Our exploration of central European culinary and outdoor tradition took us next to Poland.
To be honest, Poland wasn’t anywhere near the top of the bucket list. But the opportunity arose, and we went for it.
I’m just sure exactly what I expected, but it was something like: old, toothless women in loose, coarse garments, shuffling their way along time-worn streets, and lots of gray everywhere.
What a surprise. Poland is traffic jams, construction cranes, and the best women’s street fashion we’ve seen anywhere outside of New York. The cities are absolutely alive with growth, and the cuisine by and large beat Germany, hands down. Each town has a central historic square ringed by restaurants and boutiques, and they have great statuary, clocks, churches, and the like. This is the central square of Poznan – a medium-sized town in Western Poland.
But we weren’t there to spend time in the cities, we were there to hunt roe deer. This is a smallish deer found throughout Europe, and is one of the staple game animals across the entire continent. Think white-tailed deer in the US, but smaller.
We traveled by car for 90 minutes out to what was to have been a country manor home.
It wasn’t. As far as accommodations go, we got totally hosed. Food too. It turned out that the booking service was somewhat less than transparent about what we were to receive, but hey, that’s travel.
In a nutshell, here is what we had to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for three days (and nights)!
To translate, as it were, these are sandwiches, wrapped in foil, obviously. And bad sandwiches, to boot! One thermos of lukewarm coffee and one of tea each day, plus flat of non-dairy creamer, and that’s about it. No stores anywhere near to buy food, as we were way out in the countryside.
But it wasn’t all gloom and doom. The countryside was absolutely fabulous.
The first thing you notice in Poland farm country when you get out of a vehicle there is the incredibly density of life. There are a myriad of different bugs, birds, and plants everywhere. It is absolutely clear that the agricultural practices there involve a drastically lower use of poisons. There is, quite simply, stuff everywhere. It was a real mental re-set. We are very efficient at growing food in the US, but the hidden costs are immense.
And then, there was the hunting, which was terrific. The goal, going in, was to harvest a respectable buck, and to cook it over live fire.
Here, we had to make another big adjustment on-the-fly. In Poland, as in much of Europe, the hunter is absolutely not welcome to the meat of an animal that is harvested. It belongs to the landowner. We had assumed that we could buy the animal from the landowner, if we were lucky enough to get one.
Not so! As such, as soon as the animal is field-dressed, it is whisked away. In the case of the roe deer we shot, the carcasses were purchased the next day by an abattoir, and the meat ends up on the menu of Parisian restaurants the next night.
Which, to be honest, is pretty cool.
And not to be completely dissuaded, I got in on the field dressing, and took the hearts and the tongues of both animals. These pieces are not part of the commerce stream, and are delicious! Actually, our guides thought it was pretty cool that we wanted them, and they were only too happy to “look the other way” as it were.
We poached them in court bouillon as soon as we got to Prague, where we had a stove, added some cheeses from the farmer’s market, plus a bottle of champagne from the farmer’s market, and dined like royalty. WAY better than the sandwiches!!!
Not the greatest food shot, I admit, but when you are shooting in a 14th century flat in ambient light with no photo gear, this is what you get.
Travel is not predictable. We went into Poland holding onto a bunch of assumptions that were proved wrong at every turn. But it was a great experience. We learned about entertainment — do’s and especially don’ts. We honored the game in ways we did not expect, and felt lucky to have had the opportunity to learn and experience new things in new places.
If only we could roast an entire roe deer on a Cauldron….
Next time, by god!