Festival of lights – All Saints Day and Polish Zaduszki

Ever-burning fire
Ever-burning fire

Another of my favorites Polish traditions is All Saints Day and Zaduszki. All Saints is a solemnity celebrated every year on 1st November. It is a national holiday when in church people honour all known and unknown saints and martyrs. It is also a day when people visit the graves of loved ones to talk to them, to pray and to place candles and flowers on their graves. The special candles are placed there so that departed souls can find their way through the darkness. Many Poles travel long distances to visit family graves and to remember the dead.

Ever-burning fireThen on 2nd November we celebrate All Souls Day (Zaduszki). It’s a day of remembering the dead and its origins can be traced to the times of Slavic mythology – the tradition of lighting candles comes from ancient slavic Dziady (Grandfathers Eve). Dziady were held twice every year (in the spring and autumn). During the feast the ancient Slavs organized libations and ritual meals. In local mythologies such feasts were organized both for the living and for the souls of the forefathers who joined the Dziady after dark.

GraveIn my childhood we used to go to the cemetery in the morning and then joined our family for dinner. My Grandma used to cooked two dishes – soup and main, then two kinds of veg and dessert cake and jelly with whipped cream for my younger brother. The most popular soups are chicken soup and barszcz (beetroot soup) with uszka (dumplings). For main different kinds of meat schabowe (breaded pork fillets) or collops or fried chickens. And then the most plump yeast-raised cake. Oh and let’s not forget the kompot. It’s light, refreshing drink most often made of dried or fresh fruit boiled in water with sugar and left to cool and infuse. The Eastern European drink originates from the time of the Ottoman Empire, it may be even the predecessor of the Western European dessert of the same name.

CandlesAfter dark we used to go for a walk to Poznan Citadel. It is one of the biggest military cemeteries. In fact there is not one but a few of cemeteries, all gathered in one place, among them there are:

  • Old parish graveyard
  • Commonwelth Cemetery
  • Garrison Cemetery
  • Orthodox cemetery
  • Old Garrison Cemetery
  • Russian Military Cemetery
  • Graves of German soldiers
  • Polish Military Cemetery
  • Graveyard of Distinguished Residents

There are also monuments and graves belonging to veterans of Napoleonic wars, soldiers of I World War, scouts, Citadel fighters (polish civilians, which took part in fights in February 45).

Some of the graves are very old and abandoned, some of the look quite new, there is also part which looks like American cemetery (foreign soliders from US, Australia, UK and many other countries ) what they all have in common is the huge amount of candles lit on them, if not by members of the family then by strangers. This was my favorite part of the day. Watching the lights, reading the names and details of dead trying to imagine who they were and what their story was, litting candles that burned out and the ones we brought with us. This year we didn’t go to the Citadel but still I would like to show you some taken in cemetery near where I live now.

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On your marks, get, set, ready, go! – Mushrooming in Poland

One of the most amazing customs in Poland is mushrooming. You get up really early and set off to a wood, forest or other wilderness. Our choice for years now is backwoods called “Blota” (Muds in translation). It’s located near Sierakow in Greater Poland.

Map of Sierakow
Map of Puszcza Notceka - wilderness

Necessary equipment:

ready for mashrooming
Team ready to conquer the forest
  1. Patience
  2. Good shoes (water resistant)
  3. Basket
  4. Sharp knife
  5. Second breakfast (tea recommended)
  6. Knowledge of mushrooms (which are poisonous which aren’t, we are not talking magic mushrooms here)
  7. Compass, just in case (although we never have one and got lost maybe two times in my whole life, anyway I don’t want to think you get lost because I said you don’t need to take a compass)
Matecznik Blota - Blota backwoods
Hostel we slept in

So we got up early and drove 2 hours to our favorite spot. A place we found when I was in elementary school and still went on summer camps. This one was tilted “Bike and horse riding camp”. We stayed for 10 or 14 days in backwood Blota and spend time horse riding and cycling. I think we had some English lessons as well. It was so long ago that I only have some snap shots in my memory. I remember mice running on the floor, how we crept out one early morning to collect some mushrooms and saw one of the most amazing sun rises with rays of light sparking in the drops of drew all around us. I don’t even think anyone noticed we were gone. This summer camp has been one of my favorites. Not sure if they do such camps anymore.

Our parents came to visit and liked this place so much that every autumn we went back there for

Penny bun
Penny bun, quite small just fit for vinegar as my grandpa used to say

mushrooming. Woodmen have changed but we remained faithful. From stories told by my parents I can tell you that sometimes there is so much mushrooms that you stay on your knees all the time, there is just no point to stand back up (unless you feel like doing extensive workout). I personally like just the right amount of mushrooms, when you are satisfied but still have time to enjoy the forest. Smell is amazing, you can feel the aroma of the moist soil, moss, maple and pines. Greenery gives your eyes well deserved rest after hours of sitting in front of the computer screen. And you do a lot of walking without even noticing it, as there is a point to it and a prize – mushroom.

Ok let’s get down to mushrooms, the most popular kinds that I know and collect are:

MushroomPenny bun, porcino or cep –  held in high regard in many cuisines, and is commonly prepared and eaten in soups, pasta, or risotto. We mostly dry it and add to dumplings (polish traditional dumplings for Christmas have filling made of sour cabbage and mushrooms) and bigos (Hunter’s Stew);

Xerocomus, Boletus – used by us for the same purposes;

Suillus – you can recognise it easily as it’s cap cuticle is slimy and sticky when moist, most commonly found near young coniferous trees;

To be honest with you the mushrooms that are poisonous can also be really beautiful. Golden cascades  streaming down the tree trunks, snow white polka dots of Amanita or incredibly symmetrical stripes underneath the cap take your breath away.

Amanitus - toxic mushroom

This year we weren’t very lucky. Our first spot was mushroom-less and I was more concerned about spiders than anything else. It seemed they were everywhere. I have a way of passing between two trees that seem ideal to accommodate spider’s web. I take a long stick and wave it in front of me . Hahhaaa now when I think about it, someone might think I’m chanting the mushrooms. We came back with just enough for supper and Christmas dishes for one family.

Now a bit about drying the mushrooms. The string method – slice up the mushrooms

Toxic mushrooms
Toxic mushrooms

thinly, and use a needle and cotton to string all of the mushrooms together. Use real cotton rather than an artificial material as this is less likely to stick or melt during drying. Once you have the mushrooms threaded string them up in the airing cupboard, in the kitchen, or in any similar warm location. This year only one string survived as most of the slices just fell off the string. If it happens to you, you can use The tray method. Use ordinary baking trays lined with some newspaper.

Toxic mushroom
Toxic mushroom

Arrange your slices of mushroom around the tray, making sure that they’re not overlapping each other, and discarding any slices that are maggoty. The thing with this method (especially if you put the tray in the oven to shorten drying time) is that the newspaper can stick to the mushrooms and then you will have bothersome process of removing paper in front of you (before cooking). You know you have to soak them in water anyway but not always the newspaper comes off easily. The Skewer sticks method. Our new invention! Instead of stringing the mushrooms together you make mushroom skewers and stick them in styrofoam box. And it works!

Did I mention you need to clean the mushroom first, remove any snails, pine needles

Cleaning mushrooms
Cleaning mushrooms

or dirt? Check if they are not maggoty and only then dry them! You do not dry the Suillus. We eat them the same day fried with onion and cream. Yummy! (well I started to eat mushrooms when I was 18 so if you disagree I can understand) A lot of work and a lot of leftovers. I throw them into my garden in hope they will make a better start for mushrooms but this is useless. On the right you can see my share of last year crop. Check out the bowl as well! All of them now sorted and cleaned, some more on the table still before processing.

Now I hope you will go yourself and try mushrooming! I ensure you, even if you are too scared to eat them it’s still a lot of fun!

How to marinate mushrooms in vinegar (we don’t use wine just alcohol)


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