Random Thoughts

Kielbasi for the holidays

 ... Easter and Christmas

by Natalie Thomson

I come from a WASP family. That initialed title should also include the letters PWOETL on the end which stands for People Who Only Eat To Live. Every evening, Depression or not, the eight people sitting around our padded, white linen draped dining room table were presented with three serving dishes full of meat, potatoes and a vegetable. Chicken was too small for our large family, and turkey was only available on Thanksgiving, or so I was told. Sometimes there was fish (never fileted) or chowder (which seemed to be full of bones and pieces of skin...unless it was yummy corn.) Every night there was pudding with rice and raisins (Yuk!) or pudding with slippery balls of tapioca to roll around your gums until you were told to stop. All menus depended on the time of year in the old days before freezers. Sometimes a large wooden box nailed to the back porch pantry windowsill allowed milk and butter to stay cold during December, January and February. A tube of frozen cream protruding upwards from the top of the milk bottle was quite a treat.

My palate began to flourish when I married into a Russian/Lithuanian family whose matriarch's reputation for gourmet dishes from six countries was spread throughout her wife-stays-at-home community. The other son married a golden-fingered bella, descended from the oven-makings between Rome and Sicily. I provided these women with the pleasure of cooking for someone whose taste buds were just being awakened. I think I invented the puckered smile, complete with joined thumb and forefinger tips airily punctuating my pleasure. It's used worldwide by gastrophiles today.

Hold it.  I'm wandering.  Back to the kielbasi. The J & P Meat Market on the corner of 2nd and Chestnut Sts. in Chelsea, Mass., was owned and run by Frank Pietkiewicz  and his father before him. We were brought there originally by my husband's parents and we saw the day when our trips included our children, born in the 50s. I asked the proprietor once if he planned on his daughter taking over one day and he uttered something similar to a Pssshhhaw! His daughter was preparing for college and degrees.

The couple of steps into his store were on the corner and were well-worn rounded granite (or whatever curbstones are made from). During the holidays, the walking space inside was small due to the additional boxes and barrels of extra groceries to meet the holiday needs of the feasting folks. Sawdust covered the well-worn, uneven wooden floor and covering the counters were bags of fresh baked loaves of chale (pronounced "hully") and darkest brown pumpernickel bread. For the Easter and Christmas festivities, the proprietor made his own fresh kielbasi using his father's recipe for that delectable sweet Polish sausage. He also grated the contents of the small jars of horseradish, colored red by grated beets. In spite of the holiday spirit, the customers kept to their own neighbors, and the out-of-towners kept to their memories.

Yesterday, with no car, I improvised in the local supermarket, picking up a package of Italian sausage.  (That was the only nationality I could see in the meat counter.) I found a jar of red horseradish on the deli counter and a round loaf of pumpernickel bread in the Pepperidge Farm department. I ate enough for breakfast and brought the rest to my son's house for pre-dinner memories. Over fifty years had passed but an urgent longing for those foods, those days, those people was satisfied.

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