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Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Growing up in a Polish-American household (one quarter, at least), we ate golabki pretty regularly. This is traditional Polish fare -- cabbage leaves stuffed with ground meat and rice, usually with some vaguely tomato-based sauce lightly spread over them. Cheap and good.

Polish is such a funny language. Consonant sounds that aren't contained anywhere in the actual letters creep into words. When spoken by a true Pole, "Bogdanski" came out sounding something like "Boydangski." And "galobki" sounded like "gwumpkie." I never learned how to spell the word correctly until a visit to the Portland Polish Festival a couple of years back.

There was even some sort of neighborhood joke (the details of which I forget) that ended with the punchline, "We want gwumpkies, we want gwumpkies." I think it might have been somewhat racist, as many of the jokes circulating around that neighborhood were in those days. I distinctly recall that it got quite a few laughs as we dug into the rolled-up meat and vegetable entrees, made of ground beef, maybe a little onion and rice, and generic store-bought Jersey cabbage, baked in a dish (Corning Ware in those days, no doubt). You got everything you needed for this meal down the street at the Foodtown, from that produce guy "Hy" (you talk about your ethnic slurs -- ask my relatives what they thought of "Hy").

Although we appreciated the gwumpkies (and their cousins, green bell peppers stuffed with the same ingredients), after a while they got a little too familiar. One evening, my brother (then maybe 8 or 10 years old) decided to go on strike against gwumpkies. He hated them, he said, even under the thick layer of catsup that he insisted on applying to every dish set before him. He was determined. He would never eat gwumpkies, ever, ever again.

Mom was equally adamant. "Those are perfectly good gwumpkies. Eat them!" she said. The starving children in China, etc. No way, he replied. "Well then, fine, go to your room, take your plate of gwumpkies with you, and don't come out until you've eaten them all!"

Off to the bedroom he went, dish of gwumpkies in hand. But he didn't eat them. Oh, no. Instead, he found a length of string in our desk drawer, broke out a bit of meat from inside one of mom's golabki, and tied one end of the string around that morsel of meat.

And he walked over to the fish tank. Yes, little brother was going to go fishing for our lone angel fish (or maybe it was a goldfish), using gwumpkie meat as bait.

He never did get the fish to bite, and as I recall, he never ate the supper, either. Mom eventually discovered his impromptu fishing expedition, scolded him again, and took the plate back from him. Wasting food was a major sin in our house, but I doubt that anyone actually ate those golabki. No doubt they were cast off to wherever Newark household garbage went in those days -- probably filling in a swamp somewhere nearby.

Little brother was in the doghouse.

Until the next morning, when the fish was discovered floating on the top of the tank. Dead. "You see, Mom? Those gwumpkies are bad for you!"

Even our mom, never at a loss for words, didn't have a good response for that one.

Anyway, all this golabki talk is prompted by the last couple of nights' dinners at our Portland house. At last Saturday's Hollywood Farmer's Market, I picked up a bunch of organic red chard, a wonderful vegetable. The sign above the bin suggested that you try chard instead of standard cabbage in a stuffed cabbage dish.

After I relayed this idea to my wonderful bride, she dutifully dug out a simple but elegant recipe for such a thing and put her personal touch on it. Within a couple of days, I was eating an updated version of the classic from Down Neck Newark. Red chard instead of stronger cabbage, ground turkey instead of beef, and sliced mushrooms out of the can thrown into the stuffing. She was cautioning that it was nothing, but she was so wrong. It was divine. And like so much ethnic food, it was better the second day.

Mmmmmmmmm... gwumpkies. Pass the pan, and praise the Lord.

Comments (12)

I miss all the old Corning Ware that we had in the kitchen growing up.


My Polish mother-in-law, at 92, still makes gorilla-stompin' gwumpkies. I like 'em with mashed potatoes or homemade potato salad, even though the gwumpkie comes fully equipped with the starch.

You are quite right in saying that the combiation of meat, rice and cabbage makes entire meal. Then again, so does a sausage, pepper and onion sandwich.

We're nutritionally efficient in Jersey.

Having left the Old Country (New Jersey) for the promised land of Long Island, my Dad insisted steak and potatoes was the new American way. But those visits to Grandma in Jersey City...seems I never went home without a big batch of chrusciki cookies. (And eating a few on the car ride home, powdered sugar everywhere.) Now THAT'S a memory.

In Germany the expat spouses went crazy over Polish Pottery from Boleslawiec, Poland. Sometimes, the entire minvan came home full of the stuff. It is beautiful, cheap, and safe for cooking (no lead, high heat tollerance).

Our kids love eating old world foods out of these dishes becasue they are so colorful, festive, and authentic. And now polish pottery is easy to get online, especially ebay.

Funny how the pronunciation and spelling of this wonderful dish varies so greatly. My mother always pronounced it go-lump-kee and my grandmother, who spoke polish, pronounced it ho-lup-kee. I'm still not sure which is correct, but I love them just the same!

Being 100% Polish, i also ate lots of golabki (i've always said it go-wom-bki) but now that i'm a vegetarian, I stick to more potato/pasta products. I took last week off and went to Warsaw to visit various family members and got to enjoy the wonder that is pierogies, real placki (the Polish fest ones were good, but don't replace babcia's), and nalesniki (my ultimate favorite). Poland is a wonderful country. If you haven't been, you should definitely visit.

Also, FYI and to join the pronunciation discussion, I have never until now even seen the word in print, but in my grandparents' house in Yonkers, I only ever heard it pronounced as, indeed, gwumpkie.

Gwumpkie! Ah, my dear mom made them all the time. My new wife has told me I can ask her to make anything, and it's been years since I've enjoyed a golobki (or is singular golobek?). I'll have to see if she wants to make some.

As a kid, I'd leave the cabbage behind and eat the meat. The day I first ate the cabbage, I felt so grown up.

Another vote for gwumpkie here, courtesy of my polish grandmother (paternal). Even after my parents were divorced, my mom and her family used to petition Grandma Lottie for gwumpkie, and she'd come to visit us bearing those cookies as well.

A few years back, I learned how to make them myself (yes, using turkey instead of beef, if I recall.) And my Jewish husband kvelled - it was just like the stuffed cabbage he'd grown up eating, made by his Hungarian relatives, it seems.

I've been craving gwumpkie for days - I think it's going to be on the menu this weekend after reading this...!

As a kid, I'd leave the cabbage behind and eat the meat.

Yes, I believe I did this as well.

At this point it's like we should have a Portland Polish Bloggers dinner party.

Wait, I don't actually blog anymore.

My mom's folks were Slovenian, and had a Jugoslav-Hungarian version--cabbage stuffed with beef and rice, cooked with sauerkraut, ham hocks and lots of paprika.

Most recipies for stuffed cabbage call for blanching the leaves to precook them and to make them pliable for rolling. My mom called some years back having discovered that you can cut around the core and freeze the cabbage. Pull it out next day and after a short thaw you can peel the leaves off and they're ready to roll.

I categorically deny the suggestion that I killed the goldfish. This is part of a partisan plot to discredit me by operatives of the Democratic party.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Gwumpkies:

» I'm crocking up from My Whim Is Law
My crockpot's been in heavy rotation for the last week or so, and it's already lined up for more meals this week. (I do love my crockpot, as you can see...) First, it was the pork roast that got a... [Read More]

» Forget Forgot Forgotten from Hubsville
I have almost forgotten how to do this. I had to work quite a bit this weekend. It’s not to... [Read More]


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