This post was written by Kathy Pataluch. Kathy is the Director of the Basile Center for Art, Design and Public Life at Herron School of Art and Design. Because she grew up with Polish foods and grandparents who spoke Polish, she developed a true love of different cultures and wants to experience food from all cultures.
What do you do when your oldest sister is the only one in the family who prepares the traditional Polish side item, Nalesniki (otherwise known as a crepe), for the holidays? The one dish that the family salivates for – even more so than Tom Turkey – and she’s the only one who knows how to make it? What if something were to happen to her, like a deep paper-cut and she couldn’t hold the spatula? Or, what if she were to catch the flu two days before a holiday and was so weak she couldn’t stand by the stove for an hour? What if, what if…?? What would we do without our Nalesnikis? Well, since my other sister and brother had no interest in learning about the one traditional food that keeps us connected to our grandparents who came across the sea directly from Poland in the early 1900s, then I guess it was going to be up to me to save the day and serve as back-up in case my sister ever got carpal tunnel!
When I asked for the recipe, my sister just recited it off the top of her head over the phone – after all, she HAS been making this dish two or three times a year for the past twenty years! She actually seemed pleased that someone else in the family wanted to learn the technique… or did she???
I wanted to get some practice before a holiday came and my services were needed. I decided to make this “famous” dish for my co-workers for one of our pitch-ins. I had been bragging about how delicious they were for years. Now it was my turn.
The evening finally arrived. My sister shared with me that it would take an hour to do the entire process, and suggested I bring a tall stool up to the stove. All my ingredients were set, my utensils cleaned and waiting to be put to work, my stool placed strategically so my right hand could rest on the counter when not buttering the omelet pan every minute. A single batch would yield about 15 crepes – not enough to feed my co-workers, so I would double the batch, which my sister did all the time to feed our hungry family. Feeling a sense of pride and connection to my heritage, I began. It wasn’t long before I realized something wasn’t quite right. Her crepes were always light and thin… mine were becoming rather thick and pasty. Her crepes had a nice brown tone to them… mine were as yellow as when the batter went into the pan – never browning no matter how long I kept them on the pan. Her crepe filling was thick… mine was runny. Her filling filled all of her perfectly formed crepes.. I had about a cup of runny stuff leftover after I had filled my thick, yellow, nasty-looking crepes. Her process took an hour.. mine took two!!! What happened? How could I have had such a miserable experience? I followed the recipe to a “T.” I had the right size pan, the right utensils, I had my stool in place… how could this go so wrong???
Hmmmm… perhaps my sister LIKED being the only one who could make these delicate, mouth-watering treats for the family. Perhaps she secretly desired to hear the accolades that came soon after we had taken our first bites of her creation, “Oh Chris, the Nalesnikis are heavenly!” Perhaps, she wanted to go down in history as the Nalesniki Queen, hording all the glory! Hmmmm… perhaps she purposely left out an ingredient during that fateful phone call, causing me to take a dish to my pitch-in where people looked puzzled at what I had been gloating about for years.
Years have passed since that dreadful night, and my sister has continued to bring the family favorite to our holiday meals, and we continue to oooh and aaah over her culinary genius.
To this day, she claims the recipe she gave me is correct, but I can’t get this one image out of my head – it’s the night before a holiday dinner, soft music is playing in the background, the house is dark except for a little light in the kitchen. And there she is – my oldest sister wearing an apron and head-scarf standing over her stove making the family favorite treat … and a tiny little smile begins in the corner of her mouth.
This post was submitted for our Thanksgiving Story Contest using the submission form on the right-hand side of the blog. Submit your entry by Nov. 19 to be entered in a drawing for $100 in groceries, courtesy of Indiana’s Family of Farmers.