“What's your ethnicity?” asked a haughty American gentleman shortly after I had moved to the States, about six years ago. His question struck me during a brief conversation about our country club's chili cook-off contest of which I had a privilege to be a judge. 

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure how to respond. Up until then I had never thought of myself as ethnic. I come from a country that, just like the U.S., shares Western cultural tradition. Perhaps my interlocutor was curious to know my religion, although our casual chit-chat didn’t seem to go past the mystery of cooking a hearty chili. My mind desperately tried to come up with a precise answer, speeding through all sorts of data.

I am a tall, blond, fair-skinned, green-eyed woman. He couldn’t possibly be asking my skin color because he could see me.

Did I look weird? I have high cheekbones and sparse eyebrows. These, according to my father, I inherited from our Tartar ancestors. But aren't we all a mix of different gene pools?

Aha, I got it. I speak English with a bit of an accent. Which intonation prevailed? Polish, French, Spanish? There is a little Russian in there too. 

Finally, I found the answer was to focus on food. Cuisine distinguishes nations more easily than looks or the melody of someone’s voice. I, for instance, was born in a country where soups rule. There are gentle spring vegetable soups with fresh dill and cold summer soups made of strawberries. Meaty winter season broths will keep you safe from the frostiest frost. Milk soups greet you in the morning. Beet soups put you to bed at night. Yes, I am from a soupland! Am I not?

After the awkward moment of silence, I told the gentleman: “I am Polish”. And I asked him about his favorite foods. I found out he was a big fan of a chicken soup and pickles but never heard of sour pickle soup which is the recipe I've chosen to share here today.


Welcome to my “Soupland” series. Let's start with an unusual sounding yet popular-in-Poland sour pickle soup. I selected it partly because of the discussion above and partly because the soup's tartness defines best the taste of the country in which I was born. My family uses chicken drumsticks as a base. You can cook it with pork ribs, beef breastbone or just veggies. I recently delighted in this pleasantly sour soup (see picture above) at the quaint Anna's Polish Restaurant in Orlando, FL.

recipe by my mother Jadwiga Wilczak

generously serves 4 people 

2 chicken drumsticks

4 cups water
6 black peppercorns
2 allspice berries
1 bay leaf
1 small onion
1 carrot
1 parsnip (optional)
  celery root (or 1 celery rib)
2 medium-size potatoes 
4 large or 6 medium brine pickles + about ½ cup brine
1 teaspoon butter
2-3 tablespoons sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped
salt to taste

Place the drumsticks in a pot, add water and bring to boil. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. In the meantime peel and dice onion, carrot, parsnip, potatoes and celery root. Add all the veggies to the pot with drumstick broth and cook on low heat for 25 minutes. Do not add any salt yet, as the pickles are very salty.

While chicken and veggies are cooking, grate pickles using the small hole side of your grater. In a small pot heat the butter, add grated pickles and some brine. Cook on low heat  for about 15 minutes. 

Using a fork poke the drumsticks to check if the meat is soft. If it is, take out the drumsticks and remove the meat from bone. Place the meat back in the broth and add cooked pickles. Cook for about 5 minutes. Temper the sour cream by placing it in a small cup, pouring a few tablespoons of hot soup over it and whisking constantly. Pour the tempered sour cream to the pot with soup. Add salt if needed. Serve with freshly chopped parsley. 

By the way, sour pickle soup is a perfect cure for a hangover—at least that's what we say in Poland.

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