Mar 082019

Today is the birthday (1822) of Jan Józef Ignacy Łukasiewicz, a Polish pharmacist, engineer, businessman, inventor, and one of the most prominent philanthropists in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, crown land of Austria-Hungary. Łukasiewicz was a visionary who saw the potential of petroleum products at a time when the chief fuel powering the Industrial Revolution was coal. He built the world’s first modern oil refinery, discovered how to distill kerosene from seep oil, invented the modern kerosene lamp (1853), created the first modern street lamps in Europe (1853), and constructed the world’s first modern oil well (1854). Chances are you have never heard of Łukasiewicz, yet his inventions changed the world. It should be noted, in small mitigation, that kerosene can be made in different ways and was known in antiquity. While Łukasiewicz perfected his method, others were working in Canada and the US on the production of kerosene from coal as a byproduct of gas production.

Ignacy Łukasiewicz was born in Zaduszniki, near Mielec, in the Austrian Empire (after the Partitions of Poland) as the youngest of five children. His family was of Armenian origin. His parents were Apolonia, née Świetlik, and Józef Łukasiewicz, a member of the local intelligentsia nobility entitled to use the Łada coat of arms and a veteran of Kościuszko’s Uprising. The family rented a small manor in Zaduszniki but, soon after Ignacy’s birth, was forced by financial difficulties to relocate to the nearby city of Rzeszów. There Ignacy entered the local secondary school (Konarski’s Gymnasium), but failed to pass the examinations and left in 1836. In order to help his parents and financially support all the relatives, he moved to Łańcut, where he began work as a pharmacist’s assistant. Toward the end of his life, Łukasiewicz often described his childhood as happy; the home atmosphere was patriotic and somewhat democratic, and he commonly recalled his first tutor, Colonel Woysym-Antoniewicz, who resided in their house.

Upon moving to Łańcut, Łukasiewicz also became involved in several political organizations that supported the idea of restoring Polish sovereignty and independence and participated in many political gatherings around the area. In 1840 he returned to Rzeszów, where he continued working at Edward Hübl’s private pharmacy. In 1845 he met diplomat and activist Edward Dembowski, who admitted Łukasiewicz to the illegal “Centralization of the Polish Democratic Society”, a party that focused on radical policies and supported a revolt against the Austrian government. The organization’s aim was to prepare an all-national uprising against all three partitioning powers. Since the movement was seen as a possible danger to the Austrian monarchy, on 19th February 1846 Łukasiewicz and several other members of the party were arrested by the Austrian authorities and imprisoned in the city of Lwów. However, on 27th December 1847 Łukasiewicz was released from prison due to lack of evidence, but for the rest of his life he was regarded as “politically untrustworthy” and often observed by local police who held his records. He was also ordered to remain in Lwów with his elder brother Franciszek.

On 15th August 1848 he was employed at one of the biggest and best pharmacies in Austrian Galicia (so-called “Austrian Poland”); the Golden Star (Pod Złotą Gwiazdą) Pharmacy in Lwów, owned by Piotr Mikolasch. In 1850, a handheld pharmaceutical almanac and a precious document entitled manuskrypt, the joint work of Mikolasch and Łukasiewicz was published. Because of this achievement, the authorities granted him a permit to continue pharmaceutical studies at the Royal Jagiellonian University in Kraków. After several years of studies, financed mostly by Mikolasch, he passed all his university examinations except for that in pharmacognosy (natural plant medicine), which prevented him from graduating. Finally, on 30th July 1852 Łukasiewicz graduated from the pharmacy department at the University of Vienna, where he earned a master’s degree in pharmaceutics. As soon as he returned to the pharmacy of Piotr Mikolasch in Lwów, he began a new phase of his life devoted to the studies of exploiting kerosene.

While oil was known to exist for a long time in the Subcarpathian-Galician region, it was more commonly used as an animal drug and lubricant, but Łukasiewicz was the first person to distill the liquid and was able to exploit it for lighting and to create a brand new industry.

In autumn of 1852 Łukasiewicz, Mikolasch and his colleague John Zeh analyzed the oil, which was provided in a few barrels by traders from the town of Drohobycz.  In early 1854 Łukasiewicz moved to Gorlice, where he continued his work. He set up many companies together with entrepreneurs and landowners. That same year, he opened the world’s first oil “mine” at Bóbrka, near Krosno (still operational in the 21st century). At the same time Łukasiewicz continued his work on kerosene lamps. Later that year, he set up the first kerosene street lamp in Gorlice’s Zawodzie district. In subsequent years he opened several other oil wells, each as a joint venture with local merchants and businessmen. In 1856 in Ulaszowice, near Jasło, he opened an “oil distillery” — the world’s first industrial oil refinery. As demand for kerosene was still low, the plant initially produced mostly artificial asphalt, machine oil, and lubricants. The refinery was destroyed in an 1859 fire, but was rebuilt at Polanka, near Krosno, the following year.

By 1863 Łukasiewicz, who had moved to Jasło in 1858, was a wealthy man. He openly supported the January 1863 Uprising and financed help for refugees. In 1865 he bought a large manor and the village of Chorkówka. There he established yet another oil refinery. Having gained one of the largest fortunes in Galicia, Łukasiewicz promoted the development of the oil industry in the areas of Dukla and Gorlice. He gave his name to several oil-mining enterprises in the area, including oil wells at Ropianka, Wilsznia, Smereczne, Ropa, and Wójtowa. He also became a regional benefactor and founded a spa resort at Bóbrka, a chapel at Chorkówka, and a large church at Zręcin.

As one of the best-known businessmen of his time, Łukasiewicz was elected to the Galician Sejm. In 1877 he also organized the first Oil Industry Congress and founded the National Oil Society. Ignacy Łukasiewicz died in Chorkówka on 7th January 1882 of pneumonia and was buried in the small cemetery at Zręcin, next to the Gothic Revival church that he had financed.

All my life (until recently) I’ve had at least one kerosene lamp and a kerosene stove – for emergencies and for camping. I had pressure lamps and stoves because simple ones with nothing but wicks can produce a fair amount of soot. Pressure equipment provides a more complete combustion of the kerosene as well as a brighter light and stronger heat for cooking. Growing up in Australia we had a kerosene stove in the living room as our sole heating for the winter months, and camping with the boy scouts we used kerosene lamps at night. You could honor Łukasiewicz with a Polish recipe, and a scan through my posts will provide ample selection. Instead, here’s a video on cooking on a kerosene stove (not pressurized), to show how effective even the simplest equipment is. His technique for cooking of eggs is not to be imitated!!

Feb 142019

Today is the birthday (1799) of Walenty Wańkowicz (Lithuanian: Valentinas Vankavičius, Belarusian: Валенты Ваньковіч). Not one of those names that springs to your lips, but I chose him because his name is a cognate of Valentine. He was a Polish painter of Belarusian origin whose paintings are better known in Slavic countries than in Western Europe.

Wańkowicz was born on the family estate near Minsk. He was brought up with Polish culture and Catholic faith, however, also with his Belarusian (Ruthenian) noble ancestry in mind. From 1811 he attended a Jesuit academy in Polotsk, where he was trained in civil and military architecture and drawing. His teacher was Jakub Pesling. Wańkowicz graduated here in 1817 with honors. In 1818 he enrolled at the University of Vilnius and studied there under Jan Rustem and Jan Damel. From 1825 to 1829 he attended the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. In Petersburg he made many friends among the rich and famous. One of these was the young, but already celebrated, poet Adam Mickiewicz, he portrayed him at the turn of the year 1827/1828 (Portrait of Adam Mickiewicz on the Ayu-Dag Cliff).

Around this time, he also painted portraits of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, the pianist Maria Szymanowska as well as of the poet and satirist Antoni Gorecki (an uncle of the artist).

In the following years Wańkowicz lived near Minsk in Ślepianka Mała and in Minsk itself, where he had a studio together with Jan Damel.  From here he frequently traveled to Vilnius, whose Malszene exerted a great influence on the painters in Minsk. He painted a number of portraits including the allegorical portrait of Napoleon “Napoleon before the fire.”

In recognition of his artistic achievements, the Senate appointed him in 1832 as a member of the Academy. By the end of 1839 he began traveling. In 1840 he lived for some time in Dresden, followed by short stays in Berlin, Munich, and Strasbourg. In 1841 he reached Paris, where he remained until his death in 1842. Wańkowicz was buried in the Cimetière de Montmartre.

Zhurek is a well-loved Polish soup of Belarusian origin, much like Wańkowicz – so it seems fitting. It has kvass at its base, a beverage made from fermented rye flour or rye bread, commonly drunk throughout Slavic territories. It gives a strong sour note to the soup. You will need to begin preparations 5 days in advance.




¾ cup rye flour
2 cups water boiled and cooled to lukewarm


½ lb peeled and chopped soup vegetables (carrots, parsnips, celery root, leeks)
6 cups beef stock
½ lb fresh (white) Polish sausage biały kiełbasa
1 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups kvass
1 garlic clove crushed with ½ tsp salt to make a paste
3 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled and halved


To make the kvass

In a medium bowl, mix together the rye flour and lukewarm water. Pour into a glass jar or ceramic bowl that is large enough for the mixture to expand. Cover with cheesecloth and let stand in a warm place for 4 to 5 days. This should make 2 cups or enough for the soup. Strain through muslin and store in the refrigerator after it has fermented.

To make the soup

In a large soup pot, bring the soup vegetables and the stock to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the sausage and cook another 30 minutes. Remove the sausage from soup, slice when cool enough to handle, and set aside. Strain the stock through a sieve, pressing on the vegetables to extract as much flavor as possible. Discard the vegetables, skim the fat off the stock and return the stock to a clean soup pot.

Add the potatoes and kvass to the stock, adding salt if necessary. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook until the potatoes are al dente. Add the reserved sliced cooked sausage and garlic-salt paste. Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender.

Serve in heated bowls with half a hard-cooked egg in each serving, and rye bread on the side.

Sep 272018

Today is a big day in Poland. It is the birthday (1533) of Stefan Batory (Hungarian: Báthory István), a Hungarian-born noble who was voivode (highest official) of Transylvania (1571–76), prince of Transylvania (1576–86), and from 1576 queen Anna Jagiellon’s husband and, thereby, jure uxoris king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania (1576-1586). Batory is my main subject today, but look at all the Polish anniversaries. On this date in 1331, Poland fought the Teutonic Order at the Battle of Płowce, and on this date in 1422, after the brief Gollub War, the Teutonic Knights signed the Treaty of Melno with Poland and Lithuania. Today is also the birthday of Stanisław Kazimierczyk (1433), Polish canon regular and saint, and of Hieronymus Łaski (1496), Polish diplomat. In 2013 today was declared Polish Underground State’s Day, Dzień Podziemnego Państwa Polskiego, set on the anniversary of the formation of Service for Poland’s Victory. Służba Zwycięstwu Polski (Service for Poland’s Victory, or Polish Victory Service, abbreviated SZP) was the first Polish resistance movement in World War II. It was created by the order of general Juliusz Rómmel on 27th September 1939, when the siege of Warsaw, where Rómmel commanded Polish defence, was nearing its end (Warsaw capitulated the following day).

Stefan Batory was the son of Stephen VIII Báthory and a member of the Hungarian Báthory noble family. Batory while a ruler of Transylvania in the 1570s, defeated another challenger for that title, Gáspár Bekes. In 1576 Báthory became the third elected king of Poland. He worked closely with chancellor Jan Zamoyski. The first years of his reign were focused on establishing power, defeating a fellow claimant to the throne, Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, and quelling rebellions, most notably, the Danzig rebellion. He reigned only a decade, but is considered one of the most successful kings in Polish history, particularly in the realm of military history. His signal achievement was his victorious campaign in Livonia against Russia in the middle part of his reign, in which he repulsed a Russian invasion of Commonwealth borderlands and secured a highly favorable treaty of peace (the Peace of Jam Zapolski).

Batory was born in the castle at Somlyó, also known as Szilágysomlyó (today’s Șimleu Silvaniei). Little is known about his childhood. Around 1549-1550, he briefly visited Italy and probably spent a few months attending lectures at Padua University. Upon his return, he joined the army of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, and took part in his military struggle against the Turks. Some time after 1553, Batory was captured by the Turks, and after Ferdinand I refused to pay his ransom, joined the opposing side, supporting John II Sigismund Zápolya in his struggle for power in the Eastern Hungarian Kingdom. As Zápolya’s supporter, Batory acted both as a feudal lord, military commander and a diplomat. During one of his trips to Vienna he was put under house arrest for two years. During this time he fell out of favor at Zápolya’s court, and his position was largely assumed by another Hungarian noble, Gáspár Bekes. Batory briefly retired from politics, but he still wielded considerable influence and was seen as a possible successor to Zápolya.

After Zápolya’s death in 1571, the Transylvanian estates elected Batory voivode of Transylvania. Bekes, supported by the Habsburgs, disputed his election, but by 1573, Batory emerged victorious in the resulting civil war and drove Bekes out of Transylvania. He subsequently attempted to play the Ottomans and the Holy Roman Empire against one another in an attempt to strengthen Transylvania’s position.

In 1572, the throne of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, at the time the largest and one of the most populous states in Europe, was vacated when King Sigismund II of Poland died without heirs. The Sejm (parliament) was given the power to elect a new king, and in the Polish–Lithuanian royal election, 1573 chose Henry of France. Henry soon ascended the French throne and forfeited the Polish one by returning to France. Batory decided to enter into the election; in the meantime he had to defeat another attempt by Bekes to challenge his authority in Transylvania, which he did by defeating Bekes at the Battle of Sinpaul.

On 12th December 1575, after an interregnum of roughly one and a half years, primate of Poland, Jakub Uchański, representing a pro-Habsburg faction, declared Emperor Maximilian II the new monarch. However, chancellor Jan Zamoyski and other opponents of Habsburgs persuaded many of the lesser nobility to demand a Piast king, a Polish king. After a heated discussion, it was decided that Anna Jagiellon, sister of the former King Sigismund II Augustus, should be elected monarch of Poland and marry Batory. In January 1576, Batory passed the mantle of voivode of Transylvania to his brother, Christopher, and departed for Poland. On 1 May 1576 Batory married Anna and was crowned king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania. After being chosen as king in the Polish–Lithuanian royal election, 1576, Báthory also began using the title, prince of Transylvania.

Batory ‘s position was at first extremely difficult, as there was still some opposition to his election. Emperor Maximilian, insisting on his earlier election, fostered internal opposition and prepared to enforce his claim by military action. At first the representatives of Lithuania refused to recognize Batory as grand duke, and demanded concessions – that he return the estates of his wife Anne to the Lithuanian treasury, hold Sejm conventions in both Lithuania and Poland, and reserve the highest governmental official offices in Lithuania for Lithuanians. He accepted the conditions. In June Batory was recognized as grand duke of Lithuania, and duke of Ruthenia and Samogitia.

With Lithuania secure, the other major region refusing to recognize his election was Prussia. Maximilian’s sudden death improved Batory ‘s situation, but the city of Danzig (Gdańsk) still refused to recognize his election without significant concessions. The Hanseatic League city, bolstered by its immense wealth, fortifications, and the secret support of Maximilian, had supported the Emperor’s election and decided not to recognize Batory as legitimate ruler. The resulting conflict was known as the Danzig rebellion. Most armed opposition collapsed when the prolonged siege of Danzig by Batory’s forces was lifted as an agreement was reached. The Danzig army was utterly defeated in a field battle on 17th April 1577. However, since Batory’s armies were unable to take the city by force, a compromise was reached. In exchange for some of Danzig’s demands being favorably reviewed, the city recognized Batory as ruler of Poland and paid the sum of 200,000 zlotys in gold as compensation. Tying up administration of the Commonwealth’s northern provinces, in February 1578 he acknowledged George Frederick as the ruler of the Duchy of Prussia, receiving his feudal tribute.

After securing control over the Commonwealth, Batory had a chance to devote himself to strengthening his authority, in which he was supported by his chancellor Jan Zamoyski, who would soon become one of the king’s most trusted advisers. Báthory reorganised the judiciary by formation of legal tribunals (the Crown Tribunal in 1578 and the Lithuanian Tribunal in 1581). While this somewhat weakened the royal position, it was of little concern to Báthory, as the loss of power was not significant in the short term, and he was more concerned with the hereditary Hungarian throne. In exchange, the Sejm allowed him to raise taxes and push a number of reforms strengthening the military, including the establishment of the piechota wybraniecka, an infantry formation composed of peasants. Many of his projects aimed to modernize the Commonwealth army, reforming it in a model of Hungarian troops of Transylvania. He also founded the Academy of Vilnius, the third university in the Commonwealth, transforming what had been a Jesuit college into a major university. He founded several other Jesuit colleges, and was active in propagating Catholicism, while at the same time being respectful of the Commonwealth policy of religious tolerance, issuing a number of decrees offering protection to Polish Jews, and denouncing any religious violence.

In external relations, Batory sought peace through strong alliances. Though remaining distrustful of the Habsburgs, he maintained the tradition of good relations that the Commonwealth enjoyed with its Western neighbor and confirmed past treaties between the Commonwealth and Holy Roman Empire with diplomatic missions received by Maximilian’s successor, Rudolf II. The troublesome south-eastern border with the Ottoman Empire was temporarily quelled by truces signed in July 1577 and April 1579. The Sejm of January 1578 gathered in Warsaw was persuaded to grant Batory subsidies for the inevitable war against Muscovy. A number of his trusted advisers were Hungarian, and he remained interested in Hungarian politics. In addition to Hungarian, he was well versed in Latin, and spoke Italian and German; he never learned the Polish language, however.

Before Batory’s election to the throne of the Commonwealth, Ivan the Terrible of Russia had begun encroaching on its sphere of interest in the northeast, eventually invading the Commonwealth borderlands in Livonia. The conflict would grow to involve a number of nearby powers (outside Russia and Poland-Lithuania, also Sweden, the kingdom of Livonia and Denmark-Norway). Each of them was vying for control of Livonia, and the resulting conflict, lasting for several years, became known as the Livonian War. By 1577, Ivan was in control of most of the disputed territory, but his conquest was short-lived. In 1578, Commonwealth forces scored a number of victories in Liviona and begun pushing Ivan’s forces back; this marked the turning point in the war. Batory, together with his chancellor Zamoyski, led the army of the Commonwealth in a series of decisive campaigns taking Polotsk in 1579 and Velikiye Luki in 1580.

In 1581, Stephen penetrated once again into Russia and, on 22nd August, laid siege to the city of Pskov. While the city held, on 13th December 1581 Ivan the Terrible began negotiations that concluded with the Truce of Jam Zapolski on 15th January 1582. The treaty was favorable to the Commonwealth, as Ivan ceded Polatsk, Veliz and most of the duchy of Livonia in exchange for regaining Velikiye Luki and Nevel. Batory’s health declined through the early 1580s and he died on 12 December 1586.  He had no legitimate children, though contemporary rumors suggested he might have had several illegitimate children.

Batory is commemorated to this day in Poland in a number of ways. The most significant to me is the naming of the ocean liner TSS Stefan Batory, flagship of Polish Ocean Lines from 1969 to 1988, the ship I sailed on from London to Montreal when I migrated to North America in 1975. It was by no means as grand as the great Cunard and P&O liners I had sailed around the world on in my younger years, but it was the last sea voyage I took. (I did take a short cruise 10 years ago, but that was a vacation cruise, and, so, does not really count).

I have given recipes for classic Polish dishes in the past, such as, flaki and bigos, so now I want to look at foreign influences on Polish cuisine. When Bona Sforza (of the Milanese house of Sforza) married Sigismund I of Poland in 1518, she brought a number of Italian cooks with her who greatly influenced the ciusine. Although native vegetable foods were an ancient and intrinsic part of the cuisine, Bona’s reign began a period in which vegetables like lettuce, leeks, celeriac and cabbage were more widely used. Even today, some of those vegetables are referred to in Polish as włoszczyzna, a word derived from Włochy, the Polish name of Italy. Zupa pomidorowa, is Polish tomato soup with a long heritage, probably descended from Italian soup preparation, and undoubtedly popular in Batory’s day.

Zupa Pomidorowa


6 cups meat broth
1 lb “Italian” soup vegetables (celery, leek, celeriac, cabbage), washed and roughly chopped
5 medium carrots, scrubbed
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
1 tbsp butter
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 tbsp tomato concentrate (optional)
¾ cup/200 ml sour cream or tart yoghurt plus extra for garnish
2 cups cooked pasta or rice


Put the soup vegetables, carrots, bay leaf and broth into a large pot, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered for about 1 hour. At the end of the cooking process remove the vegetables from the broth, but leave the carrots. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan, then add the diced tomatoes and cook over medium-low heat to a thick consistency. You can add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste at this stage, if you like. When the sauce is well cooked add it to the broth and mix well.

Pour the sour cream or tart yoghurt into a heatproof bowl. Gradually add small amounts of the soup, whisking vigorously at each addition. When you have the cream well combined with the soup pour it back into the soup pot and mix well. Add the pasta or rice and heat through gently.

Serve hot in bowls with an extra dollop of cream or yoghurt for garnish.


Mar 082017

Today’s post is unusual it that I was asked to write it, as opposed to coming up with the idea myself.  My former student, James Knight, asked me to celebrate Jan Potocki on his birthday, so here is my effort James. I will confess that I am mostly flying in the dark. At minimum I expect a comment in the comment section below !!

Count Jan Potocki, nascent ethnologist, traveler, Polish nobleman, captain of army engineers, Egyptologist, linguist, adventurer and popular author, was born on this date in 1761. Potocki is not exactly a household name outside of Poland.  If he is known at all it is chiefly for his novel, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. A complex work that is somewhat comparable to Arabian Nights or Decameron. The book is unusual in that the original French version is lost and has had to be reconstructed by back translation from a Polish language translation made after his death.  Almost sounds like a Borges novel. In recent years the French edition has been supplemented by early drafts in French found in manuscript collections of his heirs. There are now two French versions because Potocki revised his ideas several times over the years that he was constructing the novel, hence the tone of the two versions is quite different.

Potocki was born into an aristocratic family, that owned vast estates across Poland. He was educated in Geneva and Lausanne, served twice in the Polish Army as a captain of engineers, and spent some time on a galley as novice to the Knights of Malta. He journeyed across Europe, Asia and North Africa, where he got involved in political intrigues, and secret societies, and contributed to the birth of ethnology with his travel diaries. He also investigated the precursors of the Slavic peoples from a linguistic and historical standpoint.

Potocki married twice and had five children. His first marriage ended in divorce, and both marriages were the subject of scandalous rumors. In 1812, disillusioned and in poor health, he retired to his estate at Uładówka in Podolia, suffering from “melancholia” (which today would probably be diagnosed as depression), and during the last few years of his life he completed his novel. Believing he was becoming a werewolf, Potocki committed suicide by fatally shooting himself with a silver bullet that he had blessed by his village priest in December 1815, at the age of 54.

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is a collection of intertwining stories, set in whole or in part in Spain, with a large and colorful cast of gypsies, thieves, inquisitors, a cabbalist, a geometer, the cabbalist’s beautiful sister, two Moorish princesses (Emina and Zubeida) and others. The book’s outer frame tale is narrated by an unnamed French officer who describes his fortuitous discovery of an intriguing Spanish manuscript during the sack of Zaragoza in 1809, in the course of the Napoleonic Wars. Soon afterwards the French officer is captured by the Spanish and stripped of his possessions. But a Spanish officer recognizes the manuscript’s importance, and during the French officer’s captivity the Spaniard translates it for him into French. The manuscript has been written by a young officer of the Walloon Guard, Alphonse van Worden. In 1739, while en route to Madrid to serve with the Spanish Army, he is diverted into Spain’s rugged Sierra Morena region. There, over a period of sixty-six days, he encounters a varied group of characters who tell him an intertwining series of bizarre, amusing and fantastic tales which he records in his diary.

The bulk of the stories revolve around the gypsy chief Avadoro, whose story becomes a frame story itself. Eventually the narrative focus moves again toward van Worden’s frame story and a conspiracy involving an underground — or perhaps entirely hallucinated — Muslim society, revealing the connections and correspondences between the hundred or so stories told over the novel’s sixty-six days.

The stories cover a wide range of genres and subjects, including the gothic, the picaresque, the erotic, the historical, the moral and the philosophic; and as a whole, the novel reflects Potocki’s far-ranging interests, especially his deep fascination with secret societies, the supernatural and Oriental cultures. The novel’s stories-within-stories sometimes reach several levels of depth, and characters and themes — a few prominent themes being honor, disguise, metamorphosis and conspiracy — recur and change shape throughout.

The national dish of Poland is bigos and I gave a decent commentary and recipe here when celebrating another Pole with a French connexion: Marie Curie —  Another great Polish soup/stew is flaki or flaczky which gives me the opportunity to indulge my tripe obsession.  Modern Poles who don’t care for tripe substitute chicken or rabbit, which I consider intolerably craven.  The main seasoning is marjoram, which is an underused herb in most parts these days.  You really need to use it fresh for maximum flavor. It’s hard to find fresh in stores, but easy to grow.



1 lb parboiled tripe, cut into 1½-inch by ¼-inch pieces
1 meaty beef shank
1 stalk celery, chopped small
1 cup chopped leeks (white parts only)
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of marjoram, leaves only
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups beef stock or use canned
½ teaspoon allspice
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp paprika


In a heavy 8- to 10-quart soup pot place the tripe, beef shank, celery, leek, garlic, bay leaves, freshly ground black pepper to taste, beef stock, and water. Simmer partially covered for about 1 to 2 hours.  The time depends on how soft you want the tripe.

Remove the beef shank and chop the meat. Discard the bone and return the meat to the pot.

Add the marjoram, tomato paste, and salt to taste. Simmer for an additional ½ hour, covered.

Prepare a roux by melting the butter in a small frying pan and stirring in the flour and paprika. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the roux is light brown. Whisk the roux into the pot a small piece at a time and continue to simmer until the flaki thickens.

Serve in deep bowls with rye bread.

Aug 022016


Today is the birthday (1865) of John Radecki (also known as Johann and Jan Radecki) who was a master stained glass artist who was born in Poland but spent most of his professional life working in Australia. He is considered one of the finest stained glass artists of his era. Rather than dwelling exclusively on Radecki, I’m going to take a peek at stained glass manufacture in general, although this will just be a peek.

Colored glass has been produced since ancient times. Both the Egyptians and the Romans excelled at the manufacture of small colored glass objects. Phoenicia was also important in glass manufacture with its chief centers in Sidon, Tyre and Antioch. In early Christian churches of the 4th and 5th centuries, there are a few remaining windows which are filled with ornate patterns of thinly-sliced alabaster set into wooden frames, giving a stained glass like effect. Evidence of stained glass windows in churches and monasteries in Britain can be found as early as the 7th century. The earliest known reference dates from 675 when Benedict Biscop imported workmen from France to glaze the windows of the monastery of St Peter which he was building at Monkwearmouth. Hundreds of pieces of colored glass and lead, dating back to the late 7th century, have been discovered here and at Jarrow.


In the Middle East, the glass industry of Syria continued during the Islamic period with major centers of manufacture at Ar-Raqqah, Aleppo and Damascus and the most important products being highly transparent colourless glass and gilded glass, rather than colored glass. The production of colored glass in Southwest Asia existed by the 8th century, at which time the alchemist Jābir ibn Hayyān, in Kitab al-Durra al-Maknuna, gave 46 recipes for producing colored glass and described the technique of cutting glass into artificial gemstones.


Stained glass, as an art form, reached its height in the Middle Ages when it became a major pictorial form used to illustrate the narratives of the Bible. In the Romanesque and Early Gothic period, from about 950 to 1240, the untraceried windows demanded large expanses of glass which of necessity were supported by robust iron frames, such as may be seen at Chartres Cathedral and at the eastern end of Canterbury Cathedral. As Gothic architecture developed into a more ornate form, windows grew larger, affording greater illumination to the interiors, but were divided into sections by vertical shafts and tracery of stone. This elaboration of form reached its height of complexity in the Flamboyant style in Europe, and windows grew still larger with the development of the Perpendicular style in England.


During the Renaissance stained glass work flourished, beginning with the windows in Florence Cathedral. The stained glass includes three ocular windows for the dome and three for the facade which were designed from 1405-1445 by several of the most renowned artists of this period: Ghiberti, Donatello, Uccello and Andrea del Castagno. Each major ocular window contains a single picture drawn from the Life of Christ or the Life of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by a wide floral border, with two smaller facade windows by Ghiberti showing the martyred deacons, St Stephen and St Lawrence. One of the cupola windows has since been lost, and that by Donatello has lost nearly all of its painted details.


In Europe, stained glass continued to be produced with the style evolving from the Gothic to the Classical, which is well represented in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, despite the rise of Protestantism. In France, much glass of this period was produced at the Limoges factory, and in Italy at Murano, where stained glass and faceted lead crystal are often coupled together in the same window. Ultimately, the French Revolution brought about the neglect or destruction of many windows in France. During the Reformation, in England large numbers of Medieval and Renaissance windows were smashed and replaced with plain glass. The Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII and the injunctions of Thomas Cromwell against “abused images” (that is, veneration), resulted in the loss of thousands of windows. Few remain undamaged. With this wave of destruction the traditional methods of working with stained glass died and were not to be rediscovered in England until the early 19th century.

Some Medieval and Renaissance stained glass techniques (and glass making techniques in general) have, in fact, been completely lost despite continued efforts to re-create them. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw its own renaissance, of which John Radecki was a major contributor.

Radecki was born 2 August 1865 in Łódź in Poland, son of Pavel Radecki, a coal miner, and his wife Victoria, née Bednarkiewicz. Jan trained at a German art school at Poznań. With his parents and four siblings he migrated to Australia, reaching Sydney in January 1882. The family settled in Wollongong in New South Wales, where he and his father in the coalmines. His parents had two more children in Australia. Jan moved to Sydney in 1883 where he attended art classes. He boarded with the Saunders family from England and on 17 May 1888 married their daughter Emma. He became a naturalized Australian citizen under the name John in November 1904 (aged 39).


From 1885 Radecki had been employed by Frederick Ashwin, who taught him to work with glass. In the 1890s the two men had crafted stained glass windows entitled ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (St Paul’s Church, Cobbitty) and `Nativity’ (St Jude’s, Randwick). Other works included a window at Yanco Agricultural College, produced in 1902 by F. Ashwin & Co. reputedly to Radecki’s design, and the chancel window (1903) in St Clement’s, Mosman. His first, major independent work was the ‘Te Deum’ window in Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney, in 1906. Ashwin and Radecki also collaborated on windows in St James’s, Forest Lodge, and St John’s, Campbelltown.

After Ashwin’s death in 1909, Radecki became chief designer for J. Ashwin & Co, in partnership with Frederick’s brother John; he was proprietor of the company from John Ashwin’s death in 1920 until 1954. The firm was the largest glassmaking establishment in Sydney, with a high reputation. Radecki’s work included windows in such churches as St John the Evangelist’s, Campbelltown, St Patrick’s, Kogarah, St Joseph’s, Rockdale, St Matthew’s, Manly, and Our Lady of Dolours’, North Goulburn, Scots Kirk, Hamilton, Newcastle, and the Presbyterian Church, Wollongong.

Here’s a small gallery.

glassjr5 glassjr3 glassjr1 glassjr4

Certainly Radecki spent most of his life in Australia, but I guarantee that like most European immigrants he retained his Polish roots all of his life despite assimilating in to Australian culture. So, I am going to give a recipe for a classic Polish dish, golonka, or pork knuckle. Central Polish cuisine is a mix of Slavic and German traditions, and classic golonka is much the same as the German Schweinehaxe. I’ll give you a recipe although there’s really not much need. The main difficulty is finding the pork knuckle. You’ll need a good pork butcher. Also, you need a fresh one, not smoked or pickled. That’s the real challenge.

Pork knuckle is classic poor food which has since been elevated to gourmet status. Knuckle is actually quite delicious is cooked properly, but you have to take time. If you go whole hog (sorry !), it’s a three day process – 1. Marinating 2. Poaching 3. Roasting. Two works for me.




1 large fresh pork hock per person
light stock
1 bay leaf
6 black peppercorns
2 juniper berries
1 large carrot
1 large onion, quartered
1 parsnip
1 rib celery
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp caraway seeds


10 oz Polish beer
4 tbsp honey


Put the hocks in a large, heavy pot, cover with water or light stock, add the vegetables and flavorings (including salt to taste), and gently simmer on low heat for at least 2 hours, or until the meat is falling from the bone. This might take 3 hours or longer depending on the meat.

Remove the hocks from the stock with a slotted spoon and reserve the liquid.

Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C.

Place the hocks in a deep baking pan.

Mix the beer and honey together in a small saucepan and add 2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking broth. (The rest you should use for soup or stock). Heat the glaze to dissolve the honey, then pour it over the hocks.

Bake the hocks for about 40 minutes, or until the glaze is golden.

Serve with boiled potatoes. If you want you can make a gravy with the reserved cooking liquid, by adding a roux or cornstarch as thickener.


Mar 042014


Today is Saint Casimir’s Day. Saint Casimir Jagiellon (October 3, 1458 – March 4, 1484) was a crown prince of the Kingdom of Poland and of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania who became a patron saint of Lithuania, Poland, and the also of the young. His feast day is marked annually with Kaziuko mug? (a trade fair) held on the Sunday nearest to March 4, the anniversary of his death, in Vilnius.


Casimir was a member of the Jagiellon dynasty. He was born at Wawel, the royal palace in Kraków (in present-day Poland). Casimir was the third child and the second son of the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Casimir IV and Queen Elisabeth Habsburg of Hungary. From the age of nine, Casimir and his brother Vladislaus II were educated by the Polish priest Jan Długosz. The boys were taught Latin and German, law, history, rhetoric, and classical literature. D?ugosz was a strict and conservative teacher who emphasized ethics, morality, and religious devotion. Długosz noted Casimir’s skills in oratory when he delivered speeches to greet his father returning to Poland in 1469, and Jakub Sienienski, the Bishop of Kujawy, in 1470.

Casimir’s uncle Ladislaus the Posthumous, King of Hungary and Bohemia, died in 1457 at the age of 17, without leaving an heir. St. Casimir’s father, King Casimir IV, subsequently advanced his claims to Hungary and Bohemia, but could not enforce them due to the Thirteen Years’ War (1454–66). Instead, Hungarian nobles elected Matthias Corvinus, and Bohemian nobles selected George of Poděbrady as their kings. George of Poděbrady died in March 1471. In May 1471, Vladislaus II, eldest son of Casimir IV, was elected to the throne of Bohemia. However, a group of Catholic Bohemian nobles supported Matthias Corvinus instead of Vladislaus II. In turn, a group of Hungarian nobles conspired against Matthias Corvinus and invited the Polish king to overthrow him. King Casimir IV decided to install his son, future Saint Casimir, in Hungary.


Poland amassed an army of 12,000 men, commanded by Piotr Dunin and Dziers?aw of Rytwiany. Both King Casimir and Prince Casimir participated in the campaign. In October 1471, the Polish army crossed the Hungarian border and slowly marched towards Buda. Matthias Corvinus managed to win over the majority of the Hungarian nobles, including the main conspirator Archbishop János Vitéz, and the Polish army did not receive the expected reinforcement. Only Deák, Perény and Rozgonyi families sent troops. Upon hearing that Corvinus’ army of 16,000 men was camped outside of Pest, the Polish army decided to retreat from Hatvan to Nitra. There the soldiers battled food shortages, spreading infectious diseases, and the upcoming winter. The Polish King also lacked funds to pay the mercenaries. As a result, the Polish army decreased by about a third. In December 1471, Prince Casimir, fearing for his safety, was sent to Jihlava closer to the Polish border and further eroded their soldier’s morale. Corvinus took Nitra and a one-year truce was completed in March 1472 in Buda. Prince Casimir returned to Kraków to resume his studies with Długosz.

Długosz remarked that Prince Casimir felt “great sorrow and shame” regarding the failure in Hungary. Polish propaganda, however, portrayed him as a savior, sent by divine providence, to protect the people from a godless tyrant (i.e. Matthias Corvinus) and marauding pagans (i.e. Muslim Ottoman Turks). Prince Casimir was also exposed to the cult of his uncle King W?adys?aw III of Poland who died in the 1444 Battle of Varna against the Ottomans. This led some researchers, including Jacob Caro, to conclude that the Hungarian campaign pushed Prince Casimir into religious life.

Given that his elder brother, Vladislaus II, ruled Bohemia, Prince Casimir became crown prince and heir apparent to the throne of Poland and Lithuania. Italian humanist writer Filippo Buonaccorsi (also known as Filip Callimachus) was hired to become Casimir’s tutor in political matters, but his Renaissance views had less influence on Casimir than Długosz. In 1474, the Italian merchant and traveler Ambrogio Contarini met with Prince Casimir and was impressed by his wisdom. Prince Casimir completed his formal education at age 16 and spent most of his time with his father. In 1476, Prince Casimir accompanied his father to Royal Prussia to attempt to settle a dispute over Warmia, a region of Poland. In 1478 Seimas of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania demanded that King Casimir IV leave either Prince Casimir or Prince John I Albert in Lithuania as a regent. King Casimir IV feared separatist moods and refused, but after settling the conflict in Prussia, moved to Vilnius.

Between 1479 and 1484 Cosimir’s father spent most of his time in Vilnius attending to the affairs of Lithuania. In 1481, Mikhailo Olelkovich and his relatives planned to murder King Casimir and Prince Casimir during a hunt at a wedding of Feodor Ivanovich Belsky. The plan was discovered and Prince Casimir, perhaps fearing for his safety, was sent to Poland to act as vice-regent. Around the same time his father tried to arrange a marriage with Kunigunde of Austria, daughter of Emperor Frederick III. It is often claimed that Prince Casimir refused the match, preferring to remain celibate and sensing his approaching death. According to Maciej Miechowita, Prince Casimir developed tuberculosis. In May 1483, Prince Casimir joined his father in Vilnius. There, after the death of Andrzej Oporowski, Bishop and Vice-Chancellor of the Crown, Prince Casimir took over some of his duties in the chancellery. However, his health deteriorated while rumors about his piousness and good deeds spread further. He was known for his charitable work and help to the needy. In February 1484, the Polish parliament (general sejm) in Lublin was aborted as King Casimir IV rushed back to Lithuania to be with his ill son. Prince Casimir died on March 4, 1484, in Hrodna. His remains were interred in Vilnius Cathedral, where a dedicated Saint Casimir’s Chapel was built in 1636.


Surviving contemporary accounts described Prince Casimir as a young man of exceptional intellect and education, humility and politeness, striving for justice and fairness. Early sources do not attest to his piousness or devotion to God, but his inclination to religious life increased towards the end of his life. Later sources provide some stories of Casimir’s religious life. Marcin Kromer (1512–1589) claimed that Casimir refused his physician’s advise to have sexual relations with women in hopes to cure his illness. Other accounts claimed that Casimir contracted his lung disease after a particularly hard fast or that he could be found pre-dawn, kneeling by the church gates, waiting for a priest to open them. The first miracle attributed to Casimir was his appearance before the Lithuanian army during the Siege of Polotsk in 1518. Casimir showed where Lithuanian troops could safely cross the Daugava River and relieve the city, besieged by the army of the Grand Duchy of Moscow. After hearing about this miracle, Casimir’s brother Sigismund I the Old petitioned the pope to canonize Casimir.


Saint Casimir’s painting in Vilnius Cathedral is considered to be miraculous. The painting, probably completed around 1520, depicts the saint with two right hands. According to a legend, the painter attempted to redraw the hand in a different place and paint over the old hand, but the old hand miraculously reappeared. More conventional explanations claim that three-handed Casimir was the original intent of the painter to emphasize the exceptional generosity of Casimir (“But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Matthew 6:3) or that the old hand bled through a coat of new paint (similar to a palimpsest). Around 1636 the painting was covered in gilded silver clothing.

Casimir’s iconography sometimes follows the three-handed painting. He is usually depicted as a young man in long red robe lined with stoat fur. Sometimes he wears a red cap of the Grand Duke of Lithuania, but other times, to emphasize his devotion to spiritual life, the cap is placed near Casimir. Usually he holds a lily, a symbol of virginity, innocence, and purity. He might also hold a cross, a rosary, or a book with words from Omni die dic Mariae (Daily, Daily Sing to Mary). The towns of Kv?darna and Nemunaitis in Lithuania have Saint Casimir depicted on their coat of arms.

He was canonized by Pope Clement VIII in 1602 and is the patron saint of Poland and Lithuania. On June 11, 1948, Pope Pius XII named Saint Casimir the special patron of all youth.

Lithuanian cooking, of course, bears considerable likeness to general eastern European cuisine.  But there are distinctive dishes.  Cepelinai or Didžkukuliai are a national dish of Lithuania, but also also popular in northeastern Poland.  So they seem to me to be perfect to celebrate St Casimir.  They are stuffed potato dumplings.  Their stuffing is commonly pork, but you can use a mixture of beef and pork, mushrooms, or cheese.  This is a classic recipe.  Cepelinai literally means “Zeppelins” because of their shape.




Potato mixture:

8 large Idaho potatoes, peeled and finely grated
2 large Idaho potatoes, peeled, boiled and riced
1 medium onion, peeled and finely grated
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Meat mixture:

1 lb ground pork
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 egg, beaten

Bacon sauce:

8 ounces bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons sour cream



Put the grated potatoes into a large piece of fine-mesh cheesecloth or smooth kitchen towel, grabbing the corners together to form a pouch. Wring the towel over a bowl, straining the excess liquid from the grated potatoes through the cloth, squeezing firmly with your hands until the potatoes are as dry as possible. Put the potatoes into a mixing bowl. Reserve the liquid. Let the starch settle to the bottom of the bowl of liquid, then pour the liquid off; add the starch back to the potatoes. Add the riced potatoes to the grated ones, add salt to taste, and knead well.

For the filling simply combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

Bring a large wide pot of salted water to a boil.

Roll about 1 cup of the potato mixture into a ball with your hands. Gently flatten it into a ½ inch thick round patty. Place ¼ cup of the meat mixture into the center of the potatoes. Cup your hands together to seal the potato into a Zeppelin shape. Repeat forming more cepelinai with the remaining potato and meat mixtures.

Gently slip the cepelinai into the boiling water, allowing the water to return to a boil before the next dumpling is added. Do not overcrowd the cepelinai in the pot. Stir carefully and occasionally. Boil until the dumplings are translucent and the meat is cooked through, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the dumplings using a slotted spoon, drain and place on a heated platter. Work in batches if you are using a small pot.

For the bacon sauce, cook the bacon and onions in a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until the onions are lightly browned. Pour off some of the excess fat. Stir the sour cream carefully into the bacon-onion mixture. Blend well but do not boil. You can also serve the sour cream on the side. Spoon the bacon and onions over the cepelinai and serve.