Eva Sylwestrowicz, who grew up in northern Poland, remembers wonderful winter picnics when friends and family went into the woods by horse-drawn sleigh and ate bowls of bigos warmed over a bonfire. "Someone went ahead to prepare the bonfire," she says. "There was bigos and bread, vodka and wine. And hot chocolate for the children. It was a special time."
Eva came to Saskatoon in 1982, escaping communist Poland with her husband Thomas and their young children, Magda and Wojtek. Their journey is intriguing. Thomas, a physician, had gone to London, England, for a research fellowship but his family was not allowed to go with him.
On the pretext of entertaining his colleagues – and making a good impression – he asked Eva to send him his mother's silverware and the good linens. Thus they spirited some family treasures out of the country.
On a cold winter day, Eva and the children left for a vacation in Tunisia, an approved holiday destination, with nothing but a suitcase of summer clothes. They had to go to East Germany to catch their flight, but as soon as they got there, they changed directions for London and from there to Canada.
Bigos (bee-gōs) is considered better with each reheating. Leftovers are added to the pot creating a "perpetual stew" that lasts a week, ready to reheat for unexpected company or a winter picnic.
1/2 cup dried mushrooms
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp paprika or 2 juniper berries, finely crushed
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 lb bacon, chopped
1 lb smoked sausage, sliced
1 cup leftover roast meat
6–8 canned tomatoes, chopped
1/2 medium cabbage head, shaved
1/2 lb sauerkraut
2 tbsp plum jam or honey
Soak mushrooms in boiling water to soften. Heat oil in a stew pot. Cook onion until soft. Stir in paprika or juniper berries, salt and pepper.
Add garlic and bacon. When bacon and onions are cooked, add the rest of the meat, tomatoes, cabbage, sauerkraut, mushrooms and mushroom water.
Add enough cold water to almost cover the contents. Cover the pot and simmer for several hours, until the cabbage is meltingly soft. Stir in plum jam or honey.
(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)