Food and drink in Pan Tadeusz

Pan Tadeusz is an epic poem written in Polish by Adam Mickiewicz, first published in Paris in 1834. It is generally considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Polish literature and a national epic of Poland. Set during the Napoleonic era in a fictional idyllic village of Soplicowo somewhere in the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania, or in modern-day Belarus, the poem tells a story of litigation over ruins of an old castle between two noble families – Soplica and Horeszko – against the backdrop of an anticipated Franco-Russian war.

The men were given vodka; and all took their seat...

The poem is also a literary monument to Old Polish culinary traditions. Some of the dishes appearing in Pan Tadeusz have long been forgotten, while others – such as bigos and zrazy – remain favorites of modern Polish cuisine.

Unless indicated otherwise, all English quotations are from Marcel Weyland's translation.


Lithuanian cold barszcz all proceeded to eat.
  • The third course had been served. And then Pan Chamberlain,
    In Miss Rose's glass pouring a wee drop again,
    Pushed a plate to the younger of gherkins and bread...
    • Book One, The Estate


Such coffee as in Poland you'll not find elsewhere
  • They served different refreshments to ladies and men:
    Here a whole coffee service on trays was brought in,
    Trays enormous, each painted with exquisite flowers,
    And upon each a steaming tin coffeepot towers,
    And cups of gilded Dresden fine porcelain gleam,
    With each cup a small pitcher containing the cream.
    Such coffee as in Poland you'll not find elsewhere:
    In a good house, in Poland, by old custom there,
    Making coffee's the task of one housemaid alone
    (As the coffee-maid known), who imports from the town,
    The best beans, or from trading barge buys them, and who
    Has her own secret ways of preparing the brew,
    Which as jet-black as coal is, and as amber limpid:
    Is as fragrant as mocca, and as honey viscid.
    It's well known that good coffee needs really good cream:
    In the country that's easy; the maid, at first beam,
    Sets the kettles, proceeds next to visit the dairies
    And there gathers the flower of cream; gently carries
    In a separate jug, to each cup freshly brought,
    So that each one is dressed in a separate coat.
    • Book Two, The Castle
At the end, as the last course, zrazy were served.
  • Elder ladies, up earlier, had coffee before;
    For themselves they've prepared now a tasty encore,
    A concoction from heated, with cream thickened, beer,
    In which curds, densely floating, of cream cheese appear.
    For men there's a choice of smoked meats on a platter:
    There is tongue, savouries, sausage, and half-geese well fattened,
    All first-rate, all by secret house recipe cured,
    Long in juniper smoke in the chimney matured,
    At the end, as the last course, 'zrazy' were served.
    Thuswise was in the Judge's house breakfast observed.
    • Book Two, The Castle

Mushroom pickingEdit

After slender boletus the young ladies throng, which is famed as the colonel of mushrooms in song.
  • There were mushrooms aplenty: the lads 'foxies' gather,
    In Lithuanian song praised more than is any other,
    These are maidenhood's emblems, no worm will them blight,
    And more strange, on them will not an insect alight.
    After slender 'boletus' the young ladies throng,
    Which is famed as the colonel of mushrooms in song.
    All look out for the 'milk-cap', he of the slim waist:
    Though less featured in ballads, it has the best taste,
    Fresh or salted, for autumn, or winter use rather,
    Put away. But the Tribune, of course, 'fly-bane' gathered.
    • Book Three, Flirtations
  • (...) From the grove comes
    The whole company, carrying all variously, caskets,
    Kerchiefs knotted at corners, or small wicker baskets
    Full of mushrooms; young ladies displayed in one hand
    The imposing boletus, a well-folded fan,
    In the other hand, tied like a field-flower posy,
    Carried tree-and-mulch mushrooms, brown, ochre, and rosy.
    • Book Three, Flirtations

Hunters' lunchEdit

This was vodka from Gdańsk, to a Pole a drink dear
  • Like a baldachin, covering the sky overhead.
    Above the flame stand tripods, made of three spears joined,
    And big-bellied deep cauldrons are hung from each point,
    Meats, vegetables, flour, then were brought from the wagons,
    And the bread. The Judge opened a box full of flagons,
    These their white heads raise neatly arranged in prim rows;
    A fine crystal decanter, the largest, he chose
    (From Father Worm he had it, a present sincere),
    This was vodka from Gdansk, to a Pole a drink dear;
    "Long live Gdansk", cried His Honour, flask raising to pour,
    "The city, which once ours, shall yet ours be once more!"
    And poured the silvery liquor in turn, till there showed
    Flakes of gold in the goblets, and in the sun glowed.
    • Book Four, Diplomacy and the Hunt
In the pots warmed the bigos; mere words cannot tell of its wondrous taste, colour and marvellous smell.
  • In the pots warmed the bigos; mere words cannot tell
    Of its wondrous taste, colour and marvellous smell.
    One can hear the words buzz, and the rhymes ebb and flow,
    But its content no city digestion can know.
    To appreciate the Lithuanian folksong and folk food,
    You need health, live on land, and be back from the wood.
    Without these, still a dish of no mediocre worth
    Is bigos, made from legumes, best grown in the earth;
    Pickled cabbage comes foremost, and properly chopped,
    Which itself, is the saying, will in one's mouth hop;
    In the boiler enclosed, with its moist bosom shields
    Choicest morsels of meat raised on greenest of fields;
    Then it simmers, till fire has extracted each drop
    Of live juice, and the liquid boils over the top,
    And the heady aroma wafts gently afar.
    Now the bigos is ready. With triple hurrah
    Charge the huntsmen, spoon-armed, the hot vessel to raid,
    Brass thunders and smoke belches, like camphor to fade,
    Only in depths of cauldrons, there still writhes there later
    Steam, as if from a dormant volcano's deep crater.
    • Book Four, Diplomacy and the Hunt

Another dinnerEdit

After barszcz came crab...
  • Then the men were served vodka; their seats all assumed
    And Lithuanian cold barszcz in the silence consumed.
    After barszcz came crab, chicken, asparagus stalks,
    Hand-in-hand with Malaga, red clarets and hocks...
    • Book Five, The Quarrel
  • No loss there of life human, but benches and chairs
    Had legs broken; such wounds, too, the long table bears,
    Stripped of cloths and of covers, fell on the plates dying,
    Wet with wine, as a knight on bloody bucklers lying,
    Among numerous chickens and turkeys stripped nude,
    From whose breasts, transfixed lately, forks stiffly protrude.
    • Book Five, The Quarrel

Foray feastEdit

Tables groan under meats...
  • Hungry gentry now pillage, maraud as they please,
    In the barn Baptist greatly beasts' numbers decreased
    'Sprinkling' heads of two oxen, two calves and one goat,
    While Razor his sabre sank deep in each throat.
    Awl, with his rapier, also ran up to their aid
    Sticking old boars and piglets below shoulder blade.
    Now death threatens the poultry – the geese, alert flocks,
    Which once saved Rome from Gauls in the dark climbing rocks,
    Vainly cackle for succour; no Manlius will come...
    • Book Eight, The Foray
  • But the worst slaughter, though with least hullabaloo
    Suffered hens. To the hencoop young Chook grimly flew,
    With a noose from their perches he fishes out thence
    Cockerils, and the rough-feathered, and big-crested hens.
    He each bird in turn throttled and in one heap stacked,
    Perfect poultry, which never for pearl barley lacked.
    • Book Eight, The Foray
From the cellar appear big barrels of grey vodka, oak vodka, and beer...
  • Now Gerwazy the bygone old times recollects:
    So, he belts from the gentry's kontuszes selects;
    Soon, pulled up on these belts, from the cellar appear
    Big barrels of grey vodka, oak vodka, and beer...
    • Book Eight, The Foray
  • They light a hundred fires, roast and boil without pause,
    Tables groan under meats, like a river drink flows;
    The whole night would the gentry drink, eat, and sing through...
    • Book Eight, The Foray

Officers' breakfastEdit

  • The Judge straightway the eye of the servitors caught:
    And soon bowl, bottles, sugar and sliced beef were brought.
    Plut and Rykov so briskly set to cut and clink,
    So to greedily swallow, so copiously drink,
    That in half an hour twenty-three fillets they munched,
    And downed half a huge bowl of most excellent punch.
    • Book Nine, The Battle

Holiday feastEdit

The volume was entitled: The Excellent Cook...
  • (...) Although it was late,
    The Tribune some cooks quickly from neighbours collects;
    Soon has five, and they labour, while he them directs.
    As the chef, a white apron he tied round his waist,
    Pushed his sleeves to his elbows, a white nightcap placed
    On his head; held a fly-swat, and with it drove back
    Greedy insects which fain would the dainties attack;
    A well-wiped pair of glasses he placed on his head,
    Drew a book from his bosom, unwrapped it, and read.
    The volume was entitled: The Excellent Cook,
    Every known Polish dish was writ down in this book
    In detail; Count of Tęczyn would have it on hand
    When he planned those great dinners in Italy's land
    Which Holy Father Urban the Eighth so amazed;
    Karol-My-Dear-Radziwill on it later based
    His reception at Nieswiz for King Stanislaus,
    That most famous of banquets, the fame of which glows
    In Lithuania today yet in popular tale.
    • Book Eleven, Year 1812
Yet others, huge roasts onto enormous spits drag of veal, venison, haunches of wild boar and stag...
  • What the Tribune's perusal makes known, without fail
    The skilled cooks at once carry all out to the letter.
    The work hums, on the tables some fifty knives clatter,
    Small scullions, black as Satan, run, bustle and scurry,
    These with wood, those with pailfuls of milk or wine hurry,
    Into pots pour, and cauldrons; steam gushes; two fellows
    Take a seat by the range and work hard at the bellows;
    The Tribune, that the firewood more easily should
    Catch alight, bids that butter be poured on the wood
    (In a well-to-do house such waste can be forgiven).
    The scullions pitch dry bundles of twigs in the oven,
    Yet others, huge roasts onto enormous spits drag
    Of veal, venison, haunches of wild boar and stag;
    They pluck mountains of game birds, great down clouds arouse,
    All denuded lie heath cocks, and chickens, and grouse. (...)
    For the rest, of all viands there was a great stock,
    Put together from larder, and from butcher's block,
    From the forests, from neighbours, from far and from near:
    You would say, only bird's milk could be lacking here.
    Two things a generous lord to a feast can impart,
    Unite in Soplicowo: there's plenty, and art.
    • Book Eleven, Year 1812
And those fish!
  • Here the Tribune, quite done, with his staff gave a sign,
    And the house-servants entered in pairs, in good line,
    And began serving: 'barszcz' soup, called 'royal', to start,
    Or the old-Polish clear broth, prepared with great art,
    Into which, by a secret old recipe, threw
    The Tribune a gold coin and of pearls not a few.
    (Such a broth the blood purges, improving one's health),
    Followed by other dishes, but who can them tell!
    Who now comprehends all these, to our times quite strange,
    These huge platters of 'kontuz', of 'arkas', blancmange,
    And then cod with its odorous and rich stuffing comes,
    With musk, caramel, civet, pine nuts, damson plums;
    And those fish! Great smoked salmon from Danube afar,
    Caspian sturgeon, Venetian and Turkish caviar,
    Pike and cousin luce, each one a full cubit long,
    The flounder and mature carp, carp 'royal' and young!
    Last, a master-chef's tour de force comes into view:
    A fish uncut, with head fried, its middle baked through,
    At its tail end and swimming in sauce, a ragout.
    • Book Twelve, Love and Friendship!


In it shone many dozens of white cheeses lying
  • And that vessel: that gold shape, he had to confess,
    That horn of Amaltheia – a carrot, no less!
    He saw a child devouring it greedily yonder:
    So farewell to the spell! To the charm! To the wonder!
    • Book Three, Flirtations
  • After mass at the chapel, it was the Lord's Day,
    They proceeded to Jankiel's to drink and to play.
    A small bowl of grey vodka by each hand frothed hot,
    In between ran the hostess who held a quart pot.
    • Book Four, Diplomacy and the Hunt
  • Any Muscovite general puts on a great show,
    Like a pike cooked in saffron, all glitter and glow.
    • Book Four, Diplomacy and the Hunt
  • You know, my friend, he's only some sixteenth cousin to the Horeszkos, the tenth water on the kisiel.
    Kisiel is a Lithuanian dish, a sort of jelly made of oaten yeast, which is washed with water until all the mealy parts are separated from it: hence the proverb.
    • Book Six, The Hamlet / Author's explanatory notes (in italics)
    • From George Rapall Noyes's translation
You need something rather substantial to go with your mead...
  • And meanwhile all the gentry behind the Count pour
    To the inn. There Gerwazy recalled days of old,
    From three kontuszes Warden for three broad belts called,
    On these up from the vaults three big barrels appear:
    One of vodka, of mead one, the third full of beer.
    Removed the spigots, three streams gushed, gurgled and sped,
    One gold, one white like silver, and cornelian red
    The third; with triple rainbow they sparkle and sing,
    Into hundred mugs gush, in umpteen glasses ring.
    • Book Seven, The Meeting
  • There then stood in the garden hard by the same fence
    On which Rykov's triangle had based its defence,
    A cheese-house, built of lattice, big, heavy with age,
    Of timbers cross-wise fastened, not unlike a cage.
    In it shone many dozens of white cheeses lying,
    While suspended around them big bunches hung drying
    Of wild thyme, sage, cardoon, and of fennel and bennet,
    Miss Hreczeha's home drugstore all hanging within it.
    • Book Nine, The Battle
  • The Horeszkos denied me the girl! Had the nerve
    Me, me, Jacek, a bowl of black gruel to serve!
    • Book Ten, Emigration – Jacek
  • (...) At length passed them a saucer with biscuits: "You need
    Something rather substantial to go with your mead..."
    • Book Eleven, Year 1812
  • He begrudges Tokay, and his palate will stain
    With that devil's brew, modish, false Moscow champagne...
    • Book Twelve, Love and Friendship!

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