Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Eve: An Original Memoir Poem

I’ve already begun food preparations for our family’s Christmas Eve dinner. We still dine on traditional Polish foods on December 24th. Fish and pierogis, which look a lot like Chinese potstickers, are what we eat—no meat on Christmas Eve. One of the traditional dishes we don’t eat any longer is jellied carp. EW!!!

Yesterday, I prepared the stuffing for the potato and onion pierogis. Today, I’m going to get to work on the stuffing for the mushroom pierogis—which I make with mascarpone cheese and mushroom duxelles. This weekend my daughter, my two nieces, and I will be stuffing about 150 pierogis. (One of my nieces is going to make the potato and cheese pierogis at her house.) Then we’ll freeze all the pierogis and cook them up just before our Christmas Eve feast.

My older niece, who will be our holiday hostess, will bake haddock and scallops. We’ll also have pickled herring. We’ll serve the fish and pierogis with sour cream, horseradish, and my niece’s delicious homemade tartar sauce.

When I was young, my maternal grandparents hosted the family Christmas Eve dinner. It was always a magic night for me. I loved gathering together with my grandparents, aunts, my uncle, and my first cousins. We always had such fun together. We kids would stuff ourselves with pierogis. We’d dance around the house while my Uncle Benny played his accordion. We’d exchange presents—and share a lot of laughs.

Here’s a memoir poem I wrote about a typical Christmas Eve at my grandparent’s house. The details are still clear in my mind after more than half a century.

By Elaine Magliaro

Just after sunset the whole family gathers
in my grandparents’ kitchen.
My father, Uncle Benny, and Dzidzi
bring up the spare table and chairs from the cellar.
Babci spreads white cloths printed with red ribbons
and bright green wreaths over the two tables.
Then she lays out platters of pierogis,
pillows of homemade dough
stuffed with fluffy mashed potatoes and onions
or sauerkraut, a bowl of jellied carp,
pickled herring smothered in onions,
and small dishes of horseradish
tinted pink with beet juice.
Before eating we stand around the table.
Dzidzi breaks the oplatek,
the thin white wafer blessed by the priest.
When everyone has taken a piece,
Dzidzi gives his blessing,
“May we all be happy, healthy,
and together in the year to come.”

Amy has the Poetry Friday Roundup at The Poem Farm.


Sheri Doyle said...

Beautiful, Elaine!
I'm craving the "pillows of homemade dough." Some of these foods are now familiar to me, thanks to my husband's Hungarian/Polish family dinners.
Thanks for sharing this!

jama said...

Mmmmmmmmmm, delicious poem! I love those pillows of homemade dough, too, though ours were Korean dumplings :). My SIL once made pierogis and I loved them. ♥

Amanda said...

What a gorgeous Christmas Eve! I loved its encasement in a poem.

P.S. - What's a Dzidzi? Grandma? :)

Elaine Magliaro said...


Making pierogis is a lot of work. That's why we do it just once a year!


What kind of pierogis? My paternal grandmother made blueberries pierogis once. They were so delicious.


Dzidzi is what we called our grandfather. We called our grandmother babci.

Amy L V said...

What a heavenly poem to honor your family full of tradition. (I hope you share it with them all.) We called my husband's grandmother Babci, but I don't know if she knew how to make pierogi when she was younger. Yours sound delicious! Merry almost Christmas! A.

ps - My word verification is "motheeri" for a wonderful mother - you!

Doraine said...

Whew! What a lot of work! But what lovely memories.

Carlie said...

So yummy! What a great poem, describing that cozy scene. I wish I could come over and get pierogi lessons. *sigh*

Diane Mayr said...

Thanks for taking me back to the childhood Christmas eves I spent at my Polish family's home in Queens, NY. Since we lived out on the island, we were never around to make the pierogi, but we certainly loved eating them. My favorites were kapusta (cabbage), and cheese. I learned to like the prune filled ones as I got older. I also remember having mushroom barley soup made with dried mushrooms sent from kraju (the old country). And the huge round loaves of black bread that my babci carved pieces from with a large knife. Slathered with unsalted butter. (Drool, drool, drool.) Too many years have passed, too many people are gone...

Elaine Magliaro said...


My maternal grandmother made the most delicious Christmas babka that I have ever tasted. I haven't learned how to make that--or the tasty cabbage soup that my mother used to make. I have become an expert at making potato pancakes though. My husband loves them. On New Year's Eve, I serve them with creme fraiche and caviar.

Diane Mayr said...

I have a great babka recipe that I can send you. It's fairly simple to make, but I don't know how it'll compare to your babci's. Have you ever had sour cream soup? My mother used to make it, and her mother before her. It has only a few ingredients, but my mother died before giving me the recipe, and no one I know has even heard of sour cream soup. A mention of it never fails to be followed by a look of disgust. I, however, loved it. Now, the duck soup made with fresh-killed duck blood, practically has me gagging as I write!

Elaine Magliaro said...


I think I may just have found the babka recipe my grandmother used. It's written in Polish. My mother translated the ingredients into English. I think my Babci used to add some grated orange peel to her bread. Does your recipe call for mace?

My mother used to make two different kinds of beet soup--one was clear and served hot...the other was thickened with sour cream and served cold.

Diane Mayr said...

The sour cream soup I'm looking for is thin, white, has slices of onion, meatballs, and boiled potatoes. It also has some vinegar, salt, and whole allspice. I have no idea if these are all of the ingredients, nor do I know proportions!

Here's the babka recipe. It doesn't use mace or orange peel, but you could always try either one. It makes a nice light loaf.


1/2 cup milk
1 pkg. dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup warm water
3 eggs (separate 1)
2 1/3 cups flour
1/2 cup raisins


2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Scald milk. Pour over sugar, butter and salt; let cool to lukewarm. Meanwhile, dissolve yeast in warm water. Using a mixer, beat the milk mixture, 2 eggs plus extra yolk, and 1 1/2 cups flour. Add yeast. Continue beating in the remaining flour, using a spoon. Beat vigorously for several minutes (dough should leave the side of the bowl). Mix in raisins. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled (approximately 1 hour). Grease and flour loaf pan (9 X 5 X 4"). Beat down dough and pour into pan. Let rise again until doubled (check after 1/2 hour). Carefully brush top with remaining egg white mixed with 1 tablespoon water. Cut butter into topping ingredients to form crumbs. Sprinkle on top of the dough. Bake 350 degrees until done (approximately 45 minutes).

Elaine Magliaro said...

Thanks, Diane!

I'm Jet . . . said...

You've inspired me to write a poem about Christmas with my Swedish grandparents.

I'm getting on it right away, before I lose the inspiration . . .

Merry Christmas!

Short poems said...

Lovely poem, soooooooooooooooo nicely written!
Happy Holiday!