Pierogi = Christmas memories
Here in Central Illinois and in most rural areas of our country, most people would visualize an old country Christmas taking place on a snow-covered farm in a beautifully decorated old farmhouse. But for me, an old country Christmas has a very different meaning. In my predominately Polish-Catholic neighborhood on the east side of Detroit, the Christmas traditions celebrated were those that came from the “Old Country” — Poland. And Busia’s pierogi was the star of many a dinner celebration.
Christmas Eve was the big event for just about all of us living in my neighborhood. As kids we could hardly wait for the day to arrive — mostly because of the hours of fun we would have with our family. Gifts seemed secondary.
My grandparents’ 1920s bungalow, just like many others on my block, would be filled to the rafters with their very large family, amazing food, Polish polkas and Christmas music played on the piano by my Aunt Janine. Along with the music (and spirits) came singing, dancing, and lots and lots of laughter. The party continued for hours and yet we still managed to wander into our neighborhood church for midnight mass, along with many of our neighbors, to celebrate the true meaning of the day.
Preparations for the late-evening dinner took days — Kowalski fresh and smoked kielbasa (I preferred the smoked) with sauerkraut, Honey-Baked ham (with its humble beginnings in Detroit), sauteed mushrooms with onion, pickled herring (an acquired taste that I never have acquired), homemade apple pie (Busia made THE best) and, of course, the family’s Christmas Eve favorite — Pierogi.
My grandmother (Busia as she was fondly called by her 12 grandchildren and all the neighborhood kids as well), would begin the Christmas Eve pierogi-making marathon in the very early hours of the morning, making the dough, rolling out the dough and then filling the dough with the most wonderful cheese/onion filling. They were then boiled, stored in a roaster until dinner, and then fried up in butter and served with a couple of dollops of sour cream on the side. Leftovers, if there were any, were then pan-fried the following morning as part of Christmas breakfast. This process took hours as she made well over 100 of them.
So many members of the family have passed on throughout the years, but I have done my best to keep these traditions alive with my own family, and over the past few years, with local school kids as part of my community outreach program. I share a little history of Poland and my Christmas Eve memories with the class as we make Busia’s Pierogi. I still use my grandmother’s recipe but changed the method of preparation to speed up the process. I now use my food processor to quickly mix the dough and then use my pasta maker to roll it out to just the right thickness.
The farmer’s cheese that we used traditionally at home has become difficult to obtain, so I began using a mashed potato/cheddar cheese/onion filling that has become my family’s favorite and the filling most Americans are familiar with. But my personal favorite— sauerkraut!
I also recall my Aunt Joan telling me about a dessert pierogi using a delicious prune filling that I have yet to try. I also pan-fry the pierogi in butter right before serving, as I prefer that method. At school, we quite impressively made pierogi from start to finish in 45 minutes — 10 kids working in kitchen sped the process along quite nicely. We were covered in flour but what a hit with the kids!
So, as I celebrate this Christmas Eve with my family and friends using all of my grandmother’s recipes (except for the pickled herring), it is with such wonderful yet bittersweet memories from my childhood. Merry Christmas to all of you and to my sister, aunts, cousins, and dear friends from Detroit — Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia!
2 cups flour
1/2 cup water
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon butter or margarine
In a mixing bowl with a dough hook, MIX all ingredients until the dough is pliable. You can mix the ingredients together with a spoon and then knead. Also, all ingredients can be combined into the bowl of a food processor and pulse processed until dough forms a ball. Try not to over-process. If the dough is too soft, add more flour; if too stiff, add water.
CUT the dough in half and ROLL out to 1/16 of an inch thick. Dough may to have a bit of flour added to it as it is rolled as it is a sticky dough. CUT into circles about 3 1/2 inches in diameter. PLACE a spoonful of your favorite filling on half the circle. FOLD over. PUT some water on the edge of the circle and PINCH together. PUT the pierogi into boiling salted water. COOK for three to five minutes. REMOVE from the water with a slotted spoon and SERVE with melted butter. Or PAN FRY the cooked pierogi in butter until lightly browned.
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups hot mashed potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
For the mashed potato filling, MELT butter in a skillet over medium heat. STIR in the onion, and COOK until translucent, about five minutes. STIR into the mashed potatoes, and SEASON with salt and white pepper.
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cups sauerkraut, drained and minced
salt and pepper to taste
To prepare the sauerkraut filling, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion, and cook until translucent, about five minutes. Add the drained sauerkraut and cook for an additional five minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then remove to a plate to cool.
Busia’s Cheese Filling
1 pound farmer’s cheese (consistency of a dry curd cottage cheese or ricotta)
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons butter
SAUTE onion in butter. COMBINE Farmer’s cheese and egg. ADD sauteed onion and COMBINE.