Rose Petal Jam: Recipes and Stories from a Summer in Poland, winner of the Best in the World Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2012, is not only a cookbook, but also a memoir and travelogue from incredibly talented wife and husband authors, Beata Zatorska and Simon Target. This may just be one of the most beautiful cookbooks I have come across. Over 60 traditional, family Polish recipes are spread across 320 quality thick matte pages. Hundreds of photographs are included, from childhood and family memories to gorgeous scenery and buildings taken by Target on their more recent trips. Even Zatorska’s writing had me imagining that I was sitting next to her experiencing the sights of Poland myself. The couple has also released a second cookbook (that I have not personally seen yet): Sugared Orange: Recipes & Stories from a Winter in Poland.
Beata Zatorska was born in the small village of Jelenia Góra in Lower Silesia, Poland where she learned to cook from her grandmother Józefa, a professional chef. She began studying medicine in Wroclaw before leaving for Australia in 1981 with her immediate family and finished medical school at the University of Sydney. She now practices family medicine, just like she told her grandmother she would as a young child. She married Simon Target, a photographer and film maker with several award-winning television documentaries and cooking shows. He accompanied Zatorska to Poland and photographed the scenery, dishes, and produce for the book.
Chapters are divided based on Zatorska’s time in Poland: Rose Petal Jam (A Polish Childhood), Return of the Stork (Prussian Palaces and the Karkonosze Mountains), and and Summer in Poland (Wroclaw, Poznań, Wielkopolska, Baltic Sea, Gdańsk, Toruń, Warszawa, The Heart of Poland, Zamość, Castles on the Border, Tatra Mountains, Kraków, A New Polis Home).
The book begins with memories from Zatorska’s childhood, from picking rose petals at age 5 for her grandmother to turn into Rose Petal Jam (recipe included and recommended as a filling for Pączki- Polish Doughnuts) to foraging the forests with other children for mushrooms for her great-grandmother and retrieving freshly baked bread from the local bakery. Included are photos of a young Zatorska smiling in the kitchen rolling out pierogi dough and playing in the fields. After moving to Australia, it took 20 years for her to return with her husband. They visited her childhood home and family, Prussian palaces in neighboring villages, and other sights in southern Poland. Photos of the beautifully painted ceiling of Krzeszów Abbey (also the hiding place of the originial score of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute) and Samotnia, an old wooden chalet hidden in the Karkonosze Mountains, sit alongside background information about the areas. The couple returned again and spent a summer on a grand tour through the country (there is a map at the end of the book showing the highlighted cities and route). You will learn about what each town is known for, from Warsaw rebuilding the rubble following World War II using old town plans and photographs to Fryderyk Chopin’s birthplace in Żelazowa Wola.
I love the little facts and tidbits that give a closer look into the culture and life in Poland, such as the Polish version of a fast food “happy meal” (eight pierogi and a carton of orange juice); lyrics for traditional songs, tongue twisters, and poems; traditional clothing; ethnic groups (the Górale from the Tatra mountains); travel restrictions and life following World War II; and the return of Jewish culture to Kazimierz.
The photography, minus childhood photos, is provided by Simon Target. This was definitely a highlight of the book for me. It even held my three year old son’s attention as he looked through the pictures of bees on sunflowers, windmills, buildings (his current obsession), and food. Most of the recipes include a photo, often full page, of the finished dish.
The names of the dishes are provided in English and Polish. Most of the recipes include a headnote with a description of the dish, background information, or how it is special to Zatorska. Measurements are provided by weight-Metric and US Customary. The index is well organized, with a list of the recipes in English and Polish for easy reference.
Those who have already developed a love for Polish cuisine will enjoy the five variations of pierogi and other favorites such as Kisiel (Strawberry Fruit Pudding) and Gołąbki (Cabbage Rolls). It is also a wonderful introduction for those with no previous knowledge of Polish food and culture. The recipes are well written and easy to follow. There is a nice assortment of beverages, meats, vegetables and sides, soups, salads, fruits, and desserts. Most of the ingredients are readily available to the average cook. Some of the less common ingredients include Lazanki pasta (though any small egg pasta can be substituted), farm cheese, and buckwheat groats. Keep in mind that a kitchen scale is required for this cookbook as measurements are provided by weight (grams and ounces).
As the holiday season nears, I was immediately drawn to Pierniki (Polish Spiced Gingerbread Biscuits). One note for Americans: the word biscuit refers to a cookie, not the flaky Southern breakfast pastry. Gingerbread cookies are popular throughout Central Europe and Poland is no different. This version uses plain rye flour as the base and is seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and plenty of honey. There is an optional almond scented glaze that Chad and I definitely preferred.
Use your favorite shaped cookie cutters. I used moon and star shapes as they are popular in Toruń.
This is a wet dough. Add just enough extra flour to be able to roll out, cut the dough, and keep it from sticking to your work surface.
Keep an eye on the honey as it comes to a boil and make sure the pot has plenty of extra room. It tends to foam quickly.
I also made Gulasz Wolowy (Polish Beef Goulash) with Kluski śląskie (Silesian Dumplings), Surówka z Marchewki z Rodzynkami (Carrot and Sultana Salad), and Smalec (Bacon Spread on Rye).
I have tried many Gulasch recipes, but this was my first time making Gulasz Wolowy (Polish Beef Goulash). Cubes of stewing steak are coated in flour, then lightly browned before simmering in a vegetable wine beef stock for a couple of hours until the meat is tender. The dish is finished off with a spoonful of sour cream, tomato paste, paprika, and fresh herbs. It paired perfectly with the Kluski śląskie (Silesian Dumplings).
Kluski śląskie (Gumiklyjzy) are Potato Dumplings from the Silesian region of Poland. Zatorska includes the recipe for her Aunt Sabina’s dumplings. I like to say that I cook a lot of things well, but I have always had issues with potatoes. Hashbrowns end up burnt on the edges and soggy in the middle and gnocchi often fall apart. So working with potatoes always make me nervous. Well I had no reason to be nervous with these. The recipe was easy to follow and the results were spot-on. The large potato dumplings are a slightly flattened round shape with an indentation in the center that is the perfect vessel for the sauces of accompanying dishes. Zatorska recommends serving them with the Polish goulash and pureed beetroot.
Surówka z Marchewki z Rodzynkami is a simple salad made from grated carrots and apples. It is sweetened with a few sultanas. You can dress it up a little further with a little sugar and cream. This salad is particularly popular with children.
Smalec is a spread made of chopped bacon and onions seasoned with marjoram. It is quite tasty warm, but as it cools the fat rendered from the bacon solidifies to create a smooth spread. Zatorska also recommends using it to add extra flavor to leftover pierogi.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Tabula Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions and statements are my own.
Pierniki (Polish Spiced Gingerbread Biscuits/Cookies)
Adapted from Rose Petal Jam: Recipes and Stories from a Summer in Poland
12-15 medium cookies
350 grams (12 ounces) honey
225 grams (8 ounces) caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
600 grams (1 pound 5 ounces) plain rye flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon all spice
200 grams (7 ounces) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon water
2 drops almond extract
To make the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or lightly grease.
In a medium saucepan, heat the honey just until it begins to foam and boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool to lukewarm.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a large bowl, beat together eggs and sugar until smooth.
In a small bowl whisk the baking soda in just enough water to dissolve. Add to the eggs and sugar. Mix in the lukewarm honey, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice to bring together a dough. The dough will be sticky. If needed, add a little more flour to make it just firm enough to be rolled out.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch (5 mm) thick. Add more flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Use desired cookie cutters to cut out shapes and transfer them to prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Repeat with remaining dough, bringing together the scraps and re-rolling.
Bake in preheated oven until the bottoms are golden, 10-15 minutes. Use a large spatula to carefully transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.
To make the glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk the water and almond extract into the powdered sugar until smooth. Slowly add more water as needed until thin enough to coat the tops of the cooled cookies when dipped. Allow excess to drip off before transferring the cookies back to the wire rack to set.