Growing up, our family was incredibly spoiled at Christmas time. My mother, Shirley, and my paternal grandmother, Grandma Szewczyk, excelled at baking. Because Grandma Szewczyk lived directly across an alley from us, we were doubly blessed.
My mom’s walnut roll was a Christmas must have. My grandmother would make one filled with poppyseeds – makowiec. Poppyseeds to Polish folks are believed to bring good luck, so it is traditional to serve the poppyseed variation at Christmas and New Year’s. Over the years, Grandma deferred to my mother’s walnut roll, but continued to make her more than fair share of baked goodies.
My Polish grandmother made this traditional bread throughout the year. We lived directly across an alley from her house, so Grandma was always bringing over freshly baked goodies. Chalka was one of our very favorites. It’s fabulous warm out of the oven or toasted for breakfast with lots of butter.
Somehow, I grew up taking much of the food we ate for granted. Polish food, like sauerkraut and kielbasa, we knew were ethnic foods, but this raisin bread I didn’t realize was part of a traditional Polish Christmas Eve or Wigilia, I stumbled onto a great website Polish Christmas Eve Supper Recipes – Wigilia As I read through the recipes, several we ate throughout the year. My grandmother and dad would go mushroom hunting near our home – dry them, and save them for soup or added to sauerkraut. I remember having uszka (“little ear” dumplings) just once, when my grandma’s sister came to the United States from Poland for a year. We ate very well. I remember how excited my father was, because the two sisters, his mother and aunt, were busy in the kitchen making many of the foods he remembered from his childhood. My dad also loved chalka. He would ask me to make it for him, when he and my mother would come to visit. And he asked me sometimes to use dried fruit rather than raisins, like the kind of candied fruit used in fruit cake.