It seems like in the melting pot that is America, the one ethnic tradition that outlasts all the other aspects of language and culture is food. Pierogies are a delicious potato and cheese filled pastry, and are one of those kinds of ethnic foods, passed on to me by my mother’s Polish family. My mom’s parents, Mary and Henry Nebzydoski, both were the children of immigrants and both spoke Polish, although none of the language was passed down to my mother and her nine siblings. They were dairy farmers in rural Pennsylvania, my uncle still runs their farm today. My grandmother was a wonderful cook and I remember eating pierogies by the dozen as a child. We had contests on who could eat the most.
My grandmother was very Catholic, attending mass at her tiny local church almost daily in her later years. Pierogies, apparently, are a traditional Lent food. (Lent, for the unindoctrinated, is the 40 days before Easter. Right now it’s Lent.) Traditionally during Lent, Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays. So this meatless dish was served on Fridays in Lent, and also made en masse by my grandmother and the church ladies, for a fundraiser.
Here’s a photo of my grandparents and eight of their ten children. The one in glasses is my mom. My grandmother Mary Nebzydoski is in the middle and my grandfather Henry is on the right. I’m not sure who the man with the cigar is, if somebody in my family knows, leave a comment!
A few years ago my mom compiled a cookbook of Nebzydoski family recipes. In it was grandma’s recipe for pierogies, calling for 14 cups of flour. This must have been the recipe the church ladies used. We split it in half and still had a LOT of pierogies. But none of them lasted long enough to be frozen for later!
- 1 cup oil
- 6 eggs
- 2 cups water
- 2 Tbsp salt
- 7 cups flour
Mix all ingredients to make a stiff dough. Add a little more flour if it’s sticky.
- 2 1/2 pounds cut up potatoes, boiled.
- 5 oz cheddar cheese
- 2 Tbsp salt
- 2 Tbsp butter
Mix like mashed potatoes. Add the cheese while the potatoes are still hot, and keep it fairly stiff as it will make it easier to make the pierogies.
To make the pierogies, divide the dough into 8 pieces. Roll out one of them as flat as you can get it. I found the dough to be a little stretchy and hard to get really flat and thin, but do the best you can. Cut into 4×4 inch squares and place a spoonful of filling on the middle of each one. Put a little water along the edges, fold over in a triangle, and squish them shut.
I put the pierogies onto a cookie sheet as I was forming them, so they wouldn’t stick together. Next, you have to boil them. (Pierogi dough is actually a lot like fresh noodle dough.) Drop them into a pot of boiling water a few a time, stir a little to prevent sticking. Remove with a slotted spoon when they float to the top. If they water gets too sticky and murky, you may need fresh water. Cool on a flat surface.
There are two ways to eat pieorgies: deep fried in oil, or baked with butter and onions. Because we were serving a lot of people at once, the baking method was easier, so we chose that. As a kid, I always liked them fried, but now I’d say both are delicious. And equally unhealthy, because you need a LOT of butter.
We did two different versions, one traditional with butter and caramelized onions, and the other with butter, onions, and balsamic vinegar. We served them with homemade chutneys from last year’s garden, including chili sauce, green tomato and apple chutney, and sweet pepper relish.
Almost forgot to tell you that if you want to eat pierogies without all the work of making them, they’re on the menu at Salt Tears Coffehouse and Noshery, a new restaurant right here in Boise. Located in the same shopping center as the Collister Library, it offers an interesting and different lunch menu. We’ve only eaten there once but liked it. Salt Tears shares it’s space with an art gallery featuring all kinds of local art. The pierogies were the real thing, and we also tried the bread pudding and some kind of mini pizza.