Polish produce comes in many fun varieties

February 20, 2013

Our friend Suzanne relishes her Polish heritage to the delight of all.  Whether it is breaking into song, admittedly at inappropriate times, or impishly flirting with startled men half her age, she inspires us all by never growing old.  However, it is Suzanne’s food that wins every heart, with pierogi, kielbasa soup, or, best of all, stuffed cabbage or golumpki.

So it always seems to come back to food, and what better than to plant a Polish garden?

Tomatoes are America’s favorite garden vegetable, with the average American eating 13 pounds of tomatoes each year.  Poland gives us several delicious heirloom tomatoes. The Polish Linguisa tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) bears three- to four-inch-long pointed red fruits one to two inches in diameter that are meaty, with few seeds, making them ideal for sauce or drying.  They are delicious to eat out of hand or slice into salads and sandwiches. Linguisa tomatoes mature in just 73 days from transplanting.

The Polish Soldacki Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is an heirloom from Krakow, Poland, brought to Cleveland, Ohio, around 1900. This is a dark pink, flattened beefsteak that can weigh up to one pound each. Soldacki tomato has solid, meaty flesh yet a very thin skin so they are always tender.  They can become somewhat vulnerable to cracking. They are low-acid tomatoes with an intense sweet flavor that should begin bearing at 75 to 80 days from transplant.

Opalka tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) puts out large quantities of three-inch by six-inch red paste tomatoes on vigorous, flimsy-looking vines. Opalka tomatoes are famous for their outstanding flavor.  Because they have very few seeds, they are a great processing tomato. Luckily, the huge crops hold well on the vine, so you can pick them over a long period.  They will begin bearing about 85 days from transplant.

No kitchen is complete without garlic, and Poland gives us Carpathian garlic from the Carpathian Mountains of southwest Poland. Carpathian has huge, uniform bulbs with classic garlic flavor described as almost tangy.  This hot and spicy garlic holds up in cooking.

One of the most unusual garden plants form Poland is Aunt Mollie’s ground cherry. Ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa) are also known as Cape Gooseberry or Husk Cherry.  Aunt Mollie is prized for its strawberry-like flavor. The warm golden half-inch fruits can be cooked into pies, preserves and jams or just eaten fresh from the garden. The short 18-inch-tall plants are productive and easy to harvest.  Just let the fruit fall to the ground.  Like all ground cherries, each fruit is encased in a paper husk much like the decorative Chinese lantern.  Aunt Mollie’s ground cherry begins fruiting in July and continues right up until frost.

For nut lovers, the Carpathian walnut (Juglans regia ‘Carpathian’) is one of the most cold-hardy English walnuts around. They come from the Carpathian Mountains of Poland. The flavorful nutmeats are thin-shelled and easy to crack.  Carpathian walnuts can be successfully grown anywhere peaches thrive.  Unfortunately, they take awhile to be established and will begin bearing in eight to 10 years. For a much quicker Polish crop, try radishes. The Polish Zlata radish (Raphanus sativus) is ready to pull from the ground in just 30 days. This soft-skinned radish is a charming flaxen yellow. The medium-sized roots are round to plum shaped.  Zlata radishes have a crisp, dazzling white interior and a crunchy texture.  The flavor is mildly spicy.  It resists going to seed (bolting) and the roots are always perfect without splitting.

If you like hot peppers, the Polish pepper Cyklon (Capsicum annuum) is a bright red-hot five-inch long pepper.  Because it is very thin fleshed, it dries easily and is widely used in Poland as a dried pepper.  Cyklon bears fruit just 80 days from transplant.

The Polana Everbearing Raspberry (Rubus Idaeus Polana) is ready to pick by mid-August in northern areas, about four to six weeks earlier than most fall-bearing raspberries. Polana has shiny red conical firm berries with a fresh, bracing raspberry flavor. Because Polana fruits earlier in the season and has buds that produce two fruiting laterals, the yields are fantastic.  Polana is a good choice for anywhere raspberries are grown, but is especially useful in short season areas.

We all can’t be Polish but we can put a little Poland in our gardens and a little Suzanne in our hearts.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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