I’m a Polish American. My dad and his parents were born here, but all of their parents and grandparents all the way back were Polish. My mom’s dad had Polish parents, and my mom’s mom was orphaned during World War I and eventually found her way to her family in the United States. It’s a fascinating story that no one in the family knew until I asked her. I have a transcription of the interview I did with her which might be an interesting future post.
All my grandparents could speak Polish, and so could my mom and her siblings, so you heard a lot of Polish and as kids even we grew to understand things here and there. I went to an ethnically determined Catholic church and attended its grammar school, where we ignored St. Patrick’s Day and enthusiastically wore red on St. Joseph’s Day instead (March 19). For a small part of my early life I thought everyone was Polish.
Most of that generation has passed on, and some traditions remain. My husband has now been through several Christmases where he is now a fan of kielbasa, the very particularly prepared and seasoned ham, the airy angel wings Chruściki, This year we went for Easter instead and he got to watch the entire clan, plus their significant others, make a few hundred pierogis for our communal family Good Friday’s one full meal. Plus some more ham and kielbasa on Easter Sunday. And there are a few dishes I like and will make for us.
Earlier this week he asked me if we had added anything Polish to Thanksgiving and I immediately answered “no”. Since there was no Polish Thanksgiving holiday, there was nothing that could be added to the American version. Then I remembered it: the stuffing, known as “Lithuanian stuffing”, made with crackers, butter, onions, celery, milk, and eggs. And not just any crackers—Nabisco Royal Lunch Milk Crackers.
Nabisco discontinued these crackers years ago and I hadn’t thought about them until now. So I went researching and Iearned that milk crackers became common in the US and Britain in 1800 which disproves the idea that this is a Lithuanian recipe—there it would have used bread crumbs, which are different than milk cracker crumbs. A milk cracker is related to more to hardtack, a hard cracker. This means that while a Lithuanian person may have made up this recipe, the recipe itself is an American recipe containing hardtack.
Poking around the dusty corners of the internet I found this buried on the Boston.com site, from back in 2008:
Consumers are up in arms over Nabisco discontinuing Royal Lunch Milk Crackers. “It’s like discontinuing milk,” wrote one Chowhounder. Others: “What will I put on my mac and cheese?” And how do you make stuffing without them?
And so it’s not only an American recipe, but it’s a regional New England recipe, and since I grew up in Connecticut, that’s why it was everywhere. So it looks like my original answer was correct.
I married into a southern family so we’ll have oyster dressing on the table today, along with thanks for a year which held continued improving health, chances to vacation and to see family and friends, and a big sigh of relief over the election results earlier this month. Happy Thanksgiving and joy be with you all.