Pierogi Palooza

By Claire Hoppens

Every year, dear friends gather in a Columbus kitchen to make traditional Polish recipes and enjoy each others company.  Don't be fooled though, this is no casual assembly -- it's a full blown pierogi palooza. We visited in mid-production this October to learn about the tradition, the process and the ingredients. 

Friends Susan Shaltry, Elizabeth Gessner, Susan Siewny, Helena Glynn, Joanna Felder come together each year to make pierogis. 

Friends Susan Shaltry, Elizabeth Gessner, Susan Siewny, Helena Glynn, Joanna Felder come together each year to make pierogis. 

The group of friends have been coming together in various forms for about a dozen years. Helena, they say, "is the keeper of the tradition." She's also the one with Polish roots, and access to authentic Polish ingredients that relatives send to her in the mail. The women, all friends, honor Helena's recipes in their traditional forms. 

Over the course of two days the women (and some visiting husbands), make a handful of Polish dishes from scratch to divvy up and share with friends and family throughout the holiday season and into the new year. 

The wheat flour for the pierogi dough comes from Poland, shipped to Helena by relatives. 

The wheat flour for the pierogi dough comes from Poland, shipped to Helena by relatives. 

There are pierogi at this palooza, of course, along with a clear, ruby-colored beet soup called Barsczc (akin to borscht), wild mushroom dumplings called Uszka (meaning "little ear" in Polish) served in the soup, and toppings like fresh herbs and sour cream. 

Dried mushrooms are reconstituted in hot water, creating a flavorful broth in the process.

Dried mushrooms are reconstituted in hot water, creating a flavorful broth in the process.

One of the most distinct and unique ingredients are dried mushrooms, foraged by Helena's aunts in Poland, then dried and shipped to her in the States. The mushrooms have a pungent earthiness and plump to three times their size when reconstituted in hot water before being chopped and stuffed into the Uszka, dumplings sealed and folded over much like Italian tortellini. The reserved mushroom broth is then used in other recipes and pierogi filling for it's rich, savory flavor.

A traditional Polish meal: beet soup ("Barszcz") with mushroom dumplings ("Uszka") and pierogi. 

A traditional Polish meal: beet soup ("Barszcz") with mushroom dumplings ("Uszka") and pierogi. 

Helena explains that the beet soup and Uszka are traditionally enjoyed on Christmas Eve, while pierogi may be eaten on Christmas. This year, pierogi will be stuffed with three different fillings: potato and cheese, sauerkraut, and mushroom, a combination of fresh and dried. 

Helena was kind enough to share her recipe for pierogi dough, which can be filled with any number of fillings, including sauerkraut, farmers cheese, potato, meat or vegetable. 

Pierogi dough, rolled and cut. 

Pierogi dough, rolled and cut. 

Pierogi Dough
1 kg wheat flour (type 390), we also used Italian 00 flour when Polish flour wasn't available
1 C ice water
1 large egg
2 soup spoons (I’d call it 2 rounded TBL) sour cream
Dash salt

Make a well with the flour. Beat egg in the middle. Stir in sour cream and salt.

Gradually add ice water to center and fold inwards. It may not take all of the ice water to get desired consistency. Just enough water to hold the dough together.

Knead until smooth. Cover with flour and plastic wrap. Rest 15-30 minutes.

Quarter the dough and Work in (4) batches. Roll dough out thinly, adding flour as required to keep from sticking to work surface.

Flour the top before cutting into circles, 2.25 – 3.25 inches. Add a few spoonfuls of filling of your choice. Fold in half, wet edges of one side, and press together. Make a decorative crimp if desired.

Drop into boiling, salted water (not too rolling). Stir. After most have floated to the top, boil another 2 minutes. Place on a buttered pan and butter the tops while they cool. 

You can eat the immediately or sauté in a buttered pan to get a little crisp. Pierogi can also be frozen from the 'parboiled' stage. Add traditional accompaniments: bacon, caramelized onions and sour cream.