Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Without Pierogi? For shame!

Food is synonymous with the holidays. What would Thanksgiving be without turkey? The Fourth of July without burgers and dogs? Christmas without pierogi?

If that last one threw you for a loop, chances are you don’t come from a big Polish family that enjoys its traditions. Perhaps the most important is Wigilia, which literally translates to vigil. It’s a meatless Christmas Eve meal eaten after the sun goes down where the family breaks oplatki (holy bread) and exchanges wishes for good health, long life and prosperity. Wigilia has lots of courses. We always make sure to eat at least seven different foods. I think the most important component of the meal is pierogi, which are basically Polish dumplings.

I’m part Czech, too. In The Christmas Gift, my current release from Superromance, my heroine’s grandmother prepares a traditional Czech meal of fish soup, fried carp, potato salad and other favorites on Christmas Eve. Not a pierogi in sight.

That wouldn’t happen at my house -- and I’m not referring to the kind of pierogi found in the freezer section of the grocery store. It’s a point of pride that I make mine from scratch. I’m not above dishing out some good-natured ribbing to my dad, who hasn’t made them himself in a while. I call it my annual I’m Making Pierogi and You’re Not phone call.

Truth be told, however, making pierogi is hard. I’m also not very good at it. After I mix my dough, I coat my flat surface and rolling pin in so much flour it looks like my counter has turned white. Even then, the dough still sticks to everything. I’m not much better at cutting out the dough, filling it with my special potato and cream cheese mixture and sealing the edges with a fork. My pierogis are either too fat or too big. Sometimes when I boil them, the guts fall out. What’s more, the process takes me hours even when I make the filling the night before. Another confession: I leave out a key ingredient when I fry them. I use butter, garlic and parsley but not onions, which I can’t abide.

So why do I make pierogi year after year without fail? For one, they taste awfully good in spite of how inexact my process is. My son absolutely adores them. But that’s not why I do it. I make pierogi because for that narrow window of time when I’m in the kitchen with Christmas music playing in the background, I feel close to the grandparents I’ve loved and lost. What better reason could there be to carry on a tradition?

I’ll include the recipe I got from my mom but it’s bare bones:
For dough, mix 2 2/3 cups flour, 2 eggs and 1/2 pint sour cream. Coat flat surface with flour and roll dough flat. Fill with mashed potato mixture. (I use six potatoes, cream cheese, a little bit of milk, butter and bullion to taste. You can use other fillings, too). Form into dumplings and use prongs of fork to seal edges. Boil for ten minutes. Let air dry. Fry in butter, garlic and parsley. Okay, you can use onions if you must.

It occurs to me that maybe making pierogi is so difficult because the recipe’s a big vague. Regardless, I’m interested in what your food traditions are this holiday season? I’ll give a copy of The Christmas Gift, my current release from Harlequin Superromance, to a poster chosen at random.

Darlene Gardner is the author of more than thirty books ranging from emotionally charged family dramas to romantic comedies. She’s currently writing for Harlequin Superromance and self publishing eBooks from her backlist. Her current release is The Christmas Gift from Superromance. Visit Darlene on the web at


Laurie G said...

WE always make my MIL's recipe for German Spritz cookies. We also make her walnut horn cookies DELICIOUS!

The pierogi sounds interesting. I've tried to make my MIL's cheese studel from scratch with the paper thin dough. We have never been able to duplicate her recipe...SO FRUSTRATING! Her recipe too is a little of this and a little of that. She passed away 4 years ago so we really miss her and her baking expertise especially at the Holidays!

Darlene Gardner said...

Your recipes sound hard, Laurie, but well worth the trouble. One of my aunts, who we just lost this year, was a wonderful cook. We could never duplicate her recipes, though. We think it's because she'd leave out an ingredient when she was asked to share one! I'm not saying your MIL did that. Somehow when it was my aunt, it seemed funny instead of mean. She really prided herself on being the best cook in the family, something I definitely am not!

Na said...

Cooking up a storm is definitely a holiday tradition in our household. We're not big on turket but do like chicken. I like chicken salad as well :) Also popular as finger foods are spring rolls. Happy Holidays :)

Kaelee said...

I've made pierogi from scratch but I cheated a bit as I bought a form that makes a dozen or more at once. All you have to do is roll out two circles of dough and put one circle on the form and fill the pockets and then you put the other circle on top of the filled circle and roll a rolling pin over it. This seals the pockets and cuts out the individual pierogi. However I think your method is probably more fun and traditional. Also these were too much dough and not enough filling.

No really big food traditions at my house. My mom passed away quite a few years ago and I did try to make her fruitcake. Even though I helped her make it for years my efforts do not turn out the same.

Di said...

I love pierogi! Once in a while I run across a place where they make them fresh, but I've never made them myself. My Mom always made wonderful Christmas cookies - many different kinds - one of these years I'm going to make the time to get some baked myself.

chey said...

I haven't made perogies since I've had to be gluten free. I still occasionally make the filling though (I use cheddarcheese). My favourite Christmas treat is shortbread.

marybelle said...

One food tradition that everyone loves are my sister's RUM BALLS. She is very generous with the rum. Truly scrumptious. She ONLY makes them at Christmas.

Michele L. said...

Oh I love pierogi's! I have never made them myself but I have tasted homemade ones at a Pierogi festival nearby in the summer time. Yum!

Our tradition is to make cookies at Christmas. I love all kinds. My mom makes those powdered cookies with pecans in them, yum!

We usually have roast pork or a nice spiral sliced ham. I always love Christmas dinner at my mom's. We usually pig out and then fall asleep in front of the tv afterwards, forgeting to open presents until late at night. Then we pour everyone eggnog with a touch of brandy and cinnamon in it and open presents.