Some of my favorite recipes are ones that have been handed down throughout the years, from various family members. One in particular is for Polish pierogi, given to me by my Auntie Irene. Pierogi (sometimes pronounced “per-o-gi”) are dumplings of unleavened dough, which are stuffed with various fillings, like sauerkraut, potato, ground meat, or cheese. They are then boiled and drained, and in my Auntie’s recipe, the pierogi are then fried in butter until they are a little crispy on the outside.
Although Auntie Irene claimed that she didn’t like to cook, every holiday she would go on a wild pierogi-making frenzy. If you have never made pierogi, I can tell you that it is no small undertaking. They are labor intensive and messy, but worth every single minute that it takes to make them. A regular batch of pierogi would produce about 75 dumplings, but Auntie Irene would make hundreds of them, and give them to everyone in the family as gifts. We would eat them on Easter, Christmas and other special occasions, usually with a fresh Polish kielbasa, and no matter what else was on the menu, her pierogi were everyone’s favorite dish.
Auntie Irene was married to my Uncle Tony. They were a scream together. I could write an entire book just about them, and perhaps someday I will. In their house, Uncle Tony did most of the cooking; Auntie Irene sat back and drank her coffee. But the fondest memories I have about them are eating wonderful, comforting dinners at their house, like pot roast and mashed potatoes, served alongside a bottomless gravy boat. For dessert, we would have cake that Auntie Irene bought from a local bakery, and she always let us have a second helping, with extra frosting.
Getting back to our pierogi, though, this type of boiled dumpling originated in Slavic countries, like Poland, Russia, Germany, and others, and they go by different names, depending upon who makes them and what they’re stuffed with. The Polish name, “pierogi,” is plural. The name for a single dumpling would be “pierog”, which is rarely used in the language because nobody would ever eat a single dumpling. Once you take a bite, you’re certain to gobble up at least 3 or 4. In our family, we stuffed them with a mixture of sauerkraut and onion that has been sautéed in butter. I’ve tried some other fillings that I really like, too – one in particular is farmer’s cheese, which is basically a pressed cottage cheese that’s similar to ricotta. And I’ve made a dessert version stuffed with raspberries, and served with sweetened sour cream, that’s out of this world!
I don’t make pierogi very often, but when I do, I admit that I cheat and use my pasta machine to roll the dough out thinly. Auntie Irene would be shocked if she was alive to witness such sacrilege. And honestly, as good as my pierogi taste, they are still not as good as hers. There is nobody on the planet that rivals my Auntie Irene – her stories, her sense of humor, her lust for life, and her famous pierogi.