A Polish-inspired beetroot summer salad with apples, radish and dill
I was interested to read this week about the four distinct waves of Polish migration to the UK. I tend to only think of my parents’ generation, resettling to the UK after the Second World War and of course, of the most recent wave. In fact, there have been Poles in Britain since around 1830, following the November Uprising of 1830-1831, with a second wave happening between 1880 and 1920.
Both my mother and father’s family settled in England during the third wave, shortly after the war. My father left Poland at the tender age of sixteen, having first undertaken a forced and perilous journey of approximately 1700 miles from Poland to northern Russia. Aged eighteen, my father and his twin joined the Polish Army in Exile formed by General Anders. They formed in Buzuluk, and travelled via Tashkent, Bukhara and Moynaq. They were then part of a brigade that went to Suez and Durban in South Africa, before arriving in Scotland. Once in Scotland, they trained with a Polish tank brigade, later taking part in the Battle of Falaise, going on to liberate the towns of Ypres, Ghent and Passchendaele, amongst many others. After the war, they were kept on as peacekeeping troops.
Family history book, my father in the Polish army, Polish folk art.
It wasn’t until many years after the war my father formed a business with his brothers, who had all fortunately survived the war, and they employed my grandmother, my mother and her brother, who had also resettled in England from Poland during the war. My dad later married my mother and they had five children, of which I am the youngest. The family business employed many fellow Poles and their families creating new industry in Manchester for a period spanning three decades. Their contribution to society, like that of many migrant Poles, was not insignificant.
By the time I was born, my grandmother had her own house and a small garden here in England. I remember her garden being full of all the things that she used to grow in Poland. In fact, most Poles had a little allotment patch either at the front or at the back of their house. I remember playing in her garden and seeing plenty of beetroot, runner beans, cabbages, carrots, potatoes, radishes and lots and lots of dill. Babcia kept chickens, too, so there were always plenty of eggs. She never quite came out of war mentality, so there were lots of jars of pickles and preserves. Cooking Polish food would make her feel closer to home; it was the only cuisine she knew. Taught by my grandmother, my mother also cooked Polish food for our family and so I knew little else. As a baby my mama tells me I was weaned on beetroot soup and that I loved it.
Migration means many things to many different people. I personally am always fascinated by stories of resettlement and relocation. They are rarely clear-cut and often there is also an element of history involved, too. I know that my parents were always incredibly grateful for the Polish community church hall, where we would often spend time marking significant occasions in Polish history, or folk dancing or fundraising with the Polish Scouts. It still exists to this day, now welcoming new Poles, arriving with predicaments of their own.
These days, of course, communities are often formed online, too. With strong links to the migrant communities around the world, Lebara, a UK-based telecoms group, are bringing together a collection of stories and articles, examining migration and offering a place for people to share collective memories; a community platform, of sorts, aimed at bringing together rather than dividing. It’s an initiative that I’m keen to support, particularly in light of my own family history and my keenness to promote positivity and inclusivity towards those who find themselves far away from home.
As well as thinking about my story and that of my parents’ migration all those years ago, I’m sharing today a recipe inspired by my grandmother’s garden, which by this time of year would be brimming with summer salad ingredients, ready to provide a colourful addition to our family table. The recipe should shortly be featured on the Lebara Community Site, too.
There are plenty of other interesting articles and recipes being added to the Lebara Community Hub all the time – pop over and have a read here.
For more Polish recipes, see www.renbehan.com/mypolishkitchen
- 5-6 medium-sized cooked beetroots (not pickled) chopped
- ¼ red onion, very finely chopped
- 1 red apple
- A squeeze of lemon juice
- A drizzle of mild, light olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 radishes, sliced
- A few springs of fresh dill
- Optional: a scant teaspoon of sugar
- Combine the cooked, chopped beetroot with the red onion in a bowl. Chop the apple in half, and avoiding the pips, chop half of the apple into small pieces and finely slice the second half to garnish the salad. Add the chopped apple to the beetroot. Squeeze a little lemon juice into the bowl, drizzle in a little oil and season with freshly ground black pepper. Mix well and taste – if the beetroot or apple is very sour, you can add a scant teaspoon of sugar.
- Assemble the salad onto a clean plate or bowl. Sprinkle over the sliced radish, the sliced apple and scatter over a little dill.
- Serve with other summer salads, with fish, or alongside barbecued meats.
With many thanks to Lebara UK for commissioning this recipe and for creating the migrant community hub.