Ola Rokita

Hi! I am Ola and I want to share with you my simple baking recipes that can change your life and how you feel.
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The Polish Housewife and her Journey with Polish Cuisine

Ola Rokita26 May 2020Comments (0)

An interview with Lois Britton

An interview with Lois Britton,
the writer of the PolishHousewife.com food blog


When I decided to start publishing my Polish baking recipes online back in 2018, one blog I came across was the polishhousewife.com written by Lois Britton.

At the time there were many bloggers publishing their cooking recipes in Polish, but there was only a handful of those who actually wrote their blogs in English. What’s even more impressive about Lois is that as an American native she not only embraced the Polish culture, but also mastered many of the traditional Polish recipes and made them accessible to those outside of the Polish community.

I find her blog not only to be extremely helpful for those learning about making Polish food for the first time, but also very inspirational, as Lois weaves her experiences with Polish culture into her recipes. Recently I had a chance to interview Lois and below is what she has shared with me.


Lois BrittonOla: Although in your blog, The Polish Housewife, you write about the Polish culture and events, your blog’s primary focus is on Polish food and recipes. I’m curious, what got you interested in cooking Polish food? From what I gather, you were not born in Poland, nor had prior experiences with Polish cuisine.

Lois: It’s true that I knew nothing about Polish food before I moved to Poland. I had eaten cabbage rolls at my in-laws home in Pennsylvania, but I don’t think I knew they were Polish.

I grew up in Arizona and currently live in Tucson, just 70 miles from the Mexican border, so I was much more familiar with Mexican cuisine. I’m curious about food and food-related traditions in general, so moving to Poland was a wonderful opportunity to explore. 


Ola: Indeed! Polish cuisine is very different from Mexican. Polish climate is a lot cooler and therefore many dishes are based on root and hardier vegetables, like potatoes, celery root, beets or cabbage. There aren’t as many spices in Polish cooking either. However, fermenting is very popular adding not only specific flavors to dishes but also helping keep your intestinal flora healthy due to probiotics.

What makes Polish cuisine special to you? Is it the taste, or are there health benefits that make Polish cooking so appealing to you? 

Lois: If I think about all the culinary trends over the last decade, so many of them apply to traditional Polish cooking, but they are not new in Polish cuisine: eating local, eating seasonal, fermented foods. Nose to tail cooking, slow food, growing some of your own food, to name a few. It’s like the rest of the world is catching up. 


Ola: I agree. I find that there are many health benefits to eating Polish food, for example, buckwheat, millet grouts, fermented cabbage and pickles, kefir, or the vast selection of soups.  

How do your friends and family react to your Polish cooking? Do they enjoy eating Polish dishes?

Lois: My friends and family are just thrilled that I like to cook! They enjoy Polish cooking and all of the other things that I make. I took placki ziemniaczane and gulasz to work one day to treat my colleagues to lunch. I taught them all to say, “bardzo smaczne!” and captured that on video. 


Ola: Fantastic! “Placki ziemniaczane” are a Polish classic and one of my favorite comfort foods. Your friends are lucky that they have someone like you to cook for them and introduce them to new flavors.

I find that my family and friends love Polish food too. It’s hard not to love dumplings or “pierogi”, Polish pancakes or “racuchy” or “kotlet schabowy”, also know as schnitzel, with young potatoes covered with butter and sprinkled with dill.

How long have you been writing your blog and what made you a fan of Polish cuisine?

Lois: I published my first blog post in June 2009 just 4 months before my husband began working in Poland. It was a general cooking/baking food blog called Food is my Love Language. I had been reading food blogs for a couple of years and enjoyed them so much, in particular the story that went with the recipe and the generous use of color photos. At some point, I decided that I wanted to join in the fun and told myself that if nothing else, I would eventually have all my recipes neatly organized online.

When I joined my husband in Poland, I started a second blog called Polish Housewife. The new blog was more about our life in Poland a way to keep family and friends back home updated on our life abroad. It surprised me that people I didn’t know were reading this blog. I started sharing Polish recipes. When we knew we would be moving back to the States, I didn’t want to lose the folks who had been following my Polish blog, so I combined the two with the Polish Housewife name.

As time went on, I, like many others, made the shift from hobby blogger to professional blogging. Part of any successful blog is finding a way to meet your readers’ needs, adding value to their life in some way. I realized that my readers wanted Polish recipes. To have them written down was filling a gap in their family’s culinary heritage.

I love so much about Polish food, but I also cook other things at home, but I seldom mention them, because that’s not what my readers are looking for.


Ola: I think your passion for cooking comes through in your blog and that’s why I enjoy reading your journey with Polish cooking. I agree, that knowing your audience well is key when writing a blog. Making it too varied can make your mainmessage a bit vague and tougher to follow.

What specifically do you enjoy writing about in your blog? Are there recipes that are more popular than others? Which recipes are your favorites? 

Lois: I enjoy the stories that go with recipes. Sometimes it has to do with how I first encountered a dish or it might be research that I have done to explain a recipe background.

Some recipes are definitely more popular than others. There are several hundred recipes on my website, but I can look at the analytics for any time period, a given month, a year, and the same fifteen recipes that will always be at the top: City Chicken, Potato Pancakes, Kolaczki, Makowiec, Gulasz, and Szarlotka to name a few.

I think my favorite recipe is Rogale swietomarcinskie, a regional pastry poplar in Poznań. I was fortunate to learn how to make this pastry at one of the popular bakeries in Poznań. Although when I make it now, I make the filling and put it on canned crescent roll dough, the kind in the tube. I made the proper dough recipe at home once, but it’s too much work to make in a home kitchen. One of my Polish friends, who is an excellent cook, was surprised to hear that I had made my own. She said no one makes them. We all buy them! My substitution is a good solution when buying them isn’t a possibility, and they are so much fresher. The people in Poznań eat 60 tons of the pastry on St. Martin’s Day. The bakeries have been working 24/7 for a week or more to make them, so the one you buy probably wasn’t made early this morning.


Ola: Wow! I didn’t realize that Polish people in Poznan, ate so many “Rogale swietomarcinskie”. I have never tried making this pastry because, as you said, the filling, made with white poppy seeds and walnuts, takes a lot of effort to make. I’m impressed that you have decided to make it yourself.

My favorite holiday in Poland is “Tlusty Czwartek” or Greasy Thursday in English when you eat a lot of greasy and fried foods like donuts or “faworki”, known as angel wings in English. One time I ate 6 “paczki” (donuts) in one day. That was a true feast for me!

Are there any dishes that you don’t like in Polish cuisine? 

Lois: “Flaki” is a challenge for me. I like the taste. I’m not put off by the thought of tripe. It’s the texture that gets me. I think it’s something that you have to grow up eating. 


Ola: That’s funny! I grew up in Poland and I saw my parents eating Flaki, and as much as they tried to convince me to eat it, I just couldn’t. As a kid, I couldn’t fathom the idea of eating intestines, or like you said, the weird texture is too much. 

Are there any Polish dishes that you have struggled with making?

Lois: The one that stumped me at first was Kolaczki. A rich pastry wrapped around a fruit, nut, or poppy seed filling. The first time I made them, so many of my neatly folded pastries popped open. I’m an accomplished baker, so that surprised me. My readers were great about posting tips in the comment section; it’s a common problem apparently. With their help, I’m having much better luck!


Ola: Glad to hear that your readers were helpful. I also find that many Polish cookie recipes that require fruit preserves for filling are tough to make because unless the fruit preserves are thick, they’ll spill once you bake with them. That’s why my favorite filling is plum preserve. It rarely spills because the plum tends to be thicker than most fruit fillings I’ve tried. 

When you cook, do you strive for perfection or do you prefer to experiment and make an original dish? 

Lois: Both! 

I think we all want things to turn out perfectly, but sometimes they don’t. I accept that and look at my recipe flops as a learning experience. I have been known to add a pinch of salt to dessert recipes that don’t call for salt, just because I think it brightens the other flavors in food.

Sometimes I might change the process a bit. Many old Polish recipes were written when most of the work was being done by hand. For example, many cakes have you beating the egg whites separately and folding everything together to get a light batter. Using a KitchenAid stand mixer, I can cream butter, sugar, and eggs until they are very fluffy and not have to separate eggs. I should do a taste test sometime with both methods side by side. 

I am comfortable doing the home version of the TV show Chopped, just making a meal out of what you have on hand, but if I want to try out something specific for the first time, I will read recipes for the dish in my collection of Polish food books, read some recipes from food blogs written in Polish (with the help of Google translate), and recall version that I may have eaten in Polish restaurants. It all comes together in what seems like the most reasonable, simple process for me. 


Ola: True, my grandmother would always beat egg yolks and egg whites separately even though she had a hand mixer. Similarly, when I make her recipes, I still separate the egg yolks and egg whites. I also sift the flour, especially when I make delicate cakes.

I think World War II had a big impact on Polish cooking. With food shortages and then after the war when women had to go to work, many recipes transformed as ingredients were substituted and people had to make food out of nothing, like the use of nettle instead of spinach.

That’s where I think experimentation came into play, as people learned to use every crumb of food and not waste anything. In many ways, the hardships pushed Polish people to innovate and create simple yet delicious meals.

Communism tried to unify what everyone ate, but I think our Polish creativity in experimenting with limited ingredients created some amazing foods, like “zapiekanka”, a toasted bread with cheese, ketchup and mushrooms that became as popular as hot dogs in New York city. Today there are hundredths of varieties of “zapiekankas” and tourists line up for hours to sample them

Your blog has been recognized by several media channels. Can you tell me more about that?

Lois: I was fortunate that Poznań natives followed my Polish Housewife blog. It was a novelty to have a foreigner writing about life in your city, and that opened up my first opportunities. I was invited to participate in an event for Polish media sponsored by the City of Poznań. They hired a translator for me. It was hosted by the head of the bakers guild and it focused a regional pastry that I mention below. I was also interviewed by the local paper sharing my feeling about Easter in Poland. I beat out the usual bunnies and chicks for the spot that year. It happened because someone who worked at the paper read my blog. 

Some opportunities, I sought out. When I was coming home to Arizona for a visit, I pitched the idea of demonstrating Polish recipes on local morning TV shows in Phoenix and Tucson. Imagine my surprise when they both said yes! 

At other times, I’ve just been lucky, in the right place at the right time, so to speak. 


Ola: I think you going to Poland with your husband was also an example of being in the right place at the right time, but I think it takes more than that. It takes curiosity and being open minded to not only embrace new culture thrown at you, but also to become a master of it’s cuisine. Lois, you are incredible and I applaud you for what you have built. It’s wonderful that others recognize it too.

On your blog, one can also purchase your cookbook, what inspired you to write it, and what kind of dishes did you write about?

Lois: For a few years before I wrote my cookbook, readers would ask if I had one, urging me to create one. They said it would be nice to have all of my recipes in one place. It surprised me because, to me, my recipes are all in one place – on my website. I do understand the desire for a cookbook though. I love to read them even if I never cook from them.

When I decided to write a cookbook, I surveyed readers twice, at first to ask about e-book versus print, 85% wanted a printed book. Again, just before I published, I asked about bindings. Overwhelmingly, readers wanted a coil binding, so I offer both coil and perfect binding because the latter is what bookstores want to carry. 

As for selecting the recipes, I thought about major categories and started listing the most popular recipes from my website. Then I added recipes that I didn’t have on my blog yet, but that seemed essential to include, things like smoked sausage and sauerkraut. 


Ola: I think anyone interested in Polish cuisine, will benefit from a book that has all the essentials in one place. Your book covers many key dishes that I think are staples, such as cabbage rolls or “pierogi”. I also have many cookbooks and I refer to them occasionally to check out a technique or verify amounts. But surprisingly, the book I use the most is an old cookbook my grandmother purchased in Poland back in 1960s.

It has many great basics and even lists calories and nutritional content, which taught me a lot about eating a balanced diet. What’s amazing, Polish food is very rich, but most Polish people you see on the streets are slim. I think it has something to do with our Polish diet where we eat a lot of soup. Personally, I grew up on eating soup everyday, and today I realize how nutritious and healthy that was. Today, I continue cooking soups and paired with some bread it makes for a satisfying meal.

How can someone purchase your cookbook?

Lois: The Polish Housewife Cookbook: traditional recipes you wish your babcia (Polish grandmother) had written down is available on my website. I’m happy to sign and dedicate copies. I usually mail books every other week. If time is of the essence or you’d like free shipping, it’s also available on Amazon. 


Ola: Wonderful! I think many people will love learning how to cook Polish dishes from your book and have images to follow.

If you were to share any advice based on your cooking experience with someone learning to cook, what would it be?

Lois: For me, the hardest part of learning to cook was getting everything ready at the same time. That takes practice and some planning. I guess my advice would be not to stress about it. Keep it simple and enjoy the process.


Ola: Very wisely said, Lois. I also believe that one must keep on trying. Even if at first try the dish doesn’t turn out the way you wanted, it’s important to try again, and again. Every time you try to cook something new, be patient and as you said, with practice, cooking becomes easier and easier, and more fun.

What are your aspirations?

Lois: I have other cookbooks in my mind. I’d like to keep learning and adapting to new technology. It is difficult to say where you’ll be in 5 years because we may all be on a platform that hasn’t been invented yet. 


Ola: It would be wonderful if you published another cookbook. I’m sure it would be very special. I wonder if you would base it on another culture or if you would innovate and recreate some of your American dishes with a new international twist from your travels. Can’t wait to read it!

Thank you for taking the time to chat with me and I look forward to seeing what new recipes you’ll keep posting on your site, thepolishhousewife.com.


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