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Thursday, December 9, 2010

How to Make Pierogies

Some people mark their family with baptisms and weddings. Others find one another again and again at the annual family reunion. I found mine in the half-moons of dough and cheesy mashed potato filling.

Lisa rings me up. My English friends say that and I love it... "rings me up." Lisa is my sister-in-law and she's back in the arms (and nosey goodness) of her family here in Sudbury. She calls and says, "We're getting together to make pierogies at Tracy's. Wanna come?" Do I want to come. Are you kidding? Going to Tracy's house with family is fun. It's laughter and Niamh, our then three or four year old niece, flooding the bathroom. She was standing there watching the water flow over her hands making tiny rivers to the kitchen. It's Brian's playful grabs at Tracy's apron strings and Tracy, full of a whole two glasses (or three) of red wine, falling asleep in his lap. My daughter, Sarah, calls the Lands the "Big Family." So, I've got the receiver in my hand and I'm laughing at Lisa's welcome call... saying, "Oh, hell yes, I'll come."

We've been threatening to get together and make pierogies from scratch since I got here in the winter of 2005. Aunt Polly is the most famous of the pierogy makers, she made them for my wedding as her gift to us. Barb, my mother-in-law, always says that making them used to be a six-beer job. Her children, then, were an assembly line of kneading, cutting, rolling and stamping out circular dough pieces.
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 large beaten eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup water
(Now, that's only dough for 1 1/2 to 2 dozen pierogies according to About.com...to do what we were doing you need a bit more than that)

When we got there, my sister-in-law, Steph was getting the baby, Deirdre, out of their new Dodge Grand Caravan. The woman has four children, she needs a Caravan. Isla was in her seat crying because her tummy wasn't feeling good and Daddy was taking her home. Rhys, their son, proudly showed my husband, Chris, how the speakers got turned on and off at the steering wheel and Jeff, Steph's husband, was showing me how the floor moved back to reveal hidden storage space for things like... Christmas gifts. Jeff, Rhys and Isla took off for home. Chris took off for the armories. I followed Steph and the girls into Tracy's house -- glad to be around family. Niamh and Sarah immediately took off for the playroom in search of tea sets and Barbies.

"Look, she's walking..." Lisa was following after Deirdre as she toddled around the kitchen headed straight for the same stairs that all of the kids had learned to come up and down upon. Tracy reached for the baby gate as naturally as reaching for a tea towel.

It's all the girls, minus Tracy's daughter, Elizabeth, who was hosting a movie night for the Women's Center and my sister-in-law, Martha, who was missing us, too, at her home in Cambridge. Both names were mentioned and they were counted among us, peeling potatoes. The stuffing for pierogies, one of them anyway, was mashed potatoes with cheddar cheese mixed in.
  • 4 pounds mashed potatoes
  • 1 pound shredded Cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
This is Mom (Barb) dispensing of the remaining peels, Lisa washing up and Steph grating the cheese because I didn't get a picture of us peeling potatoes, I had a knife in my hand, instead.

And this is what you have to stuff that dough with:
Tracy's Brian came downstairs long enough to eat supper and then fleetfooted it back upstairs to watch television. A kitchen full of five women is an earful for any man. All we have to do is say the word "penis" and they run for the hills. Lisa kept covering her ears... I poked at Mom, "Say it again..."

So the filling was made and our stomachs were growling. Tracy made dinner for us to that we could take a break in between shifts and Mom made rolls (some of which were immediately confiscated and put away for Libby when she got home). Her brother, Nick, walked through the door and immediately went for the rolls. There was only one left so Lisa willed him her roll and saved us all from the wrath of a roll-less Libby.

We try to get the adults to eat first so that the kids can go into the dining room -- no such luck. Sarah smelled the chicken and came out, looking at my plate with puppy eyes. Niamh followed right behind her because she had been promised that Sarah would share her Dr. Pepper. Brian wandered downstairs and Tracy joined him in the dining room with the children.

At Christmas and Easter, Tracy's house is filled to the brim with her two parents, three sisters, one brother and their spouses and their children. So, the kitchen and the dining room tables are always full. People move in between the rooms and it's always a shuffle as to what table you'll be at this year to talk with the person who was in the other room last year. The best laughter is when Nick and Jeff reenact whole scenes from Saturday Night Live's Jeopardy skits.

Alex Trebek: "What is the sound a dog makes?"
Sean Connery: "Moo."
Alex: "No, we would have accepted 'bow-wow' or 'ruff.'"
Sean: "Ahhhhh, rough is just the way your mother likes it, Trebek."

Dinner's finished, the dishes are washed and Mom is standing, counting out the ten cups of flour that we will use to make the dough. One... twooooo.... threeeeee....

Somebody starts talking about sex. It's not Lisa... And all the guys have gone back to their respective hiding places so it has to be...
Mom giggles and says, "Damn it! Now I lost count!" She begins again. One. Two. Three. Four. She punctuates each count with rapping the knife against the measuring cup and we count with her.
Below are Tracy and Lisa discussing springy dough:
Now comes the hard part and something that takes a master's touch -- rolling out the dough. Pierogy dough should be thin enough to become a casing for the potato and it tends to be a bit springy so you really have to knead it and roll it out smoothly. Not only that, but Lisa rolled out every centimetre of that dough so her arms and her back were sore by the end of the night.

See how thick that dough is? With Lisa, not for long!

Steph showed me how to stuff and seal the pierogies. You take the flat disk and spoon the stuffing on one side. You need to seal it with water. So you dip your fingers into a water bowl our a glass and trace your finger around the circumference of the circle. Then you fold half of the disk over the stuffing and crimp the edges, sealing them with the water on your fingers. It looks like this:
And this, this is me and Steph working at those wee buggers:

It was getting late...and all of us were tired but still laughing. Steph went home with Deirdre and Niamh because the baby was tired. Lisa drove them home because, unbeknownst to us, there was a freezing rainstorm going on outside while the kitchen was busy inside.
When the adults tuckered out or were busy cleaning up the pots and pans, Sarah got in the middle of it and learned to make pierogies!

I don't have a picture of this last part, so I'll just describe it to you. Can you hear, in your memory, the laughter -- the easy comfort of family? Have you had meals prepared by all the hands that have hugged you, tickled you, patted your shoulder or reached out when you needed it the most?'

That's the best recipe for pierogies I know.


1 comment:

  1. This is a wonderful story, SueAnn. Peogries and family time. Does it get any better?