Monday, February 1, 2010

"The Jews of Poland - Recollections and Recipes" - Chicken Soup with Almonds

Date I made this recipe: January 31, 2010

The Jews of Poland – Recollections and Recipes by Edouard de Pomiane, Translated from the French by Josephine Bacon
Published by: Pholiota Press, Inc.
Originally published in French in 1929; this edition © 1985
Recipe: Chicken Soup with Almonds p. 71-72

Well call me magazine geek but I love reading the Smithsonian (magazine) because every month I get to either learn or relearn something of interest. The magazine covers it all-arts, science, travel and history. Can more fun be had? I think not.

The recent issue, February 2010, for example, contained an article about the Egyptian Sphinx, a recap of the infamous sit-in at the Woolworth’s Counter in Greensboro, NC during the civil rights movement, and an article about Auschwitz, the famous Nazi concentration camp located just outside Krakow Poland.

My husband and I visited Krakow back in 1995, all due to an issue of the Smithsonian, but it wasn’t an article about Auschwitz that drove us there but rather a fascinating article about Krakow’s famous 700 year-old underground salt mines. (Who knew?)

At the time of the article, Andy and I were toying with the idea of going to Eastern Europe but had not considered going to Krakow. Initially, he was not too keen on going, particularly since it was a 10-hour train ride from Prague to Krakow but as I am wont to do, I beg, pleaded and whined in order to get my way and so we embarked on the train and were off and running (at train speed though, which is to say somewhat slow).

Years later, we both agree that it was one of the highlights of the trip. Krakow is absolutely beautiful having been spared the devastating bombs raids of Allied and enemy (Axis) forces during WWII. And the salt mines were really, really interesting, even though they were further down in the ground than I was comfortable going. (Believe it or not, there is a huge chapel and ballroom carved from salt where many locals hold their weddings.) But the big draw to Krakow is, of course, to tour the prison camps of Auschwitz and neighboring Birkenau.

As a kid, I was an avid reader (well, okay, I still am) and I must have read Anne Frank’s diary over and over again (and finally visited the museum in Amsterdam years later) and that started a whole wave of reading regarding Hitler’s Germany during WWII. I mean, do you know of another teenage girl who did a book report on The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich while in high school?

And so, dear reader, there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to take a peek at the camp while I was in the neighborhood. And I have to say, it was a surreal experience.

On the one hand, the camp is so pristine today that it looks like it could have been used as a summer camp for inner-city youth. And so it’s hard to reconcile what went on there with how it currently looks—flowers are growing, buildings are pristine and “guards” are friendly.

On the other hand, while you are there, you also see the things left behind by the prisoners – suitcases, clothing, shoes, hair – all piled a mile high and deep such that you are just rendered speechless. And then there’s the movie about the camp’s liberation and you are just shocked beyond belief at the condition of the human body of those who somehow remained standing to the last days. But the thing that stays with me always is the photograph of a woman who could have been my grandmother (with beautiful, white hair and just a lovely, wrinkled face) who was one of the first political prisoners in the camp. (My grandmother was Catholic but grew up in Austria Hungary so I suppose anything would have been possible had she stayed put in Europe). And you just have to ask yourself “Why” a million times and even then it just doesn’t make sense.

And so how this whole experience comes full circle is that according to the article in the Smithsonian, January 27th was the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Birkenau and so I decided to pull out a cookbook I bought a long time ago at Kitchen Arts and Letters in New York and make a commemorative dinner. Many of the recipes were a little intimidating because they called for meats I didn’t want to use or schmaltz – chicken or goose fat – but I forged ahead until I came to this simple soup. It seemed the least that I could do.

Since this book was written before Hitler started his quest for the “final solution,” it doesn’t discuss anything about the war and all of the photos of cities in Poland such as Krakow (also spelled Cracow) and Warsaw are from 1929 when things we still all fine and dandy. And this people, is why the Smithsonian comes in darned handy sometimes. It fills in the gaps and makes us think and learn and connect and go “ah ha!” I like that about a magazine. This one connected an historic event to a cookbook I owned and as Martha Stewart says “that’s a good thing.”

To read the article in question, go to and look for the article Can Auschwitz Be Saved? by Andrew Curry (February 2010 issue). (An even better idea is to become a member of the Smithsonian Institution via the magazine—a subscription gets you entry to all the Smithsonian museums in Washington (and the gift shops—most important) as well as the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York City (equally as cool)).

Chicken Soup with Almonds – 8-10 servings
NOTE: This recipe takes 6-8 hours to make. Plan ahead!
2 ½ pounds chicken, preferably a boiling fowl, cut into 8 serving pieces (Note: allow a ½ hour to kosher the chicken, instructions below)
Coarse (kosher) salt
1 tablespoon of chicken or goose fat (I checked online and the standard substitute seemed to be Canola oil so I went with that.)
3 medium carrots, sliced into julienne strips
2 small turnips, sliced into julienne strips
2 leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon salt
20 almonds, blanched and ground or 4 tablespoons almond meal (Believe it or don’t, I actually had a small stash of blanched almonds in my cupboard. Score!)
½ teaspoon paprika

To kosher the chicken, sprinkle it with the coarse (kosher) salt, leave it sit for 30 minutes, then rinse it thoroughly in running water.

Melt the fat in a Dutch oven or soup pot and sauté the vegetables. As they start to color, add the flour. Stir and allow to brown lightly. Add enough warm water to cover the contents of the post, about 1 pint (16 fl oz). Add the salt and ground almonds. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the chicken pieces to the pot. Add another pint (16 fl oz) and the paprika. Cover the pot tightly and simmer for six to eight hours.

Remove the chicken bones from the liquid, and discard them. Strain the soup and puree the solids. Mix this puree with the soup, season to taste and return to the heat. Serve very hot.

By the way, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t note the irony that the translator of this Jewish cookbook had the last name Bacon.

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