I was born in Poland and though my family didn’t live there long after I arrived, we took from there many traditions and recipes that we still enjoy today. When you uproot yourself and embrace a new “homeland” you really need to remember where you came from, your name might change, your country will change, city might change, and your life will change, but the recipes and family traditions you have are your true link to where you’ve started. These traditions are part of who I am.
One of those traditions for me is making pierogi. We don’t make Christmas cookies like my American friends, in fact when I try they are disastrous (more on this later.) I remember the first time my parents entrusted me with this Polish tradition of making pierogi, I was 3 years old and anxious to pitch in during Christmas. They set me up at my own little table, with a little rolling pin, a tiny bit of dough, and off I went making my first pierog (singular for pierogi). My nimble fingers and tiny hands helped seal the filling inside the dough and pinch it shut with that familiar, crimped pattern. After that, it went into the boiling pot of salted water along with the ones my parents mass produced. They bobbed and rolled around until they were done and floated to the top. Typically our family would make around 100, we’d freeze or chill most of them and use a bit at a time. On Christmas Eve we are not allowed to eat meat, so we had to be careful to only eat the ones filled with sour kraut and dried mushrooms (I’ll post more information about our Polish Christmas traditions soon.)
As time went on I began being a bigger part of the pierogi making tradition, in high school my dad and I would dress in extra layers then venture down to our creepy, cold basement, turn on Christmas carols from his dinky little radio, sing at the top of our lungs while we made dough by hand, rolled it out, cut numerous circles and filled it with either ground beef and onion or sour kraut and dried mushrooms.
For many reasons that tradition has solely become mine. I take great pride in my craftsmanship and I have since added a few “improvements” to helping my dough stay fresh and my pierogi numbers above 100 – even if it’s just me making them. This year I mixed the dough in our Kitchen Aid Mixer, my holiday pride and joy. Yes, I am cheating a little, but this way I can make more dough and faster without tiring my twiggy arms and frail hands. I also work with smaller amounts of dough and seal the rest in a bowl so each round I make is as fresh as the last. Also, this year I took mass production to a new level. Wire racks! For ages we tried to cool off our boiled creations on numerous plates deposited around the kitchen, they would cool, but the belly would stick to the plate and from time to time we’d have a disaster, requiring me to quickly eat the evidence. The wire racks worked great, keeping my product off the plate and cooling more quickly and evenly. I’ve also taken things a step further by layering parchment paper between my layers of pierogi so they don’t stick as much when packaged in Tupperware and more can be fit into my tiny freezer. (Pierogi are known to compete for space with my Lean Cuisines.)
When we are ready to enjoy them, I simply thaw the ones we’ll eat in one sitting and then saute with oil or butter. Crispy, crunchy skin, encasing a lump of meat or sour kraut and mushroom filling.
Each year I begin the process wondering why I don’t do this more frequently during the year, why I wait until December to make things happen. Three hours later, caked in dough in what used to be my kitchen, I remind myself that this is a tradition best kept up during Christmas.