The result is what they’d hoped for: an eye-opening take that elevates the stature of Polish cuisine. Pierogi are “almost like dim sum when done right,” as Crittenden points out, and a beet-root puree, prepared by chef George Adamo of Centro restaurant for the book launch at The Cookbook Store in Yorkville, turns out velvety and delicious. Even vodka, infused with ginger and fruity flavours as specified in the cookbook, had a lightness that belies the perception of Poland as a bland and stoic place. “The idea was not to show how Polish cuisine was done in Chicago over the last 60 years but as it is being done in Poland now,” said Applebaum, one of the world’s leading authorities on Eastern European history. Her follow-up to Gulag, the equally compelling and bleak The Iron Curtain, was also released to wide acclaim in 2012.
While she was working on that manuscript, Crittenden was testing the recipes in the cookbook time and again in her homes in Washington, D.C. and Prince Edward County, Ontario. Since the book’s release, she has appeared on television in Poland. She is aware of the irony that a pair of North American women would be demonstrating Polish cooking to Poles. “I was a little worried, yes, but the cameraman seemed to like what he ate,” Crittenden said with a laugh.