Making Buffalo Home
Flavors From Home

We know cultures from around the world use food as a way to connect themselves with family and community. In Buffalo, our rich history of immigration from Poland, Italy, Germany, and Ireland have brought recipes and traditions that we still hold dear today. And with recent immigrants from India and African countries, the Middle East and Asia, we have new flavors to enjoy. Flavors From Home steps into the kitchens and restaurants of immigrants in Western New York to learn a little more about the cultural food traditions of people from around the world who are now Making Buffalo Home.

Flavors From Home
Sausage (Kiełbasa) From Poland | Annie Graver and Family
Making Buffalo Home

Flavors From Home | Kiełbasa From Poland


The story of a Polish-American family smoking traditional Kiełbasa (sausage) at Easter.

Kiełbasa from Poland

In Poland, kiełbasa is a generic term for any kind of sausage. Asking for kiełbasa in a store in Poland is the same as asking for cheese at the cheese counter of a large supermarket here. What in North America is known as Polish sausage, or Polska Kiełbasa, is usually a ring of smoked sausage made of pork meat and fat, sometimes mixed with beef, spiced with salt, pepper, garlic, and at times, marjoram, with other additives.

Kiełbasa-making is said to have appeared in Poland in the 15th century. At first, the sausage was made of different meats. Today, the most popular kiełbasa is made of pork. Before refrigeration, meat was preserved in a number of ways, among them, by smoking over a fire. What we know as Polish sausage is also served not smoked, but cooked, baked, or grilled. In the U.S. it is called "fresh sausage", as opposed to "smoked sausage".

The overwhelming majority of Polish people are Christian, specifically Roman Catholic. Christians believe that God sent a son named Jesus, to earth to be sacrificed for the salvation of mankind. Soon after his death, the son came back to life. It is this coming to life that is celebrated on Easter Sunday. Roman Catholics, and members of Eastern churches, fast for a period of 40 days leading up to Easter. In earlier times, fasting guidelines for Catholics greatly restricted the consumption of meat until Easter Sunday.
On the day before Easter Sunday, Poles take to church a basket of foods to be blessed by a priest. These foods will "break the fast" the following day. In the basket are sausage, and ham, symbolizing the sacrifice of God's son; a lamb sculpted out of butter, or sugar, with a red victory banner symbolizing the victory of life over death; eggs symbolizing new life; and other specially-prepared symbolic foods.

A number of Polish-Americans make sausage at home for Easter, up to six generations after their ancestors arrived with the tradition from Poland. In Annie Graver's family, it's noted that her father's side made their sausage with marjoram, while her mother's family did not. Annie's maternal grandfather, Henry Brzyski, began making kiełbasa for Christmas and Easter, building his own smoker. Henry was born in the U.S. to immigrant parents. After Henry died, his sons and daughter (Annie's mom Catherine) took over the preparation. Henry's children involved their children, Annie and her cousins, Annie's dad, and her husband Charlie. Their daughters are now the fourth generation of kiełbasa makers in America.

The extended family gets together to prepare kiełbasa every year. They do it in a hands-on manner by chopping the wood, tending the fire, and constantly checking the sausage. Annie believes in "starting them young" so that meaning-filled traditions become normal to her kids. Her daughters are involved in cutting the casings, mixing the meat, and sharing it with their next-door neighbors. On Easter Sunday, Annie's family comes home from church and shares the fruits of their labors in celebration.

Making Buffalo Home is a two-year, in-depth WNED | WBFO engagement initiative to inform and raise awareness of immigration for our entire community. The project aims to help the region develop a better understanding of the shared opportunities and challenges we face together as long-time residents and new immigrants and refugees.

Making Buffalo Home is funded by Rich Products Corporation and Rich Family Foundation.