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Preserved food is a staple of Polish cuisine. Glass jars full of colourful pickled vegetables decorate the windows of most Polish restaurants, it makes the most of the country’s sumptuous summer produce through the long winters.
Rediscovering the art of food preservation
When American pickler Jeffrey Yoskowitz led a pickling workshop in Kraków, it was no surprise that he “picked up a number of nifty tips and techniques” from his elderly Polish students. Yoskowitz, Chief Pickler of The Gefilteria, a food venture that reimagines Eastern European Jewish cooking, began pickling in 2008 on a farm in Connecticut after the American recession forced people to fundamentally transform their lifestyles. Yoskowitz, alongside many others, escaped the city and flocked to farm life.
“I found it empowering to learn how to make essential foods from scratch,” he says, speaking to the boom in small-scale agriculture. “Suddenly there was an abundance of vegetables and a real need to learn how to preserve them.”
Pickling, a Jewish cuisine tradition with a storied past – and a bright future
Under the guidance of a Hungarian Jewish farmer, Yoskowitz began to master the art of pickling, delving into its history, and sharing his knowledge with others. He credits his education to the knowledge of Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Hungarian, and Russian Jewish immigrants in the US, his home country, and throughout Europe, where he has traveled extensively, tasting as much as possible. Today, he is the co-author of a cookbook titled The Gefilte Manifesto, which includes a robust pickling section.
“Many countries around the world ferment their vegetables as a method of preservation, and by most accounts the practice was first documented in the Far East,” he says, reminiscing on the unique flavours found in Poland compared with those from Scandinavia and Germany. “Vegetable fermentation takes place around the world, but sour garlic dill pickles made in saltwater are very much an Eastern European speciality.”
Polish specialities and Eastern European savoir-faire
In Poland, Yoskowitz learned the local secrets to making crunchy pickles: using tannin-rich currant leaves and horseradish leaves, soaking cucumbers in ice-water baths, and experimenting with different salt ratios.
He considers sour dill pickles a regional specialty along with pickled watermelon, including its rind; sauerkraut; sauerruben, fermented turnips; and barscz, brine from fermented beets, which is used for a beverage and soup base. Kraków in particular has a number of options for tasting pickled delights.
A wide assortment can be found within the city’s markets, including Nowy Kleparz, established in 1925, which is around the corner from Hotel Indigo Krakow – Old Town. Pickles are also always on the menu at the city’s traditional bar mleczny (milk bars), which offer affordable traditional food. A few of the city’s best known Polish restaurants—Kuchnia u Doroty, Marchewka z Groszkiem, and Pod Baranami, to name a few—include a range of pickled flavours.
And for those who stay up late, have a pickle to chase your vodka shots.