I am a third-generation Polish cook. My Busia (Grandmother) Harriet Czarnecki cooked for many, many years. She served Pulaski Days crowds at
Kosciuszko Hall with the help of her sisters, Florence Wierzbecki and Alice Ropoleski (along with other family members). These ladies would cook for extra
money to help their families. My Busia had 12 children, so the extra money helped with shoes, clothing, and some schooling costs.
As a small girl, I helped cater various weddings, banquets, baby and bridal showers, and of course those Pulaski Weekends! The smells of cabbage boiling on
the stove top, the spices and garlic of kielbasa, and the pungent aroma of kapusta are the life blood, comfort and memories these fine women gave me.
Any time spent with my Busia was an opportunity to soak in the history of Polish food. We would make our own Polish pastries: paczki, babka and ever-
so-delicate kruschiki. To this day, the smells of yeast, butter, and sugar and the warm feeling of the dough in my hands make me smile and remember Busia
standing right next to me.
There are just so many memories. Busia started to cater with her daughters, Barb Hoogerhyde and Margie Pintek (Norton). She called her catering business
“Busia’s Cooking”. Together they catered many events. We all helped out and had the best time. Sadly Busia developed Alzheimer’s and, after a long
battle, passed away. The catering business, like so many others, just disappeared.
My Aunt Mary Puhalski was a member of Fifth Street Hall, so I joined and it was there that I met another wonderful Polish cook, Sandy Crapsy. Sandy and
I exchanged recipes, tips, techniques and memories. I was very blessed to learn from her. After several years, our dear friend Sandy passed away and once
again the catering came to an end.
A few years ago, the Polish Heritage Society called and asked if I would be interested in demonstrating some of the Polish recipes I learned from my Busia at
their annual festival on Calder Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids. I was thrilled! I also used my food to promote the festival to the local media. Tony Gates
and Uncle Buck from WLAV-FM asked why I don’t have my own catering business. I ignored the question for several years, then things started to roll.
Friends and club members asked me to make them some of my Polish food, then I catered the past two Pulaski Day Queen Pageants. People were raving and
wanted more. The Polish Pride of my ancestry was growing like a wild seed inside of me. Too many Pulaski Weekends had passed by, and I finally decided
to jump in with both feet and cook to honor the memory and traditions of my Busia, friends and family. Busia always said “God has a plan for you. Have
faith and know you can do anything. Treat everyone with respect, and you will do well with whatever you do.”
Now in 2008 I am very proud to carry on the “Tasteful Generations” of cooking for Pulaski Weekend. With a trememdous amount of help from the club
members, I am the Official Caterer for Fifth Street Hall / St. Adalbert’s Aid Society. It is very exciting and comforting knowing that this is exactly what
those fine ladies had in mind for me many, many years ago. I am carrying on their legacy of love with the flavors and aromas of my Polish heritage. We have
geared up for the upcoming weekend and have plenty of Busia’s delicious goodies on hand.
With Pulaski Weekend, I am officially kicking off my new catering business, “That Polish Girl Catering – Just like Busia Made It”. The name came from
people calling Fifth Street Hall asking “who is that Polish girl who cooks there?”. Since my last name is like a Polish eye chart and few can pronounce it,
“That Polish Girl” seems to fit. I offer catering for “private” events of 2 to 150 people. In addition to traditional Polish dishes, I have included some of my
favorite non-Polish dishes that people love and have requested.
I can just see those Polish ladies — Busia, Alice, Florence and Sandy — all smiling down from Heaven and saying, “YOU GO GIRL!!”
by Laura Szczepanek (AKA That Polish Girl)
Pulaski Days 2008
That Polish Girl Catering
“Just like Busia made it!”
Laura Szczepanek, Owner