by: Maggie Beck
As the St. Patrick’s Day weekend-long celebration comes to a close, I feel quite proud of my 25% of Irish heritage. Throughout my life, my family typically celebrates our Irish culture by cooking Irish dishes such as Irish stew, corned beef, or shepherd’s pie. Even though I love being Irish, I must confess that Irish food is not my favorite. Thankfully, I am not completely Irish, and therefore, I do not have to solely rely on Irish food to be my source of cultural pride. Surprisingly, my favorite dish from my heritage comes from the Eastern European side of my family: pierogies. I love pierogies not only for their delicious, potato-forward filling, but also for the traditions and memories I have associated with them.
A pierogi is a popular dish from Poland and Ukraine, and is essentially Eastern Europe’s take on a dumpling. Though originally considered as a lower-class meal due to the access to simple ingredients, pierogies eventually became a food of all social classes in Eastern Europe. By the 17th century, pierogies were a central piece of the Eastern European diet and were commonly served on the tables at households on every holiday or event. They are made by wrapping unleavened dough around a filling, either savory or sweet, and cooking them in boiling water, or if desired, pan frying them. Savory fillings include a mixture of anything, including mashed potatoes, onions, cheese, mushrooms, meat, or sauerkraut. Sweet fillings may consist of fruit or a sweetened cheese. In my experience with pierogies, I have never had them as a dessert.
I mostly eat pierogies as a side dish for Easter dinner with my family. The best part about these pierogies is that they are handmade by the whole family. The day before Easter, my family travels to my grandparents’ house where my grandfather, the pierogi expert, gets us started on the cooking process. As the whole family watches with our mouths watering, he prepares his own secret recipe of a filling of potatoes, onions, and cheese. Then, with a homemade dough prepared, we wrap the filling in the dough with a special folding technique. My grandfather boils them the next day, and we have them with our Easter ham. Though the pierogies are the side dish, they are always the star of the meal. The rich potato filling encased in the soft dough melts in your mouth as you eat them. The flavors blend together perfectly and create the perfect bite with a bit of tanginess from the onion and sharpness from the cheese.
My grandfather’s recipe is a unique combination of flavors and ingredients that my family has yet to perfect without him. The only evidence of the classified Beck Pierogi Formula is a video on my cousin’s video camera where my grandfather walks us through how to make them. The video is quite long, but one day, my family will gather together and decipher the video so we can finally break the code of the secret recipe. Once we do, we will be able to keep his recipe and our Eastern European culture alive by passing it down through generations, as my grandfather’s ancestors had done with him. Engaging with the foods of my cultural heritage has allowed me to feel more connected to my ancestors as I can experience foods in the same way they did. I am grateful to have that connection through my love and pride for my family’s pierogi recipe.