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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Poland has changed shape and size to a bewildering extent. At one time in the distant past the Polish-Lithuanian ‘Commonwealth’ stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea and was larger than any other country in Europe. In 1831 what was left of this vast area was ceded to Russia; and then reduced to zero in the First World War. What is now Poland represents a mean between these two extremes and does correspond fairly closely to the area occupied by speakers of the Polish language. Its cuisine is best introduced in the wise words of Mary Pinińska (1990):

The shape and form of a nation’s cuisine is at first wholly dependent on its soil and climate. In later years it may also be moulded and polished by its proximity to trading routes, and by war, foreign influences, economic prosperity, religion and so on, but its basic characteristics remain. The elementary ingredients of Poland’s cuisine were dictated by the rich, dark soil and the harsh northern climate, which yielded cereal crops such as rye, wheat, millet, barley and buckwheat. From these came bread: from rye the beautifully dark, dense, moist loaves so typical of this part of Europe; and, from other grains, white bread with which soups were made and whose stale crumbs were used to thicken and bind stuffings and sauces. Fried breadcrumbs have long been used as a garnish in Polish cooking, and à la Polonaise, which means a garnish of fried breadcrumbs, often with diced hard-boiled egg, is part of international gastronomic vocabulary.