A few years back I collaborated with some of my fellow English teachers to create a cookbook as a fundraiser for my school’s annual celebration of writers. The entire process of putting this week-long event together is a group effort where each of us contributes our own areas of strength. Some people are good at recruiting professional writers, working with agents, working with numbers and planning. Others are good at organization and presentation. There is someone who gets t-shirts and gear ordered, printed and distributed. A small group weeds through student writing submissions and organizes their presentations. There is another person who books hotels and coordinates pick-ups/drop-offs/entertainment for the professionals. Each year it comes together like magic — I’m not exactly sure how it all works out, but it does. It does.
I, myself, am kind of an introvert — I’m not comfortable trying to persuade anyone, even if it is a cause I believe in. I’m a nervous wreck if I have to introduce an author or performer to an auditorium packed with students (oh the irony, since I am in front of students all day). One thing I am comfortable with is making sure people have something good to eat.
This cookbook was a perfect job for me. Our team got recipes and cooking stories from practically every faculty member in the school. There are even recipes from former students and from authors. It is a book I use a lot when I need inspiration for something to make.
But, for me, the best part of this cookbook was getting recipes from my mother. If this cookbook opportunity didn’t come around, I may not have had the gumption to ask for these recipes from her. What I received was more than just recipes — it was family history. Recipes that are more like family heirlooms. Things that my grandmother used to make. Some things I even remember making with her.
While I hope this cookbook we created generated some much needed green for our Writers Week fund, I treasure this book for more than just that reason.
One of the recipes that my mother passed on to me for this project is this Polish sweet and sour soup. It is so simple and reflects a time period when individuals of little means still could put together something that tasted amazing.
I made this for my family on Valentine’s Day, of all days. Maybe it is because there is a lot of love in the passing down of this recipe from generation to generation. Maybe it is because when my mother made the trek from Michigan to Chicago to help me after each c-section, she always made me this soup. Maybe because the conversation I had with my kids while we ate this last night was about their great-grandmother, whom they never had the opportunity to meet, who made this same soup, too. They were fascinated, wanting to know her name and what she was like.
Nothing says love to me more than that!
If you’d like to try this soup too, here is what you need:
2-3 russet potatoes, peeled (I didn’t peel mine though. I don’t mind my soup littered with potato skins)
1 small head of cabbage, cut into 8ths, core removed
4-6 knockwurst sausages (I used a package of nitrate free, jumbo hotdogs from Trader Joes)
1 package of pre-cooked Polish kielbasa sausage (you know the stuff they sell in rings)
Water (to cover potatoes and most of the cabbage)
Salt to taste (I used about 1 tsp)
3/4 Cup white vinegar
3/4 Cup white sugar
My mother explained that there really isn’t a formal recipe for this soup. It is a handed-down, peasant soup which relies more on the way it looks and tastes rather than precise measurements. Hopefully as you make it you can adjust ingredients to suit your own tastes.
Cut up your peeled potatoes into chunks and core/cut your cabbage. Put these in a large stock pot or dutch oven and cover mostly with water. Bring this water to a boil. Turn it down to simmer and cover, allowing the vegetables to cook part way (about 10-15 minutes).
Once the veggies are starting to soften, add your salt, sugar, vinegar, and sausages (cut into 3-4 inch pieces). Stir and bring back to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer again and cook, covered, for at least another 20-30 minutes or until ready to eat.