Linda Tenney’s holiday feasts give guests a culinary tour of her ancestral homeland. Linda Wisz Tenney is a tour de force in the town of Antrim, New Hampshire, where she has lived with her husband, Eric, since they married in 1966. Together, and with their extended family, they run Tenney Farm, a farm stand that […]
By Edie Clark
Dec 04 2014
Linda TenneyPhoto Credit : Matt Kalinowski
Linda Tenney’s holiday feasts give guests a culinary tour of her ancestral homeland.
Linda Wisz Tenney is a tour de force in the town of Antrim, New Hampshire, where she has lived with her husband, Eric, since they married in 1966. Together, and with their extended family, they run Tenney Farm, a farm stand that sells, according to the sign over the entry door, “our own stuff”: fresh vegetables of all kinds and ice cream, too. She’s also involved in many town events, a rug-hooking group, and the Lions Club. But what really distinguishes Linda is her zeal for Polish food and Polish cooking. Christmas and Easter are her showtimes. She celebrates both holidays with her Polish specialties, offering a Christmas open house for her neighbors and Easter brunch for the family, a spread with a reputation that extends far beyond Antrim.
Eric and Linda live in a converted barn next to the farm stand. The barn, with its white-washed posts and beams, was a Sears numbered structure from 1924, a place where Jersey cows were once milked exactly where her beautifully crafted kitchen, with marble countertops, now sits. It’s where she prepares s’ledzie marynowane w s’mietanie (pickled herring with sour cream), grzybki z kwas’na s’mietana (mushrooms in sour cream), and keks Warszawski (Warsaw fruitcake). “I’m 100 percent Polish,” she says with pride. “Both my parents were Polish, and so were my grandparents.”
Linda is almost 70 and her parents are gone, but their food has outlived them. “I had mushrooms every day of my life, growing up [in upstate New York]–pickled, boiled, baked, creamed, fried, you name it. I never tire of them. Mushrooms are central to Polish food. A lot of people think that Polish food is just pierogies and kielbasa. That’s not even the half of it.”
For Linda’s Christmas Eve meal, she pulls in every bit of Polish cooking she can, offering her guests seven, nine, sometimes eleven courses. “Whatever you serve, it has to be in odd numbers, because of the Trinity,” she explains. “It’s all based on Catholicism. Catholicism has always been knocked for its symbolism, but that’s what I love about it, the use of symbols.”
On Christmas Eve, the table is set for the traditional Wigilia supper, with the Polish communion wafer, often imprinted with the Virgin Mary. A tiny bundle of straw is placed under the tablecloth, as a reminder of Christ’s birth in the stable. Linda’s collection of 100 manger scenes is on display, as well as the traditional wheat sheaf, tucked in the corner. The family Christmas tree is laden with blown-glass ornaments from Poland that she has collected over the years.
Nothing is served until the first star comes out, a Polish tradition Linda has kept since childhood. The family attends an early Christmas Eve Mass, watches for the star, and then the festivities can begin. “Christmas Eve is totally meatless,” Linda adds. “This gives us a sense of self-denial.”
For Wigilia, Linda begins cooking after Thanksgiving, freezing and pickling in advance. The day before, she makes her soups and the pierogies and blintzes. And when the much-awaited day arrives, her table is crowded with pickled beets, pickled herring with sour cream and capers, meatless borscht, pierogies filled with cheese and sauerkraut, cheese blintzes, baked fish (with horseradish), mushrooms and sour cream, noodles with poppy seeds, poppy-seed cake, Christmas bread, and dried fruit compote. And, of course, pickles. Polish tradition may deny meat on this day, but not much else.
Linda does a similar Polish spread for her Easter brunch, which has a whole different feeling: “Easter is new life, new beginnings. Here on the farm we have the chicks and lambs. Everyone loves spring. But Christmas Eve, it’s at night and it feels very holy. We bring our ancestors with us that night.”