You've got to love a good cookbook, one you can curl up with in front of a fire -- or take with you to read in bed.
"Rose Petal Jam: Recipes and Stories from a Summer in Poland" by Beata Zatorska is one of those rare cookbooks you can wrap your mind around.
It's not written like a cookbook. Zatorska, a physician who was born and raised in Poland, studied medicine in Australia before she married a filmmaker. Zatorska writes like a poet, and plays with words as skillfully as she pickles homegrown cucumbers.
Zatorska's cookbook is a rich blend of Polish culture that melds art, history, music and literature. Its pages are peppered with photographs taken by her husband, Simon Target, during months of travel that began in 2000 when he and Zatorska began to explore her homeland.
"It was an adventure traveling through Poland discovering my grandmother's recipes," Zatorska recalled. "We went to museums, galleries, palaces. I rediscovered Polish poetry. I hadn't read Polish poetry since I was a student in high school, yet I was feeling the same feelings the poets did when they wrote 200 years ago, me a migrant who did not return for 20 years."
Zatorska did not set out to write a cookbook.
"The book started as my memoirs, and I realized writing it that my memory of food is the strongest one," she said during a phone interview from her home in Sydney. "I felt food has a story to it."
And so Zatorska's cookbook tells the stories of poet Adam Mickiewicz, Karol Wojtyla who became Pope Paul II, composer Fryderyk Chopin and cartoonist Zbigniew Lengren. It explores Torun, a university town on the banks of the Vistula River. It takes you on holiday at the Baltic seaside resort of Sopot. And in Zakopane, it discovers a Polish "happy meal" of eight pierogi and a carton of orange juice.
The recipes are introduced with personal stories and illustrated with atmospheric portraits of Polish dishes photographed in the country of their origin.
It is a feast for all senses.
"I remember the taste of fresh chives in spring on bread with butter, much like an herbed bread," Zatorska said. "Touching food is just so important, smelling food in the market. My brain recalls the different textures and the smells. I could never forget the smell of rose petals outside the house."
As you turn the book's thick pages, you may also revisit a time spent in your mother's kitchen. You may recall chicken soup simmering with fat noodles made from dough that you helped to roll. You'll remember the heat from the broth's first spoonful and the satisfaction of that last taste sipped directly from the pink bowl that today sits in the cupboard of your own kitchen.
Zatorska, like many girls of Polish descent, spent much time in the kitchen with her grandmother Jozefa. Her farmhouse was located in a remote village along the foothills of the Karkonosze Mountains of eastern Poland. The food they prepared together was made with ingredients picked fresh from the garden including the book's signature recipe -- rose petal jam.
Jozefa's recipe called for three to four handfuls of rose petals (gathered in the morning before they had been in the sun too long and released their fragrance). After placing the petals in a stone mortar or makutra, add some sugar and crush them with a pestle to form a thick paste.
The preserved jam acts as a "dollop of summer," Zatorska recalled, especially when used in the Polish doughnut paczki, which was served Tuesday to signal the coming of Lent.
Zatorska was born in Jelenia Gora in southwest Poland. She started her medical studies in Wroclaw, but graduated from the University of Sydney, and now works as a family doctor in Australia. Her fascination with medicine began on long mountain walks with her grandmother, who taught her the use of herbs and wildflowers in cooking and healing.
"Rose Petal Jam," first published in London, is now available in Australia and in the United States. It is the first in a series of four cookbooks that will be written by Zatorska and her husband. Each book will continue their exploration of Polish food culture, season by season. The next book, due out in September, will target winter. It includes the celebrations of St. Nicholas Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the New Year's Eve salute to St. Sylvester that continues through the night and is capped by an egg and pierogi breakfast at dawn.
Polish cooking is generous cooking. The focus is on hospitality, and the food served is consumed by people who enjoy it together.
"Polish food is Polish culture," said Zatorska. "It is often described in 17th and 18th century literature. Think of Adam Mickiewicz ... Many of these recipes haven't changed for years and years."
In selecting recipes, Zatorska was driven by dishes most people would recognize, those uniquely Polish foods that are usually associated with celebration.
> Daisy Eggs (Jajka w skorupkach)
3 fresh eggs (or as many as the family can eat)
1 tablespoon each fresh dill, parsley and chives, finely chopped
butter for frying
Hard-boil eggs for 5 minutes, then run them under cold water for a moment so they are not too hot to handle. Using a sharp knife, cut the eggs (still in their shells) lengthwise into 2. Scoop out the yolks and whites, keeping the shells intact. Chop the egg roughly and mix with whatever herbs you have to hand -- dill, parsley, chives. Add salt and pepper to season and carefully place the mixture in the egg shells without breaking them. Fry face down in a little butter for a few minutes until lightly brown. Arrange like daisy petals on a plate and serve with fresh bread for breakfast, lunch or a snack when studying.
> Roast Duck with Apples (Kaczka pieczona z jablkami)
1 4 1/2 to 5-pound duck
2 medium-sized apples
2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 pounds small potatoes (any type)
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Rinse the duck with water and pat dry. Wash, peel, core, and chop the apples into small chunks and stuff the cavity of the duck. Rub the skin well with the marjoram, the garlic, and salt and pepper. Place on a large plate, cover, and leave for 45 minutes to marinate. Place the duck in a roasting tray. Collect any marinade left in the plate, and add some more water to make up one cup of liquid. Pour this liquid around the duck in the roasting tray -- not over it or you will wash off the marinade.
Roast the duck uncovered for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 320 degrees and cook for 2 hours. Every half-hour or so use a fine skewer to pierce the duck skin with holes to release its juices and then baste the duck with the liquid that collects in the bottom of the pan. Clean the potatoes and cut into halves or quarters (there is no need to peel them). When the duck still has about an hour to cook, salt the potatoes, place them in the tray with the duck and sprinkle with caraway seeds. They should start to fry gently in the duck fat.
When you next baste the duck, turn the potatoes, making sure they are well covered with the duck juices. Add another sprinkle of caraway seeds if you like. The duck should be so well cooked that it can be easily pulled apart and served in chunks. It's no fun trying to carve a duck.
Rose Petal Jam: Recipes and Stories from a Summer in Poland
By Beata Zatorska
Tabula Books, $35