Archive for December 2nd, 2012

Buscia’s Stuffed Cabbage Rolls – Gtompki

June 17, 2011 by napkinwriter | Edit

(I am reposting this popular post from 2011; it gets reads every single week, if not everyday — that’s one reason; the second is I am actually hungry for them and I don’t have cabbage in the house — short trip to Meijer’s tomorrow.)

Tom’s Polish mother, our children’s “Buscia” taught me the art of stuffed cabbage making ( gtompki, pronounced Goo-ump-ki). It was a mainstay at their table, served along with mashed potatoes, mushy overcooked frozen green beans, a dessert and lots of love. Her Polish culinary perfection and years of experience created the to-die-for traditional meal.

She and her sister-in-law, Aunt Margaret, made hundreds of these for church affairs of all sorts, funerals, celebration get-togethers, and I think occasionally for Bingo outings, her main source of entertainment.  As a young helper in the kitchen at the Manistee hospital, she always did special things, within the dietary limits, of the patients, and they got to like it when Frances was in the kitchen. She received notes from patients back on the trays.

I had never had a stuffed cabbage before I got married. I can’t believe Tom’s mother didn’t serve that for dinner at least once during the time we were engaged. But when I tasted my first one, I knew I had never had one before.

I remember the first gtompki I had was after Tom’s family visited us all the way from Michigan to our new apartment home in Kentucky. She brought a frozen package with her which I promptly stuck in the freezer and forgot about. In all the years we’ve been married, Tom has rarely suggested the menu for dinner. But after a few weeks went by and he hadn’t seen the cabbage rolls served, he asked about them.

I asked how to prepare them  and he said just be sure they are really warmed up and serve mashed potatoes with them. Walah! I love tomato based foods anyway, but this was the B E S T!

I asked for the recipe promptly. But this is one of those things where the written recipe just doesn’t get it. Making gtompki, over the years, became a process of putting the food together, and letting the mixture of memories of a lifetime float through your recollection. Love seasons the dish as you set the rolls covered in tomato sauce and pieces and slide it into the oven.

At the beginning of my cooking career, I did not even know what “steam the cabbage leaves” meant on her recipe. My first attempts did not produce a replica of Tom’s mother’s wonderful feast. The next time back North, I w a t c h e d   her  from beginning to end, hearing many family stories and lots of laughter during the process.  I watched and listened as her experienced hands and fingers tucked each cabbage roll in what seemed like a loving home to her within her pot.

I became very successful in making this dish and having the whole family love it. It was not long before mom was delighted in tasting my cabbage rolls and encouraging me with her accolades.

Last week, our daughter had a major surgery in the hospital. On the day of her discharge, I asked her what she had ordered for lunch –I lifted the cover of her served meal tray and there was a moist, steaming gtompki – cabbage roll. Seems mom was directing the kitchen menu from heaven above for her granddaughter.

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