Polish Golden Autumn
Autumn is officially the start of the cozy season – teas and herbal infusions are abundant. The scent of bonfires and smoke coming out of chimneys fills the air. Autumn is the most perfect season.
Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. It’s such a beautiful time of year, despite the fact that when you step back to think about it, everything is dying. As I’ve gotten older, I have definitely come to appreciate all the seasons for their unique ways and I’ve been lucky enough to experience all four throughout my entire life. But one of my favorite things about living in Poland is experiencing Polish autumn.
Poland does autumn REALLY well. I honestly don’t know of any other place that comes to life so beautifully in the autumn. The color are everywhere, there’s no lack of them. Once October comes around, it almost seems like a light switch is flipped on and overnight, the world comes alive in shades of red, gold, and orange.
I’ve thought about what makes Poland the perfect place for such a stunning show and I think it has to do with the perfect autumn temperature; for the leaves to turn color, there needs to be a moderate amount of rainfall, consistent and steady crisp temperatures, and low humidity. These ingredients make up the recipe that yields the best and longest-lasting autumn. It makes sense since Poland’s climate checks off each of those boxes. I’m just happy to be living here so I can enjoy.
Of course, autumn ushers in the school season – on the first of September, grade schools open. When I was growing up, my mom showed me how to make small figurines out of the chestnuts that fell from the trees. Some toothpicks or matchsticks were all you needed to combine the chestnuts into different shapes like animals and people. The chestnut tops would make great hats and pinecones were always good for bodies. The shell of the chestnut could make a warm coat for your new friend.
Autumn is also a good time to go mushroom picking – the favorite pastime of Polish people. I guess it’s because there are so many forests in Poland and the climate is great for mushrooms that this has become a near-universal autumnal activity. But mushroom picking, although it sounds like something out of a fairy story, is serious business. My uncle is a pro mushroom picker. I know this because, tongue in cheek, every year he’s out in the forest daily once the season begins and hasn’t died yet. Some mushrooms are poisonous while other actually deadly, so you really need to know what you’re doing when you go to pick mushrooms. It becomes significantly harder when you realize that some harmless mushrooms have similar looking poisonous cousins so if you’re not careful, you really can wind up in a lot of trouble.
So what does my uncle do with all the mushrooms he picks? A portion he’ll cook up fresh; Polish cuisine features a lot of mushrooms. The rest he’ll dry in this special air dryer he has. The smell is perhaps not the most inviting but once dried, the mushrooms keep for months and they are easily revived in water. They’re ideal for soups or sauces. My mom makes thick delicious mushroom soup with the mushrooms my uncle dries and gifts us. They are also perfect for the Christmas table, as Polish mushroom soup is one of the first courses during the Christmas Eve meal, known as Wigilia.
Autumn is also when the hiking season winds down and when Polish people celebrate All Saints Day. Increasing in popularity but still quite rare are Halloween celebrations. Fortune-telling and magic in Poland is more widely celebrated during St. Andrew’s Day at the end of November, known as Andrzejki. And of course, it’s the beginning of the holiday season when, toward the end, the Christmas decorations slowly go up in preparation for the darker and colder winter.