I see the jars of sauerkraut lined up in the kitchen . Funny , I wasn’t thinking about the Christmas bigos that Ada makes until just now . Now I know Christmas is coming . All the X-mas decorations in the neighborhood and the houses lit up ( like Christmas trees ) , and cards dropping into the mailbox were hints , I know , but the message didn’t really hit home until I saw the sauerkraut .
Don’t get the idea that I love sauerkraut . I like it once in a long while . It’s not sauerkraut , you know , that makes it Christmas . It’s Ada’s bigos . If you’re not Polish , you probably don’t have any idea what bigos is .
Every wife in Poland [ women are still doing most of the cooking , although I know at least a couple of men over there who are great cooks ] has her own version of bigos . During the Christmas holidays each one of these culinary artists gets busy preparing bigos . When people visit friends and relatives during this time always the bigos is offered . And , you should know , each plate of bigos offered is the best bigos you’ve ever tasted . As far as I know , that’s an ancient rule and it’s still adhered to . You’d better tell each bigos-maker that , too , to re-confirm what they already know . Say it sincerely, too , since it’s not too far from the truth, anyway , but give your wife a knowing look while you sling out your best bigos -praise , because you both know hers , really , is the best .
So , you want to know what bigos is , I suppose , unless you are already in the know . Don’t worry , I’ll tell you as best I can . But my description won’t do it justice . I’ll admit that in advance . First, I’ve never made bigos . I’ve never even watched carefully as Ada makes it . I don’t know the spicing . I don’t know all of the ingredients . And , after all , how it’s made is just as important as what goes into the pot . As I’ve said already , every bigos is different . So , be warned that this blog ain’t no cookbook and this bigos post ain’t no recipe .
Bigos is called Hunter’s Stew . It is considered the national dish of Poland . Poles have been making bigos , it seems , for centuries , stewing , and adding ingredients , and spicing . Ada would tell ya , I think , that the wild Polish mushrooms she adds to her bigos are vital to the mix . We have , still , some dried mushrooms that her mother picked in the Polish woods , or her aunt picked , or her cousins picked . They all go out dressed in old clothes into the woods in the Fall to their favorite spots clutching plastic buckets to hunt for mushrooms . I went once . I found one . Yeah , one . Everyone else had buckets full . They’re good hiders , those wild Polish mushrooms.
My brother-in-law Aaron used to come down from San Francisco at Christmas Just to have Ada’s beggas , as he would say . He called it beggas ( rhymes with Vegas ) and he loved it . Best beggas I ever tasted , he would say . He sincerely liked it , but it was clear that he never tasted bigos anywhere else . Aaron was a great cook in his own right , too , so he knew and appreciated tasty food . He loved Ada’s bigos .
Bigos needs to stew in it’s own juices , slowly , endlessly . Maybe that’s why I feel some comraderie with it . I’m pretty good at stewing , too . If I get Alzheimer’s some day , it’ll no doubt be Irish Alzheimer’s , where I’ll forget everything except the grudges .
Anyway , by the time this stew is ready , it is flavorful and meaty , and although a basic part is sauerkraut , it resembles sauerkraut very little . I mention this for the benefit of you sauerkraut haters out there who hear the word sauerkraut and are immediately turned off . We have a friend who is among your contingent . He comes over to the house on Boxing Day , anyway , and he enjoys it . He may hold back a bit , and approach it cautiously , but he goes for it . Bigos is the main thing served over here on Boxing Day , by the way .
The original bigos was made with fresh-killed venizon , I think . Hunter’s stew . Good for a winter’s day . Some people still use venizon, I would suspect . But Ada uses kielbasa and beef and pork , I think , and prunes , and the vital wild mushrooms , and a mix of spices . As I’ve mentioned , I don’t know what all goes into it . I do know there is a touch of magic involved to make the bigos just right . And love , of course . Always a hearty pinch of love .