Wednesday, December 24, 1997......


Food

A festive Wigilia
For folks of Polish descent, tradition dictates Christmas Eve menu

PhotoCDT photos / Michelle Klein
Dough job: Vicky and Marty Mazur of State College spoon filling and roll out dough for pirogi, traditional fare for the Christmas Eve dinner at their home. For Poles, the Christmas Eve meal is one of the most important of the year.

By ANNE QUINN CORR
For the Times

STATE COLLEGE -- Holidays take us back to our roots. We seek the aromas, flavors, sounds and sights of our childhood and even further back along the family line. Traditions that may have been lost for a generation resurface as we try to connect with who we are and whence we came. Lucky are those who can remember.

Neighbors Marty Mazur and Stan Giner are two of the lucky ones. Both of Polish descent, they got together last weekend in Marty and Vicky Mazur's State College home to prepare some special dishes for Christmas.

Wigilia (ve-geel-ya, with a hard "g") or Christmas Eve supper, is one of the most important meals of the year. Marty Mazur, a second-generation Pole from the Buffalo, N.Y., area, explained the tradition.

"It is the time when all the family members gather to observe a sacred occasion. There are seven, nine, or 11 courses, all meatless, and the table is set with an extra place.

"Polish people believe that 'A guest in my home is God in my home.' A candle is lit and placed in the window to symbolize the hope that the Christ Child, in the form of a stranger, may come to share the Wigilia feast."

Although the Mazurs do not do it, another Polish tradition is to place a thin layer of hay beneath the tablecloth to represent the infant Jesus in the manger. Sheaves of grain are tied with colored ribbon and placed in the corners of the room with a prayer for a good harvest next season.

Wise mother

"And the Polish mother is very wise," adds his wife, Vicky, who, though Canadian with ancestry from the British Isles, embraces the Polish traditions with a generous enthusiasm. "She keeps the kids at bay by making a contest out of who gets to spot the first star in the eastern sky, signaling the beginning of the feast. That keeps them out of her hair while she gets everything ready. The children are kept busy during the day making paper ornaments for the Christmas tree shaped like a globe."

The "swiat" or "holy globes" celebrate universality.

Elements of the Wigilia are ceremonial, in the same manner as the Greek Easter dinner or Passover feast. Just as the Judaic tradition holds the clan together through the repetition of certain foods and shared memories, so does the Wigilia. Specific dishes are served, certain restrictions are obeyed. The meal is always the same and always reassuring. Instead of shuffling through six cookbooks and as many magazines trying to decide on the most creative new entree, the meal is prepared the way it is always prepared. It is the ritual.

The feast commences with the breaking of the Oplatki, or Bread of Love, a thin Communion-like wafer stamped with a Christmas scene that is passed from person to person along with a wish and a kiss. Another bread, a braided yeast bread, represents the swaddling clothes that wrapped the infant.

Soup is the first course. The Mazurs usually have a mushroom soup, but many Polish families enjoy a barszcz (clear beet soup) or creamed fish soup. Next served is pickled herring and rye bread. After these appetizers the table is laden with several courses including fried fish, pierogies, kapusta (cabbage) and potatoes.

Dessert is a stewed fruit compote made of prunes and figs. "One of my favorite dishes," says Stan Giner, whose Polish family settled in McAdoo, in the coal country of the northeastern corner of Pennsyl-vania, where he grew up. "Of course there were also lots of Christmas cookies and coffeecakes and a Polish cheesecake made with farmer's cheese, unlike the creamy cheesecake that we know in this country. Chrusciki was a special treat, sugary fried strips of dough that melt in your mouth."

Feasting would go on for several hours, until the men retired to play cards and the women visited with each other. Some of the family would go to midnight Mass, some would stay home. Marty remembers his grandfather tempting the household by cooking his freshly made kielbasa around 11 p.m., the smell tantalizing them for an hour until midnight when they could break the fast and eat the meat sausage.

Gifts were opened at midnight, or when the churchgoers returned, and the family was in an uproar again, setting the table for another meal, this time including meat. Christmas carols were sung and much merriment ensued.

The Mazurs will celebrate the Wigilia with the Giners this year and enjoy the varieties of pirogi that they prepared together. But much of the excitement last weekend concerned the kielbasa, which would be served on Christmas day.

A joint effort between the families, the kielbasa project utilized the Mazurs' idea and recipe and Giner's know-how and Kitchen Aid mixer. Vicky started in the spring by planting the marjoram that was used to season the garlicky meat mixture. Casings, available locally at O.W. Houts, soaked overnight before Stan blew them up to loosen them. Some of the kielbasa would be eaten at Christmas, some frozen and some smoked over fruit wood.

In addition to living across the street from each other, Marty and Stan work together at Penn State's Applied Research Laboratory where they do acoustics and engineering research. Vicky is the librarian at the American Philatelic Research Library. The two Mazur children, Andy, 11 and Christina, almost 9, watched the preparations from the perimeter, but are expected to be quite tuned in by Christmas Eve when the traditions connect all the participants to another time and place.

With their enthusiasm and dedication, the Mazurs' Wigilia this year will prove once again that "Wszystkie stare czasy sa dobre," or "All times are good when old."

Marty and Vicky Mazur's Pirogi

	(Handed down by Marty's Grandma Odziemiec)

Dough:

6 cups sifted flour

1 stick melted margarine

1/2 cup milk

3 whole eggs

1/2 pint sour cream

1 teaspoon salt

Sift flour and salt into bowl. Add melted margarine, milk, eggs and sour cream. Mix together to form a dough that is easy to handle. Knead on a board for a few minutes. Take an egg-sized piece of dough and roll it out on a floured board. Cut out a small (roughly 2 inches in diameter) circle using a cup or pastry mold. Place one teaspoon filling onto circle.

Dampen the edge of the circle with water and fold over. Seal with a fork (or use turnover press.)

Cook pirogi 6 at a time in a large kettle of boiling water. Boil for about five minutes. After cooling, freeze to store.

To serve: Fry with butter and onions until the onions are caramelized and pirogi are beginning to brown. Some people like to serve sour cream on the side.

Fillings: Below are three fillings you can use for pirogi. There are many others, including potato, potato and cheese, mushroom. Experiment!

Farmers cheese filling

	1 pound farmers cheese (Ricotta can be substituted)

3 tablespoons sugar

3 eggs

Mix ingredients, using more sugar to taste.

Sour cabbage filling

	1 small bag of sauerkraut

2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 medium onion, finely diced

A few mushrooms (Use some dried Polish mushrooms if you can)

Hydrate the Polish mushrooms. Saute onions and mushrooms in butter. Add salt and pepper. Add to sauerkraut along with the sugar. Warm.

Prune

Use 1 dried pitted prune per pierogi

Polish Sausage (Kielbasa)

	(From Marty's Grandfather Mazur)

For each 10 pounds:

10 pounds of pork butt or lean uncured ham trimmings

Use a blender to thoroughly mix the following ingredients:

5 teaspoons sugar

5 teaspoons dried marjoram (if using fresh marjoram, use 4 tablespoons)

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

5 tablespoons canning salt or Kosher salt (or more to taste)

5 cloves garlic

20 ounces water

(Marty's note: I later found from my aunt that it's also traditional to add a bottle of good hoppy beer to the liquid. This isn't that odd: I've put beer in my chili recipe for years.)

Coarsely grind the pork. Add liquid and thoroughly work it into the meat with your hands. Let meat sit overnight in the refrigerator.

Casings: Buy pork casings, which come packed in salt. Soak casings overnight in water and rinse.

Sausage: Place a length of sausage casing at the end of a sausage funnel. Bunch up the casing like a sock or panty hose so that the far end of it is ready to receive the first sausage. Tie off receiving end. Use grinder or Kitchen Aid mixer with sausage attachment to force meat into the casing.

When casing is full, tie off end.

Use the sausage within a few days, or freeze.

Polish sausage can also be smoked, which is how it usually comes in the grocery store. Use fruit wood.

© 1997 Centre Daily Times



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