Friday, December 17, 2010
Searching For Grandma's Pierogies Part 1
I am in my Grandmother's kitchen. Of course, it's my kitchen now, but it is much the same as when my Grandma was alive, except the busy floral wall paper is gone, and there is a new fridge and stove. I was a bit sad to get rid of her stove--her stove with one oven rack, and nobody knew where on earth the other rack disappeared to. The stove that made all the delicious Polish food we enjoyed over the years: the yeast buns with apple filling, the wonderful yeast breads (one with nut filling, one with poppy seeds, one plain, but a little bit sweet), "meat on a stick," potato soup with sour cream and dill... But now that stove is gone; taken away from the front of our house by the man trolling around town with his pickup truck.
Thus far I have browned the small pork roast, and it is cooking on top of the stove in a little water. That's not how I would have thought to cook it, but my aunt told me that Grandma "boiled" it. On another burner, the saurkraut is simmering in a large pot. I drained it, rinsed it, added a little water and butter, and hopefully after a while it will taste familiar. At some point today I will fry onions in butter until they are soft and golden, but not carmelized. Then I will put the meat, onions, saurkraut and cans of mushrooms through the meat grinder. And then I will roast the lot, hoping for some kind of magical taste amalgamation.
And it's all a mystery.
A million questions have floated to the surface: how much saur kraut, how many cans of mushrooms--1, or 2, do I add some of the mushroom liquid from the can, will the roast become tender, or will it just turn into sawdust??? When I went to the store to buy a jar of saurkraut, suddenly I was confronted by various kinds: one listed only cabbage and salt in the ingredients. One was cured with white wine. One had shredded carrots in it, and was cured in vinegar. Also, the one with carrots was the only one that was a "product of Poland." Well, Grandma and Mom were all about vinegar in their food, so surely this one had to be closer to the right kind. However, Grandma cooked with saurkraut fairly often, so surely she had a preference. But what brand did she like?
Am I just imagining it, or do I have a real memory, faint as a feather, of someone saying; "Grandma liked the saurkraut that had the shredded carrot in it, but she couldn't always find it." In the end will it all come down to proportion? How does one obtain a recipe from a woman who never measured anything by measuring cup, but by eye? "Oh you know," she would tell you, if you asked for a quantity; "little bit, not too much."
Tomorrow I will make the dough, and my sister and I will have a day of rolling pierogies.
This could be a disaster.
Christmas Day, 1976
I am 4 1/2 years old and my brother is 9. My sister won't arrive until 1978. We have all come to Grandma's house for Christmas dinner. Everyone's there: my two aunts, my uncle, My Aunt C.'s husband. Grandpa is still alive. He's a tall man, very European-gentleman, who never talks to me much, but smiles and calls me "Princess," which sounds more like "Preencess." The back entranceway is crowded and small, so my Dad waits until we get our shoes and coats off first, all the while the horrible white poodle is snarling and snapping and bearing teeth at us, until Grandma shouts; "shut up you stupid! Such a stupid dog!"
The house has all the usual smells, that hit you in the face as soon as you come in the door: onions fried in butter, tangy cabbage, turkey, meat on a stick, hamburger "dressing," and cigarette smoke.
When the way is clear, my Dad comes in. He is wearing his "bubble" toed brown and tan shoes. They have no treads on the soles to begin with, and because he has tracked in a little snow, the second he hits the laminate floor, he slips foward and shoots straight down the basement stairs like a toboggan. I see him sprawled out on the basement floor, and he's laughing, but everyone else is HORRIFIED, even though he's okay. Well, my Mother is laughing. She can't help it--she always finds this kind of thing hilarious. After a bit my oldest Aunt will join her. I begin to cry. "My poor Daddy!" I lament. At the top of the stairs he gives me a hug, groans a bit and tells me he's okay. There is another funny story about those shoes: one time Dad is "over the river" at a bar with my uncle, and he sees a smouldering cigarette on the floor, so he makes a move to stomp it out. However, the cigarette gets stuck to his shoe and begins to melt the sole, and then nearly sets the shoe on fire.
I am wearing a short dress with tights. The crotch of the tights always seems to be somewhere between my body and my knees. In the kitchen the women are very busy bustling around getting food ready. They look "all business." The men are in the living room having drinks out of cut crystal highball glasses. Whisky. There is also Grandpa's homemade "hooch," which is only drinkable when it is "cut" with cherry syrup. There is, of course, no concern about having to drive home afterward, so the drinks keep coming, although everyone is a little tired from all the drinks that were had the night before. My brother and I sit, wedged together, beside my Dad, on Grandma's ugly couch. Even though it's supposedly in style, it is yellow with black stripes, and made of a nubbly terry-cloth like material, and I have always thought it was very unattractive.
The women continue to bustle around the kitchen, like organised bees in a hive, the kitchen window steamed from boiling potatoes and pierogi, they whirl around stirring things, bringing platters to the dining room table, pausing every now and then to take a puff on their cigarettes.
Finally the dining room table is overflowing with food. Grandma says in a tone that sounds more like a warning than an invitation:
"Okay people! EAT!"