must-Try Polish Cakes & Pastries
standardowy [760 px]
Cover of ‘Moda Bardzo Dobra Smażenia Różnych Konfektów’ (‘The Fashion for Deep-Frying Various Confectionery’), compiled by Jarosław Dumanowski and Rafał Jankowski, 2011. Photo: Wilanów Palace Museum. Still life, 17th Century, German school, from the Wilanów Palace Museum collection. Photo: Z. Reszka, p. 123
The Enlightenment & new aesthetics
Natural, locally produced, fresh and gourmet are not just modern foodie buzzwords – they were also culinary terms in the Age of Reason. Influenced by Parisian cuisine, Polish tastes began to shift, leading to a slackening of the rules (including fasting). This was reflected in the dishes served at elite Thursday Dinner gatherings, for example, and listed in printed or handwritten cookbooks (e.g. the collection of Paul Tremo, chef to the last king of Poland).
Poland’s second printed cookbook was more famous: Kucharz Doskonały (‘The Perfect Cook’) by Wojciech Wielądko, from 1783, was a counterpoint to traditional Polish cuisine. After his master died, the unemployed author lived as an ‘underfed writer’ who sought jobs for easy money. Presumably, this was why he translated the famed Cuisinière Bourgeoise (The Bourgeois Cook) from French, which enjoyed record-breaking popularity in Poland. Wielądko contrasted old-fashioned Polish flavours with new trends, creating a fusion of both nations’ cuisines.
Later editions included recipes for ‘Polish-style’ dishes (e.g. chicken, pike and even artichokes), which Europeans associated with Poland but were actually based on French recipes. Root spices were no longer deemed tasty, and people derived pleasure from eating natural foods. Herbs replaced ginger and cinnamon, while sugar cased to be medicinal and instead became edible. Wielądko’s book also mentioned products from overseas, such as coffee, chocolate and beans.
A Foreigner's Guide to Polish Cuisine
standardowy [760 px]
Cover of ‘Kucharz Doskonały, Pożyteczny dla Zatrudniaiących się Gospodarstwem’ (‘The Perfect Cook, Helpful for Household Staff’) by Wojciech Wielądko, 1783. Photo: Wilanów Palace Museum. Title page, published by Michał Gröll (1722–1798). Photo: National Library Polona
Romantic bear’s paws
The early 19th century brought even more books (including translations), e.g. Kucharka Doskonała Wiedeńska (‘The Perfect Viennese Cook’), Nowa Kuchnia Warszawska (‘New Varsovian Cuisine’), Rządna Gospodyni (‘The Orderly Housewife’) and Co Dzisiay Gotować (‘What to Cook Today’).
The foremost author of the Romantic culinary era was Jan Szyttler, an apprentice and chef at the court of the last king. He began to write cookbooks and household handbooks, publishing several dozen of them. The most famous was Kuchnia Myśliwska, Czyli na Łowach (‘Hunters’ Cuisine, or Away Hunting’), Kucharz Dobrze Usposobiony (‘The Good-Natured Cook’), Kucharz Nowy dla Osób Osłabionych (‘New Cookbook for the Weak’) and Kucharka Oszczędna (‘The Thrifty Cook’).
Szyttler’s books helped shape culinary tastes and were penned for ‘mere mortals’, offering very precise recipes:
Much has been written on this subject […] but few were able to use the recipes, as no exact proportions of the dishes’ ingredients were given, or any instructions on preparing and cooking them correctly to ensure the desired taste.
Although inspired by French, Russian and Lithuanian cuisine, the dishes often retained traces of ‘Sarmatian’ cookery, such as recipes for old Polish gąszcze (thick sauces). Provincial estates and the nobility were the last pockets of Old Poland for whom Szyttler was writing. Despite certain recipes that are unacceptable nowadays – like bear’s paws! – Kuchnia Myśliwska also explained how to cook a wide array of game.
The home is the domain of women
10 Most Popular Polish Meat Dishes
The mid-19th Century saw a boom in a new type of books written by women for women (who were their only readers). Exceptions like Szkoła Kucharek (‘School for Women Cooks’) by Mączyński confirmed the rule. Most books from that period (Gospodyni Litewska [‘The Lithuanian Housewife’] by Anna Ciundziewicka or Kucharka Litewska [‘The Lithuanian Cook’] by Wincentyna Zawadzka) were inspired by Szyttler or French books (e.g. Dwór Wiejski [‘Country Manor’] by Karolina Nakwaska).
Even though female authors often published works at their own expense, they were a financial success. This was unsurprising, since, apart from hundreds of recipes, they also contained no end of advice on compiling menus, running a kitchen, nutrition, organising receptions, the duties of a model housewife and home management.
The latter half of the 19th century was ruled by Lucyna Ćwierciakiewiczowa’s recipes in the press and her bestsellers, Jedyne Praktyczne Przepisy Wszelkich Zapasów Spiżarnianych oraz Pieczenia Ciast (‘The Only Practical Recipes for All Pantry Supplies and Cake-Baking’) and 365 Obiadów za 5 Złotych (‘365 Meals for 5 Złotys’). Such was her success that she even outsold the national poets. Undoubtedly, this is why other cookbooks from the period were clearly ‘inspired’ by her – if not sheer plagiarism. Recipes such as a famous yeast cake containing 96 egg yolks are still used by pastry cooks today!
What Poles Ate When There Was Nothing to Eat
standardowy [760 px]
Title page of ‘Gospodyni Litewska czyli Nauka Utrzymywania Porządnie Domu…Tudzież Hodowania i Utrzymywania Bydła’ (‘The Lithuanian Housewife, or How to Keep an Orderly House…as well as Raise and Tend to Cattle’) by Wincentyna Zawadzka, 1873. Photo: National Library Polona
Bronisława Leśniewska took an original approach to cookery in her Kucharz Polski Jaki Być Powinien (‘A Polish Cookbook the Way it Should Be’) and Kucharz Polski dla Młodych Gospodyń (‘Polish Cookbook for Young Housewives’). Reprinted many times, these are still worth a look today. They are overflowing with unusual recipes, such as May hollyhock soup, duck and nasturtium stew, and numerous Italian, French and British dishes.
Meanwhile, Rebeka Wolff’s cookbook entitled Polska Kuchnia Koszerna (‘Polish Kosher Cuisine’) was published in 1877.
The early 20th century – practical home cuisine
Cookbooks grew even more popular at the turn of the century, particularly those designed to teach ‘practical chefs’, ‘practical women chefs’, ‘home cuisine’, ‘practical cuisine’ or ‘Polish women chefs’ – for city women, wives of civil servants and workers, and poorer folk. Women began buying more of these books, especially young wives in charge of running houses and kitchens.
Other bestselling female authors were Maria Ochorowicz-Monatowa, Elżbieta Kiewnarska, Alina Gniewkowska, Maria Gruszecka, Jadwiga Izdebska, Maria Disslowa and Marta Norkowska (the latter two taught home economics professionally). For years, many households relied on Monatowa’s Uniwersalna Książka Kucharska (‘Universal Cookbook’, which won a prize at a Warsaw hygiene exhibition in 1910, and was translated into English) and Disslowa’s Jak Gotować (‘How to Cook’). Apart from hundreds of recipes, they contained nutritional advice, dietary recommendations for various illnesses, plus hints on serving dishes and table decoration. They were reprinted after the war, although the recipes tended to make people’s eyes water, rather than their mouths, due to the food shortages.
19th-Century Polish Women's Cookbooks: The Hatching of a Social Monster
There was a growing trend for vegetarian cooking too, exemplified by Jadwiga Breyerowa’s Jarska Kuchnia Witaminowa (‘Vitamin-Packed Vegetarian Cookery’) or Maria Czarnowska’s book of plant-based recipes, Nowa Ilustrowana Jarska Kuchnia (‘New Illustrated Vegetarian Cookery’). One interesting novelty was Kuchnia Dziecięca (‘Cooking for Children’).
8 Vegan Recipes Straight from Poland
standardowy [760 px]
Title pages of ‘Jarska Kuchnia Witaminowa’ (‘Vitamin-Packed Vegetarian Cookery’) by Janina Breyerowa, 1927, and ‘Kuchnia Dziecięca’ (‘Cooking for Children’), 1927. Warsaw, Bluszcz Publishers
polish culinary art
traditional Polish food
At the other end of the spectrum – haute cuisine – was Kuchnia Polsko-Francuska (‘Polish–French Cuisine’) by Antoni Tesslar. This famous chef of French descent served at the Potocki Palace in Krzeszowice, leaving many fine recipes which went on to inspire others.
The Second World War stalled the development of Polish gastronomy and related literature for decades. ‘Crisis’ books were published (e.g. Elżbieta Kiewnarska’s 109 Potraw [‘109 Dishes’] was released during the occupation) to help vary the menu in tough times of rationing.
Originally written in Polish by Magdalena Kasprzyk-Chevriaux, Jun 2017; translated by MB, Oct 2019