Elizabeth Furiga: How to Navigate a Milk Bar

The milk bar or “bar mleczny” is a culinary holdover from communist times. These no-frills establishments feature homemade Polish meals at little cost. In the Communist Era, the milk bars were subsidized so that all Polish workers could afford a meal. Then and now, the restaurants serve mostly dairy and flour-based vegetarian dishes. If you don’t eat meat and are traveling in Poland, a milk bar is a great place for you to eat, however, navigating one can be a little tricky.

Milk bars are usually run by lunch ladies in aprons that look like stern Polish grandmothers and don’t speak a lick of English. This makes for an interesting experience ordering at a milk bar if you know little to no Polish. It’s a good idea to learn the names of a few basic Polish dishes before you go to a milk bar. That way, you can recognize the item on the menu and point and say “Proszę” (pronounced Prosh-eh), and the name of the item (if you can muster that or just point if you can’t).

Because the government subsidizes milk bars and many of the ingredients they use, you can still to this day get soup, an entree and a drink for about $4 USD, making milk bars a favorite among seniors, university students and the working class.

Milk bars have reached a mythical status in Polish pop culture. Films have depicted communist era milk bars as having dishes and silverware bolted to the table. While this may have been true (although I highly doubt it) milk bars now use cheap generic plates, which customers clean off the tables themselves. Despite the shabby presentation, the taste of the potato pancakes with mushroom sauce, strawberry Polish style crepes or tomato soup far outweighs the picnic style tableware.

Milk bars are not the place to come and linger after a meal. Most patrons eat quickly and quietly with their heads down, absorbed in their meal. Conversation is verboten.

If you ever get a chance to go to Poland, especially Warsaw or Kraków, make sure to look for a milk bar. It might seem intimidating to order somewhere where no English is spoken, but the reward of delicious, cheap Polish food is worth the hassle.

Candlemas: Our Lady of the Thunderbolt

By Robert Strybel, Warsaw Correspondent

Candlemas, occurring 40 days after Christmas, is officially known by the Church as the Feast of Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It commemorates the Jewish ritual according to which the Blessed Mother was purified after giving birth and presented her Baby to the Temple. But for ages, it has been associated throughout Europe with candles and the Blessed Virgin, likened to the candle that gave birth to the Light of the World. On that day churches were ablaze with candlelight, and the candles to be used in the liturgy throughout the year were blessed.

Just as the Catholic Feast of the Assumption (August 15) is known in Poland by the folkloric term “Święto Matki Boskiej Zielnej” (Our Lady of the Greenery), so too Candlemas is called “Święto Matki Boskiej Gromnicznej.” That can be translated as Our Lady of the Thunderbolt Candle. The Polish word “grom” is a clap of thunder, hence the “gromnica” is the thunderclap candle and “gromniczna” is its adjectival form.

For ages, Poles have flocked to church on February 2, bringing with them the tall beeswax candles which would be used for ritual purposes in the home throughout the year. During Holy Mass, the candles were blessed and the faithful did their best to carry their lighted candles home with them – not always an easy task in blustery weather. Once home, the head of the household would use the burning candle to trace a soot-stained cross on the ceiling beam of the cottage. He would also take the lighted candle to every nook and cranny of the cottage and visit his outbuildings as well in the belief that its radiance would ward of the forces of darkness. After the flame was blown out, it was believed that inhaling the candle smoke would prevent coals and sore throats.

As its name implies, the “gromnica” was believed to protect against thunderstorms and was placed in the window to keep lightning bolts away. This writer recalls how terrified his late maternal grandmother, Katarzyna Kupczyńska, had been of violent thunderstorms. As a child, I would often visit my Babcia in the tiny beer, wine and sweet shop she ran in Detroit’s then predominantly Polish suburb of Hamtramck. Once, when it started thundering, she closed the shop and hurriedly took me by the hand to her home two doors away. There she lit a “gromnica,” hoping the storm would soon pass over. I was only seven or eight at the time and no longer recall whether Babcia simply made the Sign of the Cross or said a prayer, but Polish prayer books often contain a “Modlitwa w czasie burzy” (Prayer during Storms).

The lighted “gromnica” also had another important function: it was placed in the hands of people on their deathbed and of those who had just died. When not in use, the candle was kept behind a holy picture over the bed as a kind of memento mori, a reminder that no one can escape death. The thunderbolt candle was also believed to protect against wolves. Different Polish painters have depicted the Blessed Mother holding a pack of wolves at bay with a “gromnica.”

Although the Feast of the Three Kings (January 6) is the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and some take down their home Christmas cribs, trees and other Yuletide decorations soon thereafter, to this day Candlemas is the final cut-off point. On that day the season’s last Christmas carols are sung in church. But in the olden days, roving caroler-masqueraders continued to pay visits, although their attire and antics by then had become less Nativity and more Mardi Gras oriented.

25th Annual Lawrence County Polish Day

Celebrate the 25th Annual Lawrence County Polish Day on Sunday, September 27 at Cascade Park Pavilion in New Castle, Pa.

Entertainment this year will be provided by Lenny Gomulka and Chicago, and for the first time in this area, Tony Blazonczyk’s New Phaze.

Vendors will be on hand with items like Polish pottery from Boleslawiec Poland, wooden and glass eggs, Christmas ornaments, Polish sweets, seasonings, canned goods and more.

Donations will be accepted for the Polish Orphanage “Jutrzenka” located in Bardo, Poland. Since its’ inception, thousands of pounds of toiletries, school supplies, clothing and personal hygiene items have been sent overseas to these children from Polish New Castle. In addition, Polish New Castle has sent over $5,000 to aid in their care. Items are shipped on a quarterly basis throughout the year based on the donations received.

The doors and kitchen open at noon with delicious Polish food prepared by Holy Trinity Polish National Catholic Church. Admission is only $12 with children 16-and-under free! The dancing starts at 1 p.m.

Proceeds benefit the Polish Americans of Lawrence County Educational Scholarship Fund. To date close to $60,000 has been paid out in scholarship funds.

For more information, contact Rose Marie at 724-658-5916, Gary at 724-752-9988 or Jean at 724-654-6337. For more information, please visit our website at http://polishnewcastle.org.

Nest 580 celebrates 100th anniversary

Nest 580 Pittsfield, Mass. just celebrated their 100th Anniversary. The Nest had a full weekend of festivities, September 12-14, including a pot luck dinner, shuffleboard games, and karaoke on Friday night with a great turnout.

On Saturday, Members attended a picnic with kids games from 12-3 p.m. and later in the evening had an awesome banquet with many honors going out to Members and volunteers.

On Sunday morning, the Nest hosted an excellent brunch to round out the weekend.

Many thanks to all who helped in the planning of this event. The hall looked absolutely beautiful for the banquet. Special thanks goes out to Mayor Bianchi, Sheriff Bowler, and the Nest’s Connecticut friends for making the celebration a success. A big congratulations goes to Catherine Mlynarczyk for her lifetime achievement and recognition.


PFA Youth Blog: National Zlot (2)

My first and last Zlot as a youth Member
Written by Michele Zajkowski, PFA Future Leader (Nest 36, Southwestern Conn.)

The 2014 Zlot was my first and last Zlot as a youth Member and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome, from all of the activities, to team challenges, to the card games, and to the cardboard food at the dining hall. The week I was there was so fun-filled it flew by to where I wish we had a couple more days. Saying goodbye is the hardest thing to do when leaving. That is why we say, “See you soon.” At the end of the week and on the ride home, I realized how much Falcons has impacted my life. Falcons is my escape from reality. I get to run away from all the stress at work to a week of fun. Zlot also opened my eyes that my friends at home may never be by my side throughout my life, but my Falcons will always be there. That’s why I say Falcons are family. You never lose them.