What’s the first kind of food that comes to your mind when you think of Poland? Pierogi? Bigos? Or perhaps kiełbasa? Well, it turns out that for many of our Guests it’s actually czernina – black soup, also known as czarna polewka. It is one of the oldest Polish soups and it has a very unique taste, not to be confused with anything else. Some love it, some don’t, some would never dare to even try it. A few recipes appear in the oldest Polish cookbook from 1682. Why does it evoke such emotions?
The bloody side of Polish cuisine
The answer to this question is not hard to be found if you take a look at the list of ingredients. Namely, czernina is savory broth with… fresh blood. It’s usually duck, goose or rabbit blood. Black soup owes its typical sweet and sour flavor to the sugar and vinegar that is added in order to avoid the blood to coagulate. What else is added to czernina depends on the region and individual preference. Traditional recipes also include such things as plum syrup, pears in vinegar, honey, spice or dried fruit.
Czernina rather used to be eaten in families that were not too wealthy, as rich people didn’t consume offal. The most famous types of czernina are its Kashubian and Kuyavian varieties, which are listed among Polish traditional products and can be found only in regional restaurants.
A bachelor’s nightmare
For a bachelor, receiving a bowl of czernina could be a sign of rejection. Peasant families in 19th-century Poland served black soup to suitors to decline a marriage proposal. This theme appears in Mickiewicz’s famous masterpiece, “Pan Tadeusz, or the Last Foray in Lithuania”:
“He came to the castle more and more frequently, even when uninvited, and finally settled down among us as if in his own home, and it seemed that he was on the point of declaring himself; but they remarked this, and served him at the table with black soup. It may very well be that the Pantler’s daughter had taken a fancy to the Soplica, but that she kept it a
deep secret from her parents.”
(translated by George Rapall Noyes)
An idiomatic dish
The soup has even found its place among Polish idioms. “Dać komuś czarną polewkę”, i.e. to serve someone black soup means to refuse a marriage proposal. Surprisingly, despite being a symbol of rejection, czernina was also a very popular wedding dish in the Kuyavian region. It used to be served to the wedding guests right after they came back from church.
Knowing all this, would you accept a bowl of czernina or would you reject it?