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Pierogi Recipe: Making Pierogies Is A Polish Tradition
Making Pierogies is a Family Christmas Tradition
Pierogies for a Traditional Polish Dinner
Writing this hub brings back so many memories of Christmas Eve with my Polish grandparents, my mother and our extended family. As children, Christmas Eve was always the most exciting time of the year. It started early in the morning as my grandmother, mother, aunts and cousin all helped with making the hundreds of pierogies (pierogi) for dinner. We always made enough so that each participant got some to take home. There's nothing like fried leftover pierogies for breakfast on Christmas morning!
Pierogies are dumplings made with a noodle-like dough and filled with various fillings. Although pronunciation is usually pretty close, there are many variations on the spelling: pirogi, pierogy, perogie, pyrogy. My maternal grandparents came from Poland and brought their version of the pierogi with them, but people of Russian, Ukranian, Czech, Slovak and other heritage also have their own versions (and spellings) of the pierogi.
Pierogies with Traditional Fillings
Pierogies are sometimes made with a meat filling, but in my family the fillings were traditionally potato, sauerkraut, cheese, prune and applesauce. The fillings and method of cooking were recipes that my grandmother learned to make as a child in Poland and passed on to my mother and aunt who taught my cousin and me and my siblings. Although you can buy pre-made pierogies in the frozen food section of the grocery store, they are nothing like the delicious homemade pierogies that my grandmother and mother made.
Chirstmas Eve morning, my grandmother, aunts and other helpers started the pierogi making process by making the various fillings which would go into the pierogies. Our family favorites are potato, sauerkraut, prune, applesauce, farmer's cheese. While each filling was being prepared, my grandmother made the dough.
Both potato and sauerkraut fillings have onion in them, so we usually start by chopping and frying several large onions. No one in my family measures anything when it comes to pierogi making, but I've tried to give you an idea here of proportions. Because mashed potatoes are also served separately with the sour mushroom soup at the start of our Christmas Eve meal, we always make much more than we will use in the pierogies.
Potato Pierogi Filling
- 6-8 cups cooked potatoes
- Salt to taste
Mash potatoes with milk, butter and salt. Do not over stir as they will become gummy.
Chop and fry two large onions until browned. I always salt them as they fry as it seems to bring out the flavor. Add fried onions to the mashed potatoes and let cool.
Cheese Pierogi Filling
My mother and grandmother always made this filling with Farmer's Cheese as it is dryer and has a firmer consistency than cottage cheese. Since I have difficulty finding it, I use cottage cheese.
- 1 lb. cottage cheese (dry curds or farmer's cheese if you can find it)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1Tablespoon of sugar
- 2 Tablespoons of flour or 1/2 cup of mashed potatoes (without onion added)
If cheese is runny, set in a colander for a few minutes to drain off excess fluid. Mix with egg yolk, sugar and flour. Adding a small quantity of mashed potatoes will help keep this filling solid, but does change the flavor somewhat.
My husband and sons like this the best!
- 1 large can or jar of sauerkraut drained well
- Large onion chopped
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
In a large frying pan, sautee a large chopped onion in oil. When lightly browned, add drained sauerkraut and a tablespoon full of brown sugar. Continue to fry until mixture is browned. Set aside to cool.
Prune Pierogi Filling
This is the easiest to make and easiest to handle when filling the dough.
- 1 box of pitted dried prunes
- Water to cover
Cover prunes with water and cook until plumped up. Remove from fire and drain in a colander until all excess water has run off. Set aside to cool.
Applesauce Pierogi Filling
Applesauce filling is my personal favorite, but the hardest to make as the applesauce tends to run a little as you fill the pierogies and prevent the edges from sticking together. If the edges don't seal properly, all the applesauce leaks out during cooking!
1 large jar of applesauce (or about 3 cups)
6 or 7 crushed saltine crackers
Mix the cracker crumbs into the applesauce and let stand for a while so that the crackers absorb some of the liquid. When filling the pierogies, be sure to keep the applesauce away from the edges so that you can seal them properly.
Making Pierogies on Christmas Eve
Polish Words for Grandmother and Grandfather
Polish children more often call their grandpas "dziadzio" - which is the endearment form made of "dziadek" (you pronounce "dziadzio" as [JAH-joh] - "oh" as "o" in "spot")
The Polish word for grandmother is "babcia", (you pronounce it [BAHP-chah] - "ch" as in "China", "ah" as "a" in "father")
Our somewhat Americanized pronunciation came up with "Babi" for our grandmother and "Jakoo" for our grandfather.
Grandmother Makes the Dough
Traditionally, it was Babi (our Polish grandmother) who made the dough. When I was a child, my grandmother made it while everyone else scurried about making the fillings and preparing the table for the pierogie making production line. Later, when I was older, my mother made the dough. Now, I'm the grandmother in the picture and, by default, director of operations on our Christmas Eve pierogi making day.
Babi was an old world Polish cook who never used a recipe. Her technique for making dough was to dump a pile of flour on a large wooden board, make a well in it, add 6 or 8 eggs and some salt and mix it with her hands. As far as I remember, it always came out the same, and it was always perfect. My mother's dough-making process was similar, though I think she did have some mishaps. (Not as many as I did!) Maybe I remember them because I was older when I started watching her more closely.
Eventually, my husband and I moved our young family out of New Jersey into Central New York State. My brother, Robert Popick, an artist looking for a more artistic community, moved to Vermont where he set up his studio and frame shop. At holiday time, we both became a little homesick, and wanted to carry on family Christmas traditions by making pierogies with our own families.
My mom had a hard time coming up with a recipe, but she gave us some broad directions. My brother and I compared notes and eventually managed to replicate the traditional dough we remembered.
Cooking Pierogies Takes A Special Touch
The Pierogi Dough Recipe
Once I tried this on my own, I often had an interesting time getting the dough to the right rolling consistency. If it's too dry, it will not stretch as it should and the pirogies will be thick and doughy. It's also difficult to get the edges of the pierogies to stick together if the dough is too dry. If it's too wet, it will stick to hands, rolling pin and board and be impossible to roll out.
Through trial and error, we've found that making the dough in manageable sized batches works better than trying to make it all at once. Make additional batches as you need them. Any dough that you are not rolling out at the moment should be made into a ball and wrapped in a damp dish towel to keep from drying out.
Pierogi Dough Ingredients
- 6 cups of flour in a large bowl
- 1 cup milk with 2 Tablespoons vinegar added
- 3-4 eggs1/2 teaspoon salt
Put flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and add 3 or 4 eggs. With a fork, lightly beat the eggs in the well, then add salt and the milk/vinegar mixture. Mix with a fork or large spoon until the wet ingredients are somewhat mixed into the dry ingredients, then turn out on a flour covered counter and knead with hands just until the dough is smooth looking. The dough should be pliable, but not sticky. If it's too wet, work in more flour.
A Plate of Pierogies With Sour Cream ...Mmmmm...
Making the Pierogies Is A Family Affair
When finally all the fillings and the dough are prepared, it's time to get started. Often we would have 5-7 people helping with the process, and each would have a job to do. A couple of people are assigned to rolling dough, another couple to filling and cutting the pierogies, another couple (this is a great job for the youngest kids) to crimping the edges. One person was needed to stand watch over the pierogies as they cooked in boiling water.
Traditional Method: When my grandmother and mother rolled pierogi dough, they would do it on a flour covered table top or floured cloth. By the time the dough was rolled out, it would cover most of the table and be almost thin enough to see through.
I never mastered this, as many times as I tried, so I work with small balls of dough about the size of my fist and rolled it out on a pastry mat. If you're using a rolling pin to roll out the dough, it's definitely better to do it on a table than a counter top as you can exert more downward pressure on it. When the dough is rolled to the right thickness, drop teaspoons of filling on it, fold the dough over the top of filling, and cut a half moon with the edge of a glass. Then take a fork and press down the edges to seal. Each pierogi is then placed on a floured tray to await cooking. We usually cook about twelve to eighteen at a time as that number seems to fit into the big pot without crowding.
Using a Pasta Machine to Roll Pierogie Dough
New Method Using a Pasta Machine: As I said, I always had trouble rolling the dough to the proper thickness, and by doing some experimenting came up with an easier method. My grandchildren and I had the great idea of using a pasta machine to roll the dough to the proper thickness. You will have to put the dough through the rollers several times to get the right elasticity. We also cheat by using a pierogi maker template to cut circles and then lay the dough into the form, drop a spoon of filling in and press together. You can buy the forms individually or occasionally find them in sets with a variety of sizes; we like a medium sized form best.
Pasta Machine - a Wonder!
As most of the family was busy rolling, filling and crimping the pierogies, someone put a big pot of salted water on to boil and got out a big colander and bowls for the cooked pierogies. We also had ready some melted butter to put on them to keep them from sticking together.
Make sure all pierogies are well sealed, then drop one by one into pot of boiling water. Let pot come to a boil again, then cook until all the pierogies float to the top. Cook an additional 3 or 4 minutes, then remove one to test to see if it's cooked through by cutting a tiny piece off an edge. If it's done, remove the rest of the pierogies with a slotted spoon into a colander that's set on a plate. Drop the next batch of pierogies into the pot as soon as the water comes to a boil again. I reuse the water for several batches before throwing it out and starting with fresh water.
While second batch is cooking, place the drained pierogies into a bowl and toss with a little melted butter to keep from sticking. If you put each flavor together into an oven-proof bowl or casserole, you will be able to heat them right in their serving dishes and also tell them apart when you serve them.
Traditional Polish Christmas Eve Dinner
When my grandmother was alive, our Polish Christmas Eve dinner consisted of several courses served to our extended family gathered around a huge table. We started with a delicious sour mushroom soup with a dollop of mashed potatoes in it. That was cleared away for a course of fish, cabbage, lima beans and sauerkraut. The next course was the pierogies served with lots of sour cream and applesauce.
For desert, we always had homemade babka with sweet butter, dozens of homemade Christmas cookies which my aunts and mother made in the weeks before the holiday. Then coffee. Then we all carried leftover food and dishes into the kitchen before retiring to the living room where gifts piled high.
Of course, through all of this, we kids were almost beside ourselves with excitement because following dinner we all opened our presents. But we had to wait until the adults had their coffee before we could leave the table! Someone back then must have done a boat load of dishes, but as a child, we were excused from helping on that night.
The gifts were eventually distributed, and often my second cousin, Lorie, was persuaded to play polkas on her accordion. My grandfather collected each piece of wrapping paper, saving the good pieces for another time, while my frugal grandmother collected all the ribbons.
Later, similar Christmas Eves took place in my parent's home and at my own home with my grandchildren gathered around my table. When we can, we still gather three generations together to prepare our holiday meal. It's a very special time, and I know that our traditional Christmas Eve is still alive and well, and being carried on by my grandchildren as they learn to make the traditional foods of our Polish Christmas Eve.
© 2010 Stephanie Henkel