In the 1900's more than a million people migrated to the great lakes region from Poland. They settled all over the Midwest: in Chicago and Cleveland, Detroit and Dayton. And, like all immigrant groups, they brought their food and traditions with them. By 1935 the Polish Club had been established in Old North Dayton and for more then 80 years the club has proudly kept the Polish culture alive.
Community Voices producer Jim Kahle has strong memories of the fresh homemade Kielbasa his Polish grandparents made for the holidays. Disappointed with what he calls “so called Kielbasa” sold in grocery chain stores he recently went in search of that authentic taste from his childhood, it didn't take long to find the real deal.
After a few phone calls and some non-extreme vetting I received an invitation to the kitchen of the Polish club in Dayton. The kitchen is basic, a stove, a sink and counter tops which today hold 50 pounds of pork and a stainless steel Hobart meat grinder.
"Today we are making polish sausage for our fish fry," says Mary Pietrzak, who's joined by her husband John Loscko and her brother Peter Pietrzak.
John says the Polish Club includes kielbasa at its fish fries, "Because people want it. Actually we could probably just use sausage and have a sausage fry if we wanted to. It seems like the sausage always
He goes on to explain what makes a sausage kielbasa.
"The only difference is Kielbasa in Polish means sausage. What we make is a polish sausage, a white sausage. We also smoke this sausage. But for fish fry we just use the fresh. It seams like fresh is number one always. The original recipe was Helen Ksiezopolski’s mother's recipe, and that is the recipe that we still make today. Our Polish sausage is basically salt, pepper, garlic and other seasonings you want to put in. That’s the basic seasoning we use right here."
"This is what’s considered the shoulder or pork butt," Mary says of the meat. "If you don’t have a good balance of meat verses fat it just comes out too dry. I watched my mother make [kielbasa] since I was like maybe seven or eight years old in our kitchen."
"We were going to Christmas Eve mass," says John recalling his first memory of kielbasa. "And we stopped over to my future wife’s house, and they had sausage on the table and they said, try
it. And I never forgot that flavor. I have never had anything like that in my life. I just said, this is the best stuff I ever had, where did you get it? We make it. They say we are doing God's work by doing this; we enjoy it, its fun."
"This is our art," Mary adds.
Two days later I return to the Polish club for their monthly fish fry. Just minutes after they open a few hundred people are already at tables or in line for food. All the staples of the traditional polish club fish
are present: the line at the self serve buffet is moving along at a friendly pace with lots of conversation, people selling pull tabs and 50/50 drawing tickets, the big 6 and show down tables are ready to go and of course the bar is set for self service, with rows and rows of plastic cups full of beer. Everyone at the table has kielbasa on their plate and a story to tell.
"The first memory is definitely my grandma making kielbasa and sauerkraut for Easter," says Katie McLaughlin. "We make it the Saturday before Easter, take it to church and get the basket blessed and then you would have it after seven-thirty AM mass for breakfast. So that is really my first memory of kielbasa and sauerkraut. Can you imagine a holiday without it?"
"Without it?" asks Francis McLaughlin.
"There is no holiday without it. It’s not a choice," Katie replies.
Thinking about replicating the flavors of my grandparents Kielbasa I asked John and Mary if I can try to make it at home.
"Oh heck yeah," John replied. "I mean it's simple; you can get a little piece of grinder equipment you can do anything, or get the hand grinder that works."
"The Kitchen Aid [mixer]," Mary adds.
"Yeah, the kitchen aid works," John says. "Anything works if you can grind the meat, or have your butcher grind the meat for you and then just season it, and oh God, yeah, you can do that easy."
Peter says the trick to making a good kielbasa is simple, "Fresh."
"Everything fresh," adds John. "Fresh meat, fresh garlic, everything should be fresh and of course a lot of love, you know that, heck."
Does your family have a kielbasa recipe that you'd like to share? Email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org