Thursday, July 28, 2011

Duck Blood Soup, Breakfast of Champions!

Once upon a time, when I was just a wee kiddie, my mother used to make Czarnina. Czarnina is also known as duck blood soup because it is made with duck blood, and the rest of the duck too. ;-)

I can imagine your reaction right now. YUCK! probably sums it up, right? I guess that would be my reaction too if I hadn't grown up eating it. But I did. And I still love it.

Czarnina is a Polish soup. The name czarnina comes from the Polish word, "czarny" which means black. The soup isn't actually black but it is dark brown. There are many variations of czarnina but of course I like my mom's recipe best. Unfortunately, she never wrote it down so I don't have it. Even if I did, it's not likely I'd make czarnina because I have no source for duck blood. There are recipes for czarnina that don't require actual blood but I've tasted several of them and they just aren't the same and I don't care for them.

To the best of my recollection, the ingredients in my mom's version of czarnina included: duck meat, prunes (I know, more YUCK! right?), golden raisins (yes, in soup!), sliced carrots, large egg noodles, vinegar, and of course duck blood. It was always served hot with fresh bakery bread and butter.

The soup has a sour/sweet taste to it and because of all the fiber in it, it's quite filling. It's still commonly served in Polish restaurants although I've yet to taste any I really like at a restaurant. I prefer beet soup when I dine out at a Polish restaurant. Aw, come on now, you're not gonna wrinkle your nose at that too, are you? OK, if you're gonna be that way I'm not even going to tell you about dill pickle soup...

So, back to czarnina. My mom hated making it. Can you blame her? And she never ate it herself. I remember asking her why she never ate it and she said, "If you made it, you wouldn't want to eat it either." That could maybe, possibly be true but I don't know... I really like czarnina.

My dad was a huge fan of czarnina and that's why my mom made it. Still, she tried to avoid it as much as possible. But inevitably Dad would get a taste for czarnina and he'd make a trip to the Eastern Market, a mostly outdoor farmer's market in downtown Detroit that has been selling fresh produce and plants (and they used to sell live chickens, ducks, and rabbits for cooking but I doubt if they still do) since 1891. My great grandparents very likely shopped there since it's on Russell Street just a few blocks south from Sweetest Heart of Mary Catholic Church, their Polish parish.

Dad took me to the Eastern Market with him on Saturday mornings. I enjoyed walking around and looking at what the vendors had to offer. The market was always full of colorful fruits and vegetables and the sounds of vendors hawking their wares. And you could hear the ducks and chickens for sale squawking away in their wire crates. It was always a busy place.

In my earliest memories, my dad used to pick out a live duck and ask the vendor to kill it and save the blood. Then we'd go do our other shopping and return to pick up the duck (wrapped in brown paper but with the feathers still on) and the blood (in a cardboard soup container) on our way out. When we got home, Dad would give all the market goodies to Mom and she had to take it from there.

In later years, we had to bring the live duck home (probably due to health department regulations) and my dad would kill it in the basement and hang it upside down from the clothes line and drain the blood into a serving bowl. Then he'd hand it over to Mom and she took it from there.

Mom would start a big pot of water boiling right away. Once the water was hot she would immerse the duck in it for some period of time. I don't remember how long. After that she would take the duck down into the basement and pluck the feathers from it by hand in the stationary tub. I remember it being a long and tedious job and she never had a smile on her face as she was doing it.

As a kid, I lost interest in the czarnina making process after that point. So I don't actually remember all the steps to it. If I'm not mistaken though, the blood was added last, just a short while before serving.

Czarnina was a New Year's Day tradition at our house. The only New Year's Day tradition I remember, actually. I clearly remember eating big bowls of it on metal tray tables in the living room in front of the television, along with my brothers. We were probably watching football Bowl games on TV. We'd make jokes about the soup often calling it, "breakfast of champions!" Dad usually ate his in the kitchen. He wasn't much for football games.

I can't remember how old I was the last time I had my mom's czarnina. I'm guessing I was probably in the 13-15 yr old range, possibly as late as my high school years. My dad died when I was 17 and I'm absolutely certain that my mom never made czarnina after that. My brothers and I asked her to make it many times over the years but she was quick to squelch that idea.

I have no photos of czarnina but the one here looks similar to my mom's soup.

Every now and then when I visit a new Polish restaurant I'll try the czarnina hoping it will taste like my mom's but so far I haven't had any luck. How I miss that "breakfast of champions!"

15 comments:

  1. Well...that was pretty gross, glad I wasn't eating lunch! I wonder if there was some nutritional purpose that the blood was such an important ingredient? I know many traditional foods that we wouldn't touch today (in America) were, and still are, considered essential to good health, such as fermented cod livers, whale fat, duck fat, etc.

    Hmmm, my tummy's kinda weirded out now...I might have to skip lunch today...:-/

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  2. So very interesting...I would love to try it someday! But only if someone else killed the duck, of course! Though maiden name of Orshoski was Hungarian, older relatives have told me that the family roots probably truly started in Poland.

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  3. Well, Lisa, I knew I was running a risk of upsetting some tummies when I wrote this but hey, anything for the COG! LOL! Sorry if you're not so hungry for lunch now but think of the calories you're saving... a nice side benefit of czarnina!

    Dorene, I looked up Orshoski in my Polish surnames book and couldn't find it but not every Polish surname is listed in it. The spelling could have morphed from something else too. In any event, I'm so happy to know you may be Polish too! :-)

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  4. I've never had czarnina and probably never will. I did used to go to Eastern Market often. I remember going with my grandmother to buy live chickens too. She had them killed before taking them home but didn't save the blood. Guess I should go find some food traditions for the COG.

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  5. My grandmother always sent some home after a visit with her on the weekend. Mom and Dad were happy not to share. Once I tried it and found it to have an interesting taste but don't go out of my way to order it at a Polish restaurant. Bring on the dill pickle or beet soup! I can make better chicken noodle soup at home.

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  6. Thanks for the story, but I'll pass on the soup. I do have a source for fresh wild duck, however, if you get a yearning to cook up a batch...

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  7. I loved reading your story, and since I grew up on a farm where Mom went out chopped off a chicken's head to make fried chicken, I'm pretty familiar with the process and it didn't 'weird me out.' Could I do it today? Could if I had to, but I wouldn't enjoy it. I always had to leave when she cleaned out the 'innards' of the chicken as the smell turned my stomach.

    I would certainly pass on the Duck Blood soup, though!!!

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  8. Jasia,

    My Nan (grandmother) used to make czarnina when I was a kid. Fortunately for me, she actually told me what it was, and there was NO WAY I was going to eat it. My Mom says it was pretty good, but I'll have to take her word on it. That's one Polish tradition I can't appreciate!

    Donner

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  9. Grand post, Jasia. I didn't realize anything could make me think longingly of Grandmother's Jello salads, but you've done the trick! It is fascinating how strongly some foods are identified with culture and ethnicity.

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  10. Jasia, I resisted reading this post -- at least until the COG was published. I can see why your mom didn't want to make it if only because it entailed so much work. I would like to see a photo of your mom.... It would be fun to put a face with the story. Thanks for sharing. (But no thanks to trying the soup. I'm not that adventurous.)

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  11. Thank you all for your kind remarks! You made my day. :-)

    Nancy, if you put "Lucy" in the search box of my blog you'll find pictures of my mom at various ages from toddler till her 80s. One of the photos I like best of her is here http://creativegene.blogspot.com/2008/11/remembering-those-with-alzheimers.html .

    Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting!

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  12. Jasia, while I wouldn't eat soup I'm not weirded out by how it's made since I once had the dubiois honor of being offered pickled deer tongue by my Maine Yankee grandfather. He had a very LARGE jar full of them, too.But there's a lot of things our pampered palates wouldn't touch today that our ancestors ate quite often.

    Good post!

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  13. Those were the days, when people didn't flinch about where their food came from ... LOL! I think adding the blood to the soup is something they do in classic French recipes, too. I wonder if I could find czarnina in some of our Polish neighborhoods here in NJ. Maybe I'd get brave and give it a try :)

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  14. Okay, so I'm seriously yucked out about this one (and that's coming from another nice Polish girl). I thought my Ukrainian in-law's fermented oatmeal soup was bad. I'm not really interested in the czarnina recipe, but if you have a good one for zimne nogi (jellied pigs feet) let me know.

    P.S. I actually like zimne nogi, and if you do have a good recipe I'd love to have it. Mom never wrote her's down. I keep telling hubby it's an acquired taste. He can at least try it. I ate that oatmeal soup... ;)

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  15. The very best!!!! It cures EVERYTHING. Fresh blood from the duck, thick noodles. My dad drained the blood out of the neck, I took the blood up to my Mom at the stove and wala, magic ...
    delicious. Polish??? Your not a real pole until you've enjoyed czarnina, steaming hot, little kraut, hunk'a kielbasa,glass'a good red burgundy.....up chakdef!!!....ta'die for!!!

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