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.


May 262013

Bram Stoker

Annex - Lugosi, Bela (Dracula)_04

On this date in 1897 Bram Stoker’s Dracula was first published.  I first read the book when I was 11 years old.  I bought a used copy from a book stall near Adelaide train station on one of my Saturday jaunts. It cost the equivalent of about 25 cents in today’s money.  I started reading it on the train on the way home, and could not put it down until I was finished. At the time I found the style of the writing rather strange, but engaging.  I suspect that very few people nowadays actually read the book, but know the basics from movies and such.  This is a pity. Even the attempt at sticking to the original in the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula was more or less of a flop in my estimation.  Someone should tell casting directors to stop hiring Keanu Reeves for serious roles (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is more his speed).  In any case, despite the title, the movie did not follow the book particularly closely.

Stoker’s original is what is known as an epistolary novel, that is, the plot moves forward via letters back and forth between key characters, journal entries, newspaper articles and such.  The beginning and the end, however, are conventional prose fiction. I won’t go into details about the plot because I would spoil it for you if you get inspired to read it – which I strongly urge you to do.  Some of the specifics of Stoker’s original conception of Dracula now floating around in folklore are close to accurate.  For example, Dracula does indeed go after beautiful young women, but he does not kill them with a single bite.  Rather he drains their blood slowly over weeks.  As the process progresses he and his victim become mystically attached to one another, able to communicate telepathically. The veiled eroticism is patent to a modern reader.

Although Stoker’s novel is now iconic, it was by no means the first novel about vampires. It was preceded and partly inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 Carmilla, about a lesbian vampire who preys on a lonely young woman, and by Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood, a long (667,000 words), inconsistent, and tedious “penny dreadful” serial published between 1845 and 1847 by James Malcolm Rymer. Many of the images of a vampire adopted by Stoker – fangs, two puncture wounds, hypnotic powers, superhuman strength – come from Rymer.  But his vampire usually appears as a normal human most of the time, and has no fear of garlic or the daylight. Vampirism comes over him in fits, and he despises himself when he is a vampire (a kind of Jekyll and Hyde character).

The image of a vampire portrayed as an aristocratic man, like the character of Dracula, was created by John Polidori in The Vampyre (1819), during the summer spent with Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron in 1816. The Lyceum Theatre, where Stoker worked between 1878 and 1898, was headed by the actor-manager Henry Irving, who was Stoker’s real-life inspiration for Dracula’s mannerisms and whom Stoker hoped would play Dracula in a stage version. Although Irving never did agree to do a stage version (which Stoker eventually wrote and produced), Dracula’s dramatic sweeping gestures and gentlemanly mannerisms drew their inspiration from Irving. It was Stoker’s synthesis of these elements from different sources that created the stereotypical vampire we know today.

What else could I produce for recipes but garlic dishes? Not dishes with garlic in them, but dishes where garlic is the headline star. You get a two-fer today: a garlic sauce from Transylvania, and a garlic soup.  The garlic sauce is a modern recipe and I have no idea what its roots are.  It is superb, though, especially with grilled meats such as lamb or beef.  Grill the meat until it is nearly ready, then spread the sauce thickly on top of it while still on the grill to warm through and suffuse the meat. Or you can serve the sauce chilled at the table for guests to help themselves. The combination of roasted and plain garlic cloves makes the flavor of the soup complex, and using 44 cloves of garlic in total makes it robust.  I recommend making the soup the day before and refrigerating over night for the flavors to marry and mature.

Mujdei De Usturoi, Transylvanian Garlic Sauce


1 head garlic, broken into cloves and peeled
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp kosher salt or table salt
½ cup sour cream
black pepper to taste


Use a mortar and pestle to crush the garlic and salt together into a paste. You can also use a garlic press and then mash the garlic to a paste in a bowl with the back of a spoon. (Or you can use a mini blender or food processor and process, in which case you would add the garlic and oil together.)

Put the garlic paste into a small bowl, and add the oil. Whip with a fork until it becomes fluffy. Add the sour cream and continue to whip until all of the garlic is incorporated. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Garlic Soup


26 garlic cloves (unpeeled)
18 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
2 1/4 cups sliced onions
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
3 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
4 lemon wedges


Preheat oven to 350°F. Place 26 garlic cloves in a small glass baking dish. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake until the garlic is golden brown and tender, about 45 minutes. Cool. Squeeze the garlic between your fingertips to separate the meat from the skin. Discard the skin and put the garlic in a small bowl.

Melt the butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and thyme and cook until the onions are translucent but have not taken on color, about 6 minutes. Add the roasted garlic and 18 raw garlic cloves and cook 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock. Cover and simmer until the garlic is very tender, about 20 minutes.

Purée the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth (working in batches if necessary). Return the soup to the saucepan, add the cream and bring to simmer. Remove from the heat.

Season with salt and pepper.

Divide the grated cheese among 4 bowls and ladle the soup over it. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon wedge into each bowl and serve.

Serves 4