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 www.darlenegardner.com