Thursday, April 1, 2010

Making Pierogies For My Dad

This post originally appeared in 2009 - my dad's operation was a success.
We still love periogies.

This is a picture of my mom and dad on their wedding day.

Everyone in my family gathers at my older brother's house on Easter. My brother supplies the ham. It is the best ham I have ever eaten. He buys it at an old Polish butcher in an even older Polish neighborhood. One of those neighborhoods that hardly exist anymore. He doesn't do anything fancy to the ham. No glaze, no pineapple. No studding it with cloves. But he does slice it thick and hot and piles it high on a big platter all pink and moist. Not too salty and never dry.

Everyone brings something to the Easter table. About a week or so before Easter Sunday we start making the phone calls, "what should I bring, what is mom bringing?" " What is everyone else bringing?" By the big day we have a table that is groaning under the weight of sweet potatoes and beans and eggs and cheese and bread and a dozen or so other dishes from our past and some from our present.

This year, I'm making Pierogies for my dad. My dad needs an operation. It's a biggy. It really doesn't matter so much what kind of operation it is. The important information is that it is a serious operation. He will be in the intensive care unit for a couple of days, then a regular hospital room for a couple of days.

I am worried about my dad.

That's why I'm making him pierogies. Pierogies are a dish from our past. They are so much a part of our past that we even have a Family Pierogie Story. Mom, if you're reading this forgive me if this isn't quite right - but this is how I remember the Family Pierogie Story.

One day when I was in kindergarten my mother decided she was going to make Pierogies for my dad. Maybe my dad was having a bad week, or maybe my mom was having a good week. This was before you could just go buy a box of Mrs. T's. Mom's stayed at home, JFK was the president and if you wanted Pierogies you had to make them yourself. It was probably a Friday because back then we didn't eat meat on Fridays and Pierogies don't have meat in them. They are also very filling so you can make a meal out of just good old pierogies. The problem was that my mom didn't know how to make pierogies - she not being Slovak. My dad remembered his mom making them, but she died when he was only 12 - so it was only a good memory, not a recipe. So my mom wants to do this nice thing for my dad but doesn't have a recipe. No problem. Back then you knew everyone's ethnic background so she called my kindergarten friend Bonnie K's mom (Arlene K.) and got the recipe. The recipe had come from Mrs. Arlene K's mom and probably from her mom before that. It was a FAMILY recipe. This was before blogs or or so you had to know someone to get a recipe. Or you read Good Housekeeping, but something tells me GH was not going on and on about pierogies.

Note: Pierogies - in case you do not know, are stuffed semi-circles of dough. They are NOT stuffed pasta. In the sixties we did not have pasta, we had spagetti noodles which are impossible to stuff no matter how good a cook you are. We had dough. Slovak's have dough. Got that? I did not make up this rule - I was only 5 years old at the time - it's just the way it was.

Now making Pierogies is no simple task, but my mom didn't know that because she didn't have anyone to teach her how and she never saw anyone make them. But my mom's pretty smart and she started to making them, figuring them out as she went along. Now, you have to picture this. There are alot of littles in my family. I was 5 - which makes my sister 8, my brother 6 1/2, my younger brother 3 and my younger sister either newborn or my mom 9 months pregnant. (there's another sister but she was not born yet at the time of the great Family Pierogie Story) It could not have been easy making those pierogies with all us littles running around.

So my mom is making the dough, rolling it out, cutting it into rounds, stuffing those little rounds with potatoes and cheese and some with buttery fried cabbage (cabbage is real big in Slovak pierogies).

So she's making those pierogies and she's putting them in a big yellow mixing bowl so she can boil them later for dinner. I still remember that bowl. It was one of those huge bowls that could hold mounds of stuff. I bet she had about a 100 pierogies in there. She was also probably humming a little while she was rolling and stuffing because my mom always hums a little when she is concentrating or doing something that makes her happy. I can just imagine how pleased she was with herself for making all those pierogies for my dad as a big surprise. It must have taken her all day and I just know she couldn't wait to show my dad when he got home from work.

Well, as the Family Pierogie Story goes, my dad gets home from work all hungry and my mom proudly shows him the big bowl full of pierogies. When she goes to take them out of the bowl to begin boiling them she discovers that you can't stack pierogies; what happens is they stick together to form the biggest pierogie in the world. Just one big lump of dough (not pasta) and potatoes and cheese and buttery fried cabbage.

I'm sure my mom cried that day. But she went on to learn from her mistake and she taught me how to make pierogies and lay them on wax paper lined cookie sheets until I'm ready to boil or saute or fry or freeze or whatever I'm doing to them.

A few days ago my daughter-in-law asked me if I'd teach her how to make pierogies so she can make them for my son. Hopefully she will one day teach my granddaughters. The tradition continues with a recipe that is probably over 100 years old. That makes me happy even though I'm still terribly worried about my dad.

I think I'll probably hum a little while I'm making these pierogies. Just like my mom did.

Pierogies: (old world)

4 cups flour
4 eggs - unbeaten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
cold water

Make a well in the center of your flour. Crack eggs into the well. Add salt and some cold water (a little at a time) and knead until smooth. Keep the dough moist, not sticky. If it's too sticky add a little more flour. Roll out thin on a lightly floured board, cut in circles. Fill. Moisten edges and pinch closed. THIS IS THE IMPORTANT MORAL OF THE FAMILY PIEROGIE STORY:

Lay out on waxpaper lined cookie sheets until ready to cook (you can also freeze at this stage)

Cook in boiling water for approximatley 15 minutes (or until they float). Remove from boiling water and toss with melted butter.

My favorite filling:
Mashed Potatoes (you can make them yourself or cheat and buy store bought)
Lot's of shredded cheddar cheese - put enough cheese in the potatoes so you can TASTE the cheese.
My dad's favorite filling:
Fry shredded cabbage in butter. Salt and Pepper to taste. Let cool. Spoon on dough rounds. Fold and seal.

Here is an updated fresh take on an old world classic: (from Jamie Oliver's Cook with Jamie - he calls it Ravioli - but we KNOW it's really pierogie)

Pierogie with Pecorino, Potato and Mint:

5 cups flour (use tipo 00 if you can get it, if not just use all purpose)
6 large eggs

Place the flour on a board or a bowl. Make a well in the center and crack the eggs into it. Beat the eggs with a fork until smooth. Using your fingers, work the flour into the egg. When everything is incorporated, knead until smooth and satiny. This will take a while, but you'll know when it's done because you'll have a big, smooth, satiny lump of dough instead of a rough and floury lump of dough.

You can also use your food processor to make the dough. Just put everything in, whiz it up until it looks like breadcrumbs, then dump it out and knead as above.

You can either roll it out at this point, or if you have one, use your pasta maker roller to roll out streams of dough.

3 medium to large potatoes (about the size of your fist)
Salt and Pepper
7 tablespoons of butter plus 2 more
2 handfuls of grated pecorino cheese plus more for serving
1/4 nutmeg - grated
zest of 1 lemon
a bunch of fresh mint

Preheat oven to 400. Wash and prick your potatoes, roll in a little salt and bake until done, about 1 hour. Cool. Scoop potatoes out of their skins and put them in a bowl. Chop half your mint leaves. Add 7 T of butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper, cheese, lemon zest and mint to potatoes and mash with a potato masher.

Roll out your dough. Cut into rounds. Fill, then fold and seal. You already know to lay them out on wax paper, right?

Put on a pot of salted water. Bring to a boil and cook pierogies for 3 1/2 minutes. While the pierogies are cooking, melt the last 2 big tablespoons of butter in a saute pan. Add a little of the cooking water and simmer until you have a light sauce. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pierogies to the saute pan. Turn to coat. Serve with extra pecorino and torn mint leaves.

And remember to hum a little while doing all this. It's part of the great Family Pierogie Story


  1. I love these pierogies. I can't wait to try them again!

  2. Hey thks for sharing the family recipe for pierogies. I will have to put this in my cook book to pass on to my kids. Aunt Dolores (ur mom) was always a good cook and was always cooking or baking someting as was nanny back in the day. I just saw ur mom at the store the day before easter she looks great! SORRY to hear about Uncle Andy (ur dad) hope it's nothing to serious. It's funny cause when we were kids we feared him and now the grand kids and nieces and nephews think he is AWESOME! Take care!

  3. You are welcome! Yes, we did fear him didn't we? LOL.. He has mellowed over the years. I think maybe it's the pierogies - or maybe we are just not driving him crazy anymore. The pierogies were delicious on Easter!

  4. First one I ever had, was stuffed with a combo of mashed potatoes and mashed turnips..they were so nasty, I thought they had pulled a joke on me! Big Polish community here, and the Kielbasa flies out of every Polish meat market in town for Easter.. Do you have the molded butter lambs?

  5. Buffalo - You better believe we have a butter lamb on the table at Easter! mashed potatoes and turnips? Now that's nasty...

  6. Oh my, I must make these for my family! We have a family recipe - "knipflas and saurkraut" - I hope all goes will with your Dad, and he is eating pierogies very soon!

  7. It's been so long since I've had one of those. Yum.


Wow. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I love feedback... what with being a cook and all. I will respond to your comments via email (if you do not have a "noreply" address or here, below your comment) As always, Bon Appetite!

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