It’s National Pierogi Day! (Or pierogy or piroghi or pyrogy or however you want to spell it.) National Pierogi Day falls on the anniversary of the very first day that pierogi were stocked on a grocery store’s shelf. This happened in Shenandoah, PA in 1952.
Just in case you’re not from around these parts, pierogi are dumplings made from unleavened dough and filled with either a savory or sweet filling. Just about every world cuisine has a filled dumpling in their repertoire, but pierogi are specifically Eastern European. Which explains their popularity in what’s known in the industry as the ‘Pierogi Pocket’ that stretches from lower New England to Chicago. Just as with all nationalities, immigrants from Eastern Europe brought their culinary delights with them and introduced them to America. The ‘Pierogi Pocket’ happened to have the highest number of immigrants from that part of the world.
We here in Pittsburgh LOVE our pierogi. We have the highest annual pierogi sales of any city. There are the Pierogi Races at every Pittsburgh Pirates home game. (At least you know a local favorite will win something at a Pirates game, even if it’s not usually the baseball team!)
And I don’t think we can even count the number of local church pierogi sales with their handmade-by-little-old-Polish-ladies creations.
My memories of pierogi are a little closer to my heart. My mother’s second husband was Polish. His mother, referred to as Grammy, made her pierogi from scratch. She typically filled them with mashed potato and cheese, but would also make prune ones on occasion. She spent the better part of the days before Christmas Eve making enough pierogi to feed the extended family for that holiday dinner. In Catholic nations, the Christmas Eve dinner is supposed to be meat-free. So our Polish family tradition was to serve these pierogi and homemade beet soup, or borscht.
Now for the first several years, being an uninformed, stubborn teenager of Irish-Italian descent, I refused to eat these delicious offerings. Instead my lovely, and extremely patient, Grammy heated a Swanson Fried Chicken TV dinner especially for me each year. I would like to tell you that I had a great epiphany about pierogi, but honestly I cannot remember exactly what changed my mind or when. I do know that I am grateful for what her hands made and that she was able to pass along her recipe to my step-brother before Alzheimer’s invaded her beautiful brain. The tradition lives on with the next generation, which is as it should be.
But now I LOVE pierogi, as any self-respecting Pittsburgh girl should. My current favorites are a specialty, homemade by friends of mine. (If you know me personally, ask and maybe I can score you the hook-up too.) These pierogi contain the usual potato and cheese mixture, but with jalapeno added! I love that spicy zing with some sour cream to cool it down. There are several ways to cook your pierogi and serve them. I prefer to boil mine first to heat them through and then fry them in a skillet with butter and onions to crisp them a bit.
If you are looking for some pierogi recipes to try making them yourself, any of these should put you on the right track…
The Eastern and Central European Kitchen: Contemporary & Classic Recipes by Silvena Rowe
The New Polish Cuisine by Michael J. Baruch
The Polish Country Kitchen Cookbook by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab
A World of Dumplings: Filled Dumplings, Pockets, and Little Pies from Around the Globe by Brian Yarvin
So today go out and celebrate your heritage, or at least you Pittsburgher-ness. Eat your pierogi!
P.S. Babcia means grandmother in Polish.