The Augustów region is an unusual land, where for centuries Poles lived side by side with Lithuanians, Jews and Russians. It should be no surprise, then, that a cuisine resulting from the intermixing of different traditions and cultures is particularly characteristic and diverse. The Union of Poland and Lithuania, and the town's location by the border, have meant that it is between these two cuisines that most similarities and shared dishes can be found.
The culinary richness is based on cheap and easily available products, mainly potatoes, various cereals and eggs. Milk and dairy products were an equally important element of nutrition. On hot days, thirst was quenched with fresh milk, and butter, cheeses and cottage cheese were produced from the surplus, often salted to make them keep longer. There was also no lack of fish on the menu, due to the large number of rivers and lakes in the area. Among the valued species were whitefish, vendace and smelt. Smoking was the most common way of preserving these. Fresh fish was mainly eaten fried or boiled and served with various sauces. Tench in cream was a favourite in the border region for generations. The fish was heavily seasoned with a carefully composed mixture of herbs, fried and then steamed in a cream sauce with large amounts of dill and parsley. Summer fruits and mushrooms of all kinds were and still are equally popular and commonly used in cooking. The cuisine drew directly from nature. To keep the dishes longer and give them flavour they had to be smoked, salted, pickled and fried. So it could be said that it was a "spicy, greasy, bitter, salty and smoked" cuisine. The list of products from which the dishes were prepared may seem modest and not particularly sophisticated. Nothing, though, could be further from the truth, since these items had been perfected over the centuries, as the art of producing delicious and unusual dishes.
The cuisine of the Polish-Lithuanian border region is dominated by potatoes and dishes prepared from these. This common vegetable, which does not require complicated farming techniques, is a basic ingredient of many dishes such as potato sponge Later they began to add flour, eggs, onions and smoked bacon to the sponge. Equally popular was, and still is, potato guts - a potato mass with herbs prepared much the same way as for potato sponge, which is stuffed into pigs' intestines and the resulting sausage roasted. The best known potato dish, however, is undoubtedly kartacze - dumplings the size of a hand made from raw potatoes with the addition of boiled ones, and stuffed with a meat filling. It is served seasoned with fried onion and bacon fat. The Lithuanian equivalent of kartacze are cepeliny, prepared in the same way as kartacze, more often served with thick, hot, sour cream and onion. A typical regional dish from the Polish-Lithuanian borderlands is soczewiaki, little potato dumplings stuffed with lentils, peas or pickled cabbage. Soczewiaki can be eaten either as a main meal or as a snack during the day. They are eaten hot, immediately after baking or reheated in a frying pan.
Bread continues to play an extremely important role in the everyday diet of the borderland's inhabitants. It was usually baked once a week from whole grain rye flour (later with wheat flour added) using natural leavening agents. Boiled potatoes were occasionally added to it. This helped the bread stay fresh longer. In Poland, bread was traditionally baked with calamus leaves, horseradish or cabbage, while in Lithuania cumin was added.
The cuisine of both countries is also famous for excellent meats. Kindziuk, which originates in the Lithuanian culinary tradition, is also noteworthy. This is a slow-maturing meat with its origins in the times when there were no fridges and storage of food, particularly meat, was a problem. Traditionally kindziuk is prepared from sliced, salted and seasoned pork. The filling made this way is stuffed tight into a pig's stomach and the finished product is hung for six months in a cool, area space to dry. Produced in this way, it is extremely long lasting, as well as extremely tasty.
Mushrooms have a wide range of applications in the regional cuisine on both sides of the border. There are almost as many recipes for mushrooms dishes as for potatoes. They are most commonly served fried with onion and seasoning, or steamed in a pan with cream. They are also used as fillings or side dishes for various dishes. A meal which has been partly forgotten is pickled mushrooms, known both in Poland and in Lithuania. The recipe is simple - cleaned and boiled mushrooms of various types are generously salted in a clay vessel and left to ferment. They taste best as a salad with onion, pepper and oil added.
There can be no regional menu without "a little something sweet". Cake and sweet lovers should try the renowned Polish sękacz. This is a cake which requires large amounts of eggs and time, and no small measure of patience. The cake is baked on a wooden spit turned directly over a fire. The trick is to maintain the appropriate speed of rotation, simultaneously skilfully pouring the fairly thin dough so that the flowing mass forms "icicles" known as "sęki" (literally "knots", as in wood). The baking process lasts from 2 to 3 hours. Each layer of dough is added only after the previous one has baked. The process may be repeated dozens of times. Neither the revolving of the spit or the observation of the fire can be interrupted. Apart from sękacz, which is an inseparable feature of local weddings, the inhabitants of Augustów and the surrounding area feast on pampuchy, balls of yeast dough steamed and served sweet. Another popular dessert is mrowisko ("ant-hill") – a mound of dry pancakes with honey, raisins and poppy seeds.
Bankuch, or Baked Sękacz
- 250 g butter
- 250 g sugar
- 250 g wheat flour
- 1 glass of cream
- 10 eggs
- 1 measure of vodka
- 1 tablespoon of rum or lemon/orange oil
- 1 pack of vanilla sugar
- 1 tablespoon of butter to grease the cake tin
Blend the butter with the sugar and vanilla sugar into a fluffy mass. Separate the yolks from the whites. Still blending, add one yolk, then the rum or oil and vodka, and the cream and flour. Beat a stiff foam from the egg whites and gently mix it with the dough. Heat the oven to a temperature of 180 - 200°C. Grease the cake tin with the butter, spread a few tablespoons of the dough evenly on the bottom. Bake for around 5 minutes. When the dough turns a golden colour, remove the tin from the oven, spread on another thin layer of dough and bake again for another 5 minutes. Repeat these steps until the dough is finished. Remove the cake tin with the baked sękacz from the oven and leave it cool. Sprinkle the prepared sękacz with sugar or cover it with icing.
Kindziuk: a hard meat product made of brine-pickled pig’s stomach, stuffed with raw minced meat spiced with garlic, salt and pepper and smoked for 3–4 weeks in cold smoke.
Sękacz is a cake made of eggs, flour, butter and cream on a spit suspended horizontally next to a fire. The rotating spit is covered with the dough, and when one layer has set and baked, the next is added. As the cake cools it forms characteristic “knots” (like those found in wood), whose size and shape depend on the speed at which the spit is turned.
- 1 kg flour,
- 1 litre milk,
- 3 eggs (2 yolks, one whole),
- 50 g yeast,
- 2 spoonfuls of oil or butter,
- 5 spoonfuls of sugar,
- vanilla powder.
Mix the yeast with the sugar and add a little warmed milk, mix and leave to rise. Add the remaining ingredients to the flour (adding the risen yeast at the end), knead the dough thoroughly, and leave to rise. Form the dough into a cylinder shape, cut with a knife into circles, and fry in hot oil.