Historians divide Polish American immigration into three “waves”, the largest from 1870 to 1914, a second after World War II, and a third after Poland’s independence in 1989 when Poland was freed from Communist rule. Most Polish Americans are descended from the first wave, when millions of Poles fled Polish districts of Germany, Russia, and Austria. This group is often called the za chlebem (for bread) immigrants because most were peasants in Poland who did not own land and lacked basic needs. Substantial research and sociological works such as The Polish Peasant found that many Polish immigrants shared a common objective of someday owning land. U.S. Legislation cut Polish immigration from 1921 to World War II but opened up after World War II to include many displaced persons from the Holocaust.
Immigrants in all three waves were attracted by the high wages and ample job opportunities for unskilled manual labor in the United States and found jobs in American mining, meatpacking, construction, steelwork, and heavy industry—in many cases dominating these fields until the mid-20th century. Over 90% of Poles arrived and settled in communities with other Polish immigrants and the largest such community historically was in Chicago, Illinois.
The first emigrants from Poland were Silesians from the Prussian partition of Poland. They settled in Texas in 1854, creating an agricultural community that carried their native traditions, customs, and language. The land they chose was bare, unpopulated countryside where they created communities. The first home built by a Pole is the John Gawlik House, constructed in 1858. The building still stands and displays a high-pitched roof common in Eastern European architecture.
Poles also settled a farming community in Parisville, Michigan, in 1857. Historians debate whether the community was established earlier, and claims that the community originated in 1848 still exist. The community was started by five or six Polish families who came from Poland by ship in the 1850s and lived in Detroit, Michigan in 1855 before deciding to initiate a farming community in Parisville, where they created prosperous farms and raised cattle and horses. The lands were originally dark black swamps, and the settlers succeeded in draining the land for use as fruit orchards. As per the Swamplands Act of 1850, the lands were legally conferred to pioneering settlers who could make use of these territories. Individual Polish farmers and their families took advantage of this new law, and other immigrants settled disparate areas in interior Michigan independently. The Parisville community was surrounded by Native American Indians who continued to live in teepees during this time. The Poles and the Indians enjoyed good relations and historical anecdotes of gift-giving and resource sharing are documented. Polish farmers were dispersed throughout Michigan, and by 1903 roughly 50,000 Poles were said to live in Detroit.
Polish cuisine is rich in meat, especially pork, chicken and beef, in addition to a wide range of vegetables, spices, and herbs. It is also characteristic in its use of various kinds of noodles as well as cereals and grains. In general, Polish cuisine is hearty and heavy in its use of butter, cream, eggs, and extensive seasoning. Among the well-known Polish national dishes are bigos [ˈbiɡɔs]; pierogi [pʲɛˈrɔɡʲi]; kiełbasa; pork loin kotlet schabowy breaded cutlet [ˈkɔtlɛt sxaˈbɔvɨ]; gołąbki cabbage roll [ɡɔˈwɔ̃pkʲi]; zrazy roulade [ˈzrazɨ]; sour cucumber soup (zupa ogórkowa) [ˈzupa ɔɡurˈkɔva]; mushroom soup, (zupa grzybowa) [ˈzupa ɡʐɨˈbɔva]; tomato soup (zupa pomidorowa) [ˈzupa pɔmidɔˈrɔva]; rosół meat broth [ˈrɔsuw]; żurek sour rye soup [ˈʐurɛk]; flaki tripe soup [ˈflakʲi]; and red beetroot barszcz [barʂt͡ʂ].
A traditional Polish dinner is composed of three courses, beginning with a soup like the popular rosół broth or tomato soup. The soups are followed by an appetizer such as herring (prepared in either cream, oil, or in aspic); or other cured meats and vegetable salads. The main course usually includes a serving of meat, such as roast, breaded pork cutlet, or chicken, with a surówka [suˈrufka], shredded root vegetables with lemon and sugar (carrots, celeriac, seared beetroot) or sauerkraut. The side dishes are usually boiled potatoes, rice or less commonly kasza. Meals often conclude with a dessert including makowiec, a poppy seed pastry, napoleonka cream pie or sernik cheesecake.
These authentic recipes make very generous servings, so for my family, I cut the recipes in half.
Kotlet Schabowy (Polish Pork Chops)
4-6 boneless pork chops
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup flour
3 egg whites or 2 eggs, beaten
1 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/3 vegetable cup oil, more if needed
4-6 pats of butter
Place pork chops between 2 sheets of heavy plastic on a solid, level surface. Firmly pound with the smooth side of a meat mallet, turning occasionally, until ¼-inch thick. Season with salt and pepper.
Pour flour onto a large plate. Whisk eggs in a wide, shallow bowl. Place breadcrumbs and marjoram in a separate shallow bowl.
Dredge chops with flour. Dip in the whisked egg. Coat with bread crumbs on both sides. Shake off excess coating. Place chops on a plate and refrigerate for an hour or until ready to cook.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add breaded chops; cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Place in oven 300 degrees, on a heatproof platter with a pat of butter on top and place a sheet of foil on top while the rest of the dinner is prepared.
16 oz bag sauerkraut
4 oz white button mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste
⅓ cup of water
2 tablespoons flour
Rinse the sauerkraut under running water. Squeeze out excess water and chop it.
In a medium saucepan, heat the butter. Add onions and cook for approximately 5 minutes until they are golden brown. Add the mushrooms. Saute mushrooms and onion for 3 minutes. Add sauerkraut, sugar and bay leaf to the mushrooms; cook and stir for 10 minutes.
Blend the water into the flour. Mix with the sauerkraut mixture and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Discard bay leaves. Garnish with parsley and serve as a side dish.
Pierogies are filled dumplings that are served as a side dish.
1 box Classic Onion or your favorite variety of pierogies ( I used Mrs. T’s® Pierogies)
¼ cup butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh thyme leaves
Place frozen pierogies on a plate in the refrigerator early in the day that they will be cooked.
Polish Walnut Bread
3 cups bread flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 large egg
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix for a few turns to evenly distribute the ingredients. Add the butter cut into cubes and the egg, water, and cream. Mix until combined and the dough begins to stick together. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for about 7 minutes. It should be smooth and soft.
Put the dough in a large buttered bowl and cover it with a towel. Let it rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours, until doubled.
While the dough is rising, prepare the walnut filling:
10 ounces walnuts
4 ounces (1 stick unsalted butter)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
To make the walnut filling:
Put the walnuts in a food processor and process until finely ground.
By hand or in a mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in one egg, vanilla extract, and cinnamon. Add the ground walnuts and mix until incorporated. Set aside.
To make the pastry:
Place the risen dough on a lightly floured board and roll it into a 20- by 15-inch rectangle.
Spread the walnut filling evenly over the dough. From the long end, roll up the dough, pinching the ends to the sides to seal it. Pull the dough to a length of 25 inches and twist the roll into a circle. Place it on a large parchment-lined baking sheet.
Let the dough rise for about 1 1/2 hours until doubled.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly beat the remaining egg and brush it on the dough. Bake the walnut roll for 40 to 45 minutes, until it is a dark golden brown color and registers 200 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer.
Let the walnut roll cool for 15 minutes and then slice it yo serve it warm. The pastry can also be reheated in a 350 degree F oven.