Connecting with my Polish Roots during Lockdown
Photograph by Liz Frost
This photograph shows my attempt at Polish cookery during lockdown, when I had time to make the food that I have always loved to eat but haven't tried to make before.
After the initial shock of lockdown in March 2020, there came a time when life seemed to stop. But it was not a peaceful, tranquil time. It felt uneasy and precarious. All plans were cancelled as everyone sat in their homes, only being allowed out for essential shopping or a daily walk.
It was during this time I was looking for something to fill my days and occupy my mind, so as not to dwell too much on the situation we had found ourselves in. I tried to think of all the things I never usually had the time to do and my thoughts turned to Polish cookery and attempting the recipes for foods that I have always loved to eat but haven’t tried to make.
My Mum would email me her recipes for dishes such as ‘pierogi’ (Polish dumplings), ‘uszka’ (mushroom filled tortellini) and ‘barszcz’ (beetroot soup). I would then attempt over a number of days to source the ingredients. At the time, flour was difficult to obtain, queues outside the shops were lengthy, one-way systems in the supermarkets meant if you missed out an item on your route through, you were unable to turn back within the store to get it. I had to come up with creative substitutions for some of the ingredients that it was not possible to buy.
Making the dishes was very therapeutic, time consuming and absorbing. It was the perfect way to spend some of my lockdown hours. My thoughts at this time turned to my grandparents. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents were taken from their homes in Poland at a young age. My maternal grandparents were sent to Siberia to work in forced labour camps. My paternal grandparents were sent to work as slave labourers on farms in Austria.
During lockdown, I found it difficult to stay away from my family but we had the wonders of modern technology – FaceTime, email and the telephone – to keep in touch daily. My grandparents had no way to keep in touch with their families for many, many years which must have been so difficult to deal with. They lived in dire circumstances and food was scarce. I wondered how this must have impacted on the recipes handed down and how they had to improvise with what they had. They endured extreme hardship but survived and eventually came to settle in the UK, another major experience to arrive in a country not knowing the language or anyone and then making a life there.
Some of my dishes turned out well, others needed a few attempts but I remember thinking a lot about my grandparents’ lives and what brought my family to this country during my weeks in lockdown.