KRAKOW, Poland (AFP)
Polish Sister Anastazja stands in the kitchen of WAM publishing house in Krakow, on January 23. "Many of my rrecipes come to me in dreams", she says, citing "divine inspiration" for her near-million copy sales status, an extraordinary success by Polish standards. The aroma wafting out of Sister Anastazja's kitchen is divine. The Polish nun has written several cookbooks -- whose recipes come to her in dreams -- and she is now set to release a DVD. With military precision, the matronly Catholic nun surveys pantry shelves laden with home-made preserves. After selecting her ingredients, she whips up a recipe she may well include in her next cookbook -- following her first four blockbusters. "Many of my recipes come to me in dreams," she says, citing "divine inspiration" for her near-million copy sales status, an extraordinary success by Polish standards outpaced only by the late Polish-born pope and "Harry Potter". "The hard part is remembering to write down the recipe when I wake up -- before I forget!" With a total 559 recipes,
Sister Anastazja's cookbooks include saucy little numbers like "The Drunk", "The Coquette" and the "Mother-in-Law's Breast", reflecting the wry sense of humour she shares with her Jesuit publishers."One lady wrote me with a complaint that I'd been disrespectful to a certain part of the female anatomy," she chuckles. "She must have been a mother-in-law." Polish Sister Anastazja signs her cookbooks in a bookshop of Jesuit Fathers in Krakow, on January 23.
"Many of my recipes come to me in dreams", she says, citing "divine inspiration" for her near-million copy sales status, an extraordinary success by Polish standards.With her porcelain complexion from decades spent over steaming pots, 58-year-old Sister Anastazja went a step further last month, becoming the first nun in Poland to release a DVD. Her 51-minute "Perfect Cakes" gives easy-to-follow tips on baking tarts she insists will turn out right every time, like her trademark "Nun's Secret" she says was revealed in a dream or the "Happy Highlander", drenched in spirits. Printing presses whir madly just down the hall from her ground-floor kitchen, where mouth-watering aromas clash oddly with the pungent smell of ink.
Upstairs her tomes are among thousands of others sold in the airy bookshop of the Jesuit Fathers' WAM publishing house. "Sister Anastazja has been cooking for us for years," says Father Henryk Pietras, director of the 136-year-old publishers. "We came to the conclusion her food is so delicious we should share this treasure."Her first tome, "103 Cakes of Sister Anastazja", was published in 2001 and the most recent hit the shops last year. The glossy, hard-covered books have become popular wedding gifts, as well as a hit with time-strapped women who say Sister Anastazja's instructions make recipes easy. Polish Sister Anastazja is pictured in the kitchen of WAM publishing house in Krakow, on January 23. "Many of my recipes come to me in dreams", she says, citing "divine inspiration" for her near-million copy sales status, an extraordinary success by Polish standards. "All told, about a million copies have sold," says Pietras proudly. Only books by the late Polish-born Pope John Paul II, the memoirs of his right-hand man Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz and J.K. Rowling's blockbuster "Harry Potter" series have sold more in Poland, according to publishers websites. "She creates a lot of recipes and she's extremely picky about the ones she'll publish. She checks each one about 15 times and we have to test it -- to eat it all!" says Pietras, who cites cheesecake as his personal favorite.
In heavily Catholic Poland, Sister Anastazja's success has sparked a wave of copycat publications by nuns cooking for other orders of Polish priests. Most notably, Krakow's Salvatorian Fathers, who run a rival publishing house established in 1998, have launched a series of cookbooks by their very own Sister Aniela. "So far, Sister Aniela is the only nun in Poland who has her own (culinary) TV programme," reads a line highlighted in red on the Salvatorian's website.The craze of 'nuns-tell-all' cookbooks has broken a centuries-old taboo by religious orders who maintained strict secrecy over their recipes, according to Pietras. But Sister Anastazja says, "cooking is a pleasure and it makes me happy to share my recipes -- I certainly don't won't take them to the grave." Born Krystyna Pustelnik, the nun says her love for kitchen work began when she lost both her parents to illness and was left an orphan at 17.
The first recipes she learned to cook, simple and wholesome peasant dishes like "zurek" sour soup and "galabki" cabbage rolls, remain her own favorites. And she confesses she never imagined she would be a best-selling cookbook writer -- or release her own DVD. "Really, I thought it would just be a kind of brochure," she says of her initial effort."My life hasn't really changed. Sometimes I have a little less time, but I make sure I have time for prayer -- it's the most important. The books are just secondary, really," she says.