Polish foods and family recipes are vital for preserving the culture and traditions of their Polish heritage, so each year, Betty Kolenda and her daughter Marie Lumley share those cherished foods with the Kansas City community.
Betty and her family, including her daughter Marie, as well as a host of dedicated volunteers make traditional Polish foods to serve at the Polski Day celebration in Kansas City, Kansas.
Q: Tell us about your family.
My father and his family settled in Kansas City, Kansas, after they left Poland before the German invasion in the 1930s. He grew up here, married, then had children, so I was raised here.
I married and we raised seven children. One of our children moved to Virginia, yet six of our children, including Marie and her twin sister Molly Blomberg, still live in this area. I enjoy time with them and my 15 grandchildren.
Now, when we gather for family celebrations and holidays, we typically have 27 people around our table.
Q: Do you like to cook and how did you learn?
My mother taught me to cook. There weren’t exact recipes, so I learned to cook to taste, but she instilled a love of our traditional Polish foods like cabbage rolls, Polish sausage, sauerkraut, perogies and other foods.
I love to cook. Food, dinners and cooking were always a part of my life. My late husband and I built and ran Sophie’s Restaurant near 5th and Central in KCK for 33 years. Then I taught my children to cook, having them sometimes help at the restaurant, so now Marie and all of my children can make our favorite dishes. Marie has many fond memories of working at the restaurant.
Q: What is the Polski Day celebration? When is it?
It is on Saturday, May 4, and is a day to celebrate our Polish heritage. The free community event is at All Saints Parish, at 8th and Vermont in Kansas City, Kansas. The fun begins with a parade at 11 a.m., then everyone can enjoy music, entertainment, a Polish mass, a raffle for a Polish quilt, displays, activities and lots of Polish food. It is fun for the entire family and everyone is invited. The proceeds benefit All Saints Parish.
Q: What foods are on the menu for the Polski Day celebration?
Cabbage rolls, which we call golabki, filled dumplings called pierogi, sauerkraut, Polish sausage, bread, Polish cookies and beer (which in Polish is known as piwo.) We will be cooking and serving food at the church hall. We have a team of volunteers who cook for days, making about 2,400 cabbage rolls and 3,600 Polish cookies and will serve 350 pounds of Polish sausage.
Q: Why is the Polski Days so important to you?
It is essential for us to come together so we can celebrate our community and heritage. It is vital to teach our children and everyone about the culture, traditions and our history.
Q: What recipe are you sharing today?
This is our traditional cabbage roll recipe. I always suggest cooking to taste, so add salt and pepper as you like. Remember, you can always add more seasoning, but can’t take it out.
We always make a lot of cabbage rolls, then freeze them since they are a little time consuming to make. In fact, this recipe is only one-fourth of the recipe we typically make, so you could double it or even quadruple it. With cabbage rolls in the freezer it is easy to heat and serve them on a busy night.
For more information on the Polski Day celebration, visit polskiday.com.
Makes 9 to 12 servings
1½ to 2½ large heads green cabbage
2½ pounds ground chuck, uncooked
1 cup cooked white rice
½ medium onion, diced
¼ cup dried parsley flakes
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
1½ teaspoons ground black pepper
2¾ to 3 cups tomato juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a large baking dish, about 8-by-12 or 9-by-13 inches.
Heat a large stock pot of water over medium high heat until boiling.
Core the cabbages. Submerge the heads of cabbage in the boiling water. (If necessary, add and cook the cabbage in stages if they will not all fit at once in the pot.) Reduce heat to medium and maintain a simmer. Allow the cabbages to simmer in the water for 10 to 15 minutes or until the cabbage begins to turn to a brighter green color.
Remove the cabbages from the water, and place on a tray. Slowly remove each leaf with a meat fork or tongs and place the leaves on a cookie sheet to cool.
Combine the uncooked ground chuck, eggs, rice and onion in a large mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly. Add the parsley, salt and pepper and mix well.
Using an ice cream scoop or ¼ cup measuring cup, scoop the meat mixture evenly into mounds and place on a tray.
Place one mound of the meat mixture on the base of a cabbage leaf. Taking both sides and folding them in and rolling until you reach the end of the cabbage.
Place in the prepared baking dish, seam side down, so they stay intact while baking. If necessary, and the depth of the baking pan permits, the cabbage rolls can be arranged in two layers.
Arrange any torn pieces of cabbage or leaves from the core of the cabbage over the top of the cabbage rolls. Pour the tomato juice over the cabbage rolls. Pour about 1/4 cup water over all. Cover and bake for 1½ hours.
Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore are cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. They have published over 14 cookbooks and thousands of recipes. They are members of Les Dames d’Escoffier and blog at pluggedintocooking.com. Email them at KCComeIntoMyKitchen@gmail.com.