Foreign, Forgotten Food

A Polish Delight

I cannot say with any degree of accuracy when I last ate my grandmother’s kielbasa and pineapple, but when I put my finger to the sauce as the sugars caramelized in the pan, brown bubbles bursting through a sea of sauce, I knew it was well-replicated. Before I did anything–before I smelled, before I tasted–the ingredients merely existing in the same space immediately conjured memories of my grandparents’ kitchen in Hudson, a steaming pot of kielbasa and pineapple stewing on the stove as we walked through the back door for a visit. The smell was sweet, sour, and salty, the sausage co-mingling with the fruit juice and vinegar for a smell you had to stand back to truly appreciate. Many hugs took place in the midst of this aroma, my grandmother’s faint tobacco and bath powder confused with pork and pineapple as she kissed us lightly with her lipsticked lips.

These are also some of my earliest moments of food guilt. No one went home hungry from a Turk family visit, no one left a plate uncleared or a dish untouched. I learned to eat like my grandfather, plate after plate until I couldn’t move for fear of vomiting all over the beige berber carpet. I remember distinctly a family party held in my own home, maybe around the age of 8 or 10. I removed myself from the chatter and cackling laughter of my aunt, the feigned enthusiastic nods from my parents, the genuine smiles of adoration from my grandparents, and retreated to the kitchen. Our small circular dining table was covered with foods: deli meats and cheeses, rolls, mayonnaise and chips, bread bowls and spinach dip, sweet and sour kielbasa and pineapple. I picked chunks of the pink and yellow meats out of the sauce, which had begun to cool after sitting unattended so long on the table and had formed a thick film with globs of pork grease on the top layer of the dish.

My parents were diligent about our diets as kids; they didn’t want us to suffer from high blood pressure or extra weight as we grew up, trying to teach us good habits. They were restrictive; our cabinets rarely housed such goodies as salty, greasy chips and what I term “oral fixation” foods like kielbasa and pineapple, bathed in multifaceted layers of sweet and puckering sour–absolutely addicting. So when my grandfather entered the kitchen and asked casually what I was doing, I pretended to be setting my empty plate down to pet the dog.

It has been years since my mother spoke to my grandparents and we had a family gathering, probably seven this season. Deciding to make this sweet and sour kielbasa dish in the store was exciting, and offering to share this family food with my boyfriend seemed intimate. But, memories continued to surface as the sauce bubbled, and I leaned over the pan to take in the sharp vinegar and immediately felt as if the dish was out of place and my forgotten recollections were somehow seasoned with more brown sugar than they should be.

Nonetheless, I have re-created a dish from ancient history, with a few adjustments of my own. Though my family never ate pierogies, I decided while shopping to have a more complete Polish experience with this meal, taking it from appetizer to main course with the addition of these delicious morsels of starch, potato, and onion that can be purchased in most grocery stores (I don’t have the energy during the school year to make something like pierogies). For reference, I did all of the shopping for this recipe at Aldi’s, and certainly saved a few dollars in doing so.

Sweet and Sour Kielbasa and Pineapple

1 pound kielbasa (approximately 1 ring)
1 fresh pineapple
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1 tsp. salt
approximately 4 tsp. cornstarch or flour
small tab of butter (optional)
splash balsamic vinegar (optional)

-Prepare your kielbasa by cutting into bite-sized chunks, and prepare about 3/4 of the pineapple by skinning and cutting into chunks while saving the juice. I recommend prepping the pineapple in a glass 9×13 pan so you can easily collect the juice but have lots of room to do your work.
-Throw the sauce on! Melt the small tab of butter in the large pan and add the vinegar, pineapple juice, salt, and brown sugar. The butter is for those of us without nonstick pans; it can be left out if you have nonstick, but it does add a little something to the sauce.
-Allow the sauce to bubble, letting the sugars caramelize a bit and the sauce get real hot and thick. You should smell the vinegar but see the sugar getting dark.
-As you continue to cook the sauce, add your starch from time to time (cornstarch or flour) in order to thicken the sauce. It should be thick enough to stick to the spoon but not so thick that it “disappears” as you’re cooking (the flour soaks up the moisture and makes the quantity of sauce appear smaller). You want it thick but sticky.
-Add the kielbasa and pineapple and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes – you want everything to stew together. I added a splash of balsamic vinegar around the end because I like my sweet and sour pretty sour, and balsamic vinegar has a distinctly fruity but tangy taste. This is, of course, optional.
-Prep the pierogies according to the package as the sweet and sour kielbasa and pineapple are stewing in the pan. When all is done, serve hot!! Your dish should look somewhat like mine does in the above picture; you’ll notice I chose to boil the pierogies instead of sauteing them (I figured there was enough fat in the kielbasa where added oil was unnecessary).

This is the perfect winter dinner: steaming hot, rich and heavy in the stomach, and absolutely delicious. It is a very, very satisfying meal, particularly if you have spent the day trekking through the Oswego snowbanks and shoveling out your car. The bright pinks and yellows will certainly brighten up the drab surroundings and give you the energy to go back outside to dig out your porch for the fourth time that day.

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