Concise Guide To Polish Bread
Having emigrated, one of the most prominent Polish poets of 19th century wrote:
For that land where a scrap of bread is picked up
From the ground out of reverence
For Heaven’s gifts…
I am homesick, Lord!…*
The rumour has it that a few years later, while in London, the very same poet almost died having choked on a piece of bread. Alanis Morissette would surely have something to say about that.
Nevertheless, an English speaking person works eagerly to bring home the bacon. A Polish speaking person still works solely for their bread. It may seem like a purely idiomatic play of words, but the truth is, Poles do love their bread. And they miss it, whenever they go abroad. In order to help you understand our deep-rooted love for bread we decided to prepare a little guide to Polish bread.
A few examples of how it may look and what it is called in case you ever want to buy some:
1. Grahamka (bread roll made from non-sifted whole wheat flour)
2. Chleb z ziarnami (multigrain bread)
3. Chleb pszenny (wheat bread)
4. Chleb pszenno-żytni na drożdżach (yeast bread made of rye and wheat flour)
5. Żytni chleb na zakwasie (sourdough rye bread)
6. Kajzerka (crusty bread roll, made from wheat flour and yeast)
Some bread related customs are still cultivated only in the countryside. However, there are a few observed nationwide. If a slice of bread falls on the floor you should pick it up and kiss it (remember the poet?). Also, you should never throw away any bread, even when it gets stale. Some families (e.g. my grandpa’s family) used to collect stale bread in a bag and label it as “bread for horses”. Since nowadays few people can boast a horse, you may just resort to this. When it comes to bread etiquette, a loaf of bread should always be placed with a flat side down (it’s the ‘worse’ side of bread, in case you ever wondered) so that the ‘better’ side can worship the Lord (residing in heaven). Last but not least, an idea for single people! Few decades ago single ladies living in the same village would all bake bread rolls and then place them on display so that they were accessible to dogs. The author of the first bread roll eaten by a dog would be the first one to get married. We bet Carrie Bradshaw has never heard about this before.
Good sourdough bread needs time. No special star system nor magical skills are required. It doesn’t have to feel like striving for the World Cup. Rye flour, water and patience will do! You need about a week to grow your own starter. Once you do this you can have it forever and bake lovely bread whenever you feel like it. The best bakers possess starters which are a few years old! The whole bread making process takes about two days so it may seem time-consuming, but once you try Polish sourdough bread you will never ever want to eat anything else (well, except for pierogi). Sourdough bread doesn’t get stale for a week which means it’s a perfect edible gift for family and friends or a souvenir for your humble self. As Nigel Slater once wrote, In many cases the taste or smell of a sweet, a cake or an entire meal is capable of painting a picture with richer, deeper brush strokes than any snapshot in their photograph album.**
There’s no better place to explore all quirky objects used for making bread a few decades ago than visiting a Polish bread museum. Poland boasts a few of these. A small one in Ustka if you ever happen to visit Polish seaside (to take the newly launched food or vodka tour in Tricity perhaps?), a bigger one in Radzionków (near Katowice and Kraków) and a relatively new one in Warsaw. If you wish to make the most of your visit, take a local with you as most of these places don’t offer a guide in English.
“Bread and alcohol? In one glass? How can these two work?,” you may ask. Well, it turns out we cherish our bread so much that we’ve found a way to make use of it in an old-fashioned drink. The recipe was created by Julian Karewicz – a well-known bartender and a cook. He suggests mixing some vodka, rectified spirit and a loaf of good quality stale bread in order to get a bitter bread mixture. To be served with bourbon and honey infused water.
Here are some good bakeries we recommend. Remember, if you want to buy bread as an edible gift you should ask for chleb na zakwasie (sourdough bread) because it will last longer (up to a week). Most Polish bread to be found in these bakeries is made of wheat and rye flour.
Don’t forget that bread tastes best when covered with good quality butter and some spring onion.