Give me your tired, your poor, your pierogi and potato vodka?…
My family’s American roots began in the generation sandwiched between give me your tired, your poor, and we don’t want your kind. At family gatherings, we huddled our masses around a plate of food called pierogi.
Many former immigrant families were content with the American offerings of sodium dogs and artificially flavored Doritos. My family’s ties to the motherland persisted. Every celebration boasted at least six dozen pierogi.
Pierogi are dough dumplings stuffed with filling. My family preferred a potato and cheese mixture or sauerkraut filled pierogi fried in butter and onions.
Mom was a mighty woman whom no one could hold a torch to when it came to pierogi, but knee surgery jeopardized our tradition. My sister suggested a card table and chair from which to roll out dough. Mom’s usually mild expression held a bit of the stink eye given her pain.
Faced with a pierogiless gathering, I imagined a beacon-handed welcome and volunteered to make a batch of sauerkraut pierogi. I’d been content with eating pierogi. I never made them. How hard could it be?
Armed with Mom’s recipe, I set out to carve my niche as family hero. Doubled, the recipe made eight dozen pierogi. I thought, good, I’ll have two dozen left over for supper.
Mother of exiles! There was no pomp in pierogi. They were work. You had to mix the dough with your hands. At least, I did. Brazen giant mixers with dough hooks were for people with large kitchens who baked their own bread.
The dough was sticky. It clung to my fingers in gobs. You didn’t lick flour and eggs off your fingers like you would chocolate icing. As I washed my hands, I watched a dozen pierogi go down the drain.
I did what any person who grew up on ethnic foods would do. I made another batch of dough and opened another can of sauerkraut. I’d either have a nice stash of pierogi or I’d be out of ingredients. We’d then have to settle on pork and sauerkraut for a meal and pretend we were celebrating a New Year.
Rolling the dough netted a dough pocket filled with a rolling pin. I called Mom. She suggested that I add flour until the dough felt right. I’m not a dough feeler by nature. I had to wing it.
Mom cut the dough, added filling, and made cute little loops at the top of her sauerkraut perogies to distinguish them from the potato filled ones. My pockets had holes. Would my family consider a pierogi pie?
I remembered patching a bike tire when I was a kid. I patched those suckers like a bike tire, without the glue, and dropped them into the pot of boiling water to set the dough. When I pulled that batch out, the pierogi resembled dough infused with fermented cabbage. I could be in the kitchen for days.
The next batch looked like golf balls or blow fish. My dough to filling ratio was off. I had dough left, but no filling. Not wanting to waste anything, I ran to the store and bought more sauerkraut.
The last batch were large. Think Polish quarter pounders, but with sauerkraut. Then I had to clean the kitchen. Polish potato vodka came to mind.
After five hours in the kitchen, I thanked God for a globally diverse people each with their signature dish. We had burritos and pizza for supper. I’d never, ever, make pierogi every week or year.
Three dozen pierogi were all I had to offer. I felt like wretched refuse. Was I to be as tempest-tossed with ridicule and scorn? No one would’ve chosen me as likeliest to thrive and flourish. As sticky as it was, I offered to put my hands in the dough. I approached my parents’ door with apprehension. Mom threw on the porch light and welcomed me with open arms. I breathed freely. Everyone else brought something. We had more than enough.