Friday, April 2, 2010

Field Trip: Pierogi Making at the Byzantine Church

Hello friends! I am still wrapping things up in my home state of Indiana. As a result, this week there is no meal plan, no shopping newsletter.(I'm especially bummed about that). Both of my computers are at home and my in-law's desktop is working all shades of slow! Not to worry, the regular Sunday posts will be back on schedule next week. In the meantime, stay tuned for one amazing grapefruit glazed pork tenderloin, an out-of-this-world Open Faced BBQ Burger, and for today...another field trip. Yay!

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to learn about pierogi making from some pros! Would you believe that I'd never tasted a pierogi before? It's true. I've definitely heard of them, and I've seen bags of Mrs. T's pierogies in the grocery store coolers, but I've never tried even one. I mentioned this pierogi void in my life to one of my nearest and dearest friends, who also happens to be of Slavic descent(according to my sources, the pierogi originates with the Slavic people.) She also attends a church that makes pierogies for a fundraiser (and yummy tradition) during Lent every year. Good friend that she is, she offered me a hands-on opportunity to learn about pierogi making and invited me along to the Byzantine Catholic Church that she and her family attend.

If you're wondering, "What is the difference between Byzantine Catholic and Roman Catholic?", you are not alone. I'd never even heard of Eastern or Byzantine Catholicism until we moved to the greater Cleveland area 20 months ago, but I'm always interested in learning about other religions and cultures, so I ask my friend lots of questions. Luckily, she likes to talk as much as I do, so she answers them. She also gave me some helpful literature that summarized the difference between the two Catholic doctrines in simple terms. Here's "the bottom line" that I got from that literature: "Eastern (Byzantine) and Roman Catholics approach, teach, and celebrate their faith differently, but they share the same Catholic Faith. Eastern and Western Catholics do not contradict each other. They compliment each other." I also found out that Byzantine Catholics include people of the following ancestry: Albanian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Greek, Hungarian, Italo-Albanian, Macedonian, Melkite(Middle Eastern), Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Slovak, Ukrainian, and many others. lesson down, here's another. What is a pierogi?!? From my recent experience, it's a semi-circular dumpling formed out of dough and filled with any variety of ingredients (common examples are: potato, cheese, sauerkraut), then it is boiled and tossed with butter or sour cream. Pierogies can be garnished with bacon, onions, or mushrooms. Sometimes they are baked or fried in butter. Some varieties are sweet rather than savory and filled with fruit such as apple or prune.

On the day that I arrived for pierogi making, the flavor in production was potato-cheese. This church also makes plain potato, sauerkraut, potato sauerkraut, prune, and at least one other variety...I'm thinking that it was apple? I heard that last year, they turned out 50,000 pierogies! Not in a single day, of course...the pierogi volunteers meet 2-3 times a week to make this happen. During the week that I visited, some people had come in the day before to make the dough and filling. When I showed up the next day we filled, shaped, cooked, and packaged potato cheese pierogies. The following day, the volunteers came in to make pierogies of the sauerkraut variety. These pierogi making sessions, 2-3 times a week, continue through the Lenten season. I'd guess that the production is driven by the amount of orders received.

Here are some hot, buttered potato cheese 'rogies fresh from the kitchen. YUM!

We have to begin where I came in: Day 2 of pierogi production. The dough and filling were already prepared, so the first step is rolling the dough flat. They had a really great machine for this job.

Next, the dough was cut into circles. You can use a biscuit cutter or even a drinking glass for this step.

Now here's the filling. Made with real potato and cheese, volunteers the day before had made the filling and portioned it to pierogi size.

Now each circle of dough is placed on a tray and the filling is placed in the center.

After this, the pierogies are ready to be formed. Each tray is delivered to volunteers to shape. This was my job. I shaped pierogies. You apply a little water around the edges of the dough to help with sealing. The longer the dough has been exposed to the air, the greater the likelihood that it will have dried a bit and need the help of a little water to "stick the seal".

The dough is folded over the filling and then the edges are crimped with a fork to create a seal. As the formed pierogi stared back at me, they put me in mind of Mexican Empanadas or even Italian Ravioli...or...wait...Mmmm....Chinese Dumplings. Sure, the fillings and preparation methods may vary from culture to culture. But if you ask me, from one culture to another, the same holds true...people are just people...and people like their dumplings. : )

Here are some pierogi makers hard at work. My spot was next to this delightful and happy couple at the end of the table.

Once a tray of 60 pierogies was complete, we lined them up by the kitchen window, marking how many dozen were complete on a tally pad next to the window. A cook dumped the trays of pierogies into hot water and let them boil. I forgot to ask how long they needed to cook. Heck, I forgot to ask for the recipe. I was so enthralled by the process...and those pierogies. Oh my, THE pierogies! (We were allowed to eat the ones that broke open during cooking.) Yummmy!

Once the pierogies are ready, they are drained and transferred...

to a nice lil' butter bath on baking sheets.

Following the butter wallowing, these pierogies are ready to be dished up. They are divided by the dozen onto disposable trays.

Finally, each tray is wrapped and frozen, ready for sale.

This is a pic of my friend Staycie (on the right) and I in our pierogi making attire. Can we rock a hair net or what?! Okay, stop laughing.

So that's pierogi making. Definitely not difficult, and definitely delicious. Give it a try in your house. Just "Google" a recipe. : )

Here's a big thanks to my friend Staycie (and her mom) for introducing me to the world of pierogi making, and to her church for being so nice and welcoming.

Hope ya'll enjoyed the field trip. Have a wonderful Monday!


Kim said...

What a fun day Krista! Pierogies are so popular in NE Ohio. All my friends still buy them from churches up there. How I miss a good homemade pierogy. I need to just break down and make them. We used to love going to Parma Pierogies when I was younger (I don't think it's there anymore). They had every filling you could think of. I think even Bill Clinton went to Parma Piergies at one time. If it's still around you should check it out. Hope everything is going good and that you had a great Easter.

Julie said...

That's totally my kind of field trip! I've only ever had the frozen varieties and didn't care for them. But I'll bet fresh is awesome.

teresa said...

how fun! i had never heard of pierogies until moving to philly. i'm totally hooked now, they're so good, and comforting! fun trip, and yes, you do rock the hair net :)

Stephanie said...

Being from Pittsburgh, pierogies are a way of life! I love them. I'm glad you've now experienced the joy of homemade pierogies. There is actually a stand for pierogies at the Carmel Farmer's Market. They are delicious. Now I'm hungry... :-)

Next you need to try haluski -- another delicious polish/slovakian treat.

Sheila said...

My daughter would be in heaven there-she loves pierogies so much. I do buy her the Mrs. T's every so often but not often enough for her!! I'll have to show her this post. Thanks for taking us on the field trip!!

Tami said...

I grew up about 25 miles from Pittsburgh so we grew up on pierogies, too! This post brings back memories of the little old ladies making pierogies at the church and then selling them every Friday afternoon. MMM!!!

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