I have an aunt who had quite a hand in raising me through my teens. It seems that there is a rift in every family, and that’s the rift in mine. So there is this part of my family, out in California, and that’s the part that taught me about pierogi.
I’m Polish way back, but Polish Jewish, and although yes the Jews seem to make pierogi too, it seems that those pillowy lovely dumplings are more the soul food of the Polish Catholics. My aunt–that one in California–she’s the only Polish Catholic in my family, and it was she who first guided my hand at the Safeway in San Francisco to the top shelf in the freezer section. Honestly I had no idea what she was after, but then she had out with it.
“We’re going to need some Mrs. T’s.”
My aunt is a pretty good cook, but she always seemed happy to let others do the work when they could do it better. We took those Mrs. T’s home and fried them with onions in butter, and pierogi became one of those foods that I search out and love. The fact that there are dumplings in nearly every culture really speaks to the fact that they are a perfect food. Ravioli, pot stickers, empanadas, steamed buns; these are the foods that can soothe us in any language.
It’s been ten years since the day that our family split apart, and I haven’t been to Northern California since. I won’t go into details, at least not now, but I’m guessing that you might have some story in your family that helps you to fill in the holes. Amazing how many of those nasty family fights seems to happen at the holidays, don’t you think?
When I married Joey, he reminded me of Mrs. T’s, and I was once again reaching for the bag on the freezer shelf in the supermarket. Then he started teaching, and his holidays as a preschool teacher brought so many handmade wonderful treats. There were stunning little snowflake ornaments, glittery pine cones, hand dipped candles. Then there were the edibles–sugar cookies and little bags of candy and sweet little jars of loose tea. What teachers lack for in salary, they make up for in love and the absolute best holiday gifts. And when his little tiny student Felicia brought him a sealed ziplock bag with a bow on it, he could not believe his luck.
Felicia’s mother Marya has been making pierogi with the women in her family since she was tiny. The path to perfect dough is in her blood, and her daughters pronounce the word with absolute correctness. As she taught us how to roll the circles and fill them to bursting without bursting, Felicia couldn’t wait, and she kept asking, “Mama, when can I have pierogi?”
And so we rolled and shaped, and like last year when Marya and Felicia came over to teach us how to make butter lambs, I felt like I was being let in on a very very precious secret.
I am such a mishmosh of traditions, but I love a good one, a real one, a tradition that has not so much been like a game of telephone, but that really has been passed down because there is no need for it to change. The women in Marya’s family have been teaching other people to make pierogi forever, and this was the first time that Marya had taught someone outside of her family on her own. We were so honored to be the first.
And you are the second.
makes about 50
for the dough:
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups all purpose flour
for the filling:
3 pounds farmer’s cheese
1/2 cup potato flakes
1/2 cup sugar
(yes, of course you can fill them with anything you like! but this is the basic filling, so start here)
Make the filling:
Combine the cheese, potato flakes, sugar and white pepper. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop balls of about 1 1/2 tablespoons of filling, making ready made balls of filling. Lay them on a plate or baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.
Make the dough:
Beat together the water, oil, salt and eggs. Scoop the flour into a large mixing bowl, and make a well in the flour. Pour in the wet ingredients and mix with a spoon, then your hands, until the dough is uniform and comes away from the sides of the bowl. It should be moldable and soft–you can add a bit of flour or water if it doesn’t feel this way. Put the ball of dough under a glass bowl and let it rest until you can see condensation on the bowl, about 15 minutes.
Divide the dough into three sections. Roll out the first section on a floured counter. Roll to about 1/4 inch, then flip the dough and roll again. Flip one more time, roll it one more time, and then cut circles in the dough with a 3-inch glass or biscuit cutter. Any remaining dough can get pushed back together and put under the glass bowl to rest again for another 15 minutes.
Fill the pierogi:
Pick up one circle of dough and place a scoop of filling in the center of it. With your finger over the filling, stretch the dough around it.
Seal the edges together.
And crimp like a pie crust. Make sure that there are no holes or spaces in the seam.
Lay the finished pierogi on a lightly floured plate.
Repeat until you are out of dough and filling.
Meanwhile, get a large pot of water going at a low boil. Spin the water with a spoon, and gently slide the pierogi into the water. You want them to have plenty of room, so cook in a few batches. Cook for about 7 minutes, or until the pierogi are floating and a bit puffed up.
Transfer to a bowl of cool water. At this point you can eat them, you can fry them–anything you like. To store them, lay out on lint-free towels to dry for a few minutes. If you want to refrigerate them, toss in a bit of melted butter, and transfer to ziplock bags. They’ll be good for up to five days.
If you’d like to freeze them, you have two options: lay the pierogi out on baking trays and freeze. Transfer to freezer bags. OR toss with a bit of clarified butter (Marya swears that it prevents ice crystals) and transfer to freezer bags. From the freezer, they can go directly into the frying pan, microwave or oven. Or they can go to your child’s teacher and make him very, very happy.