Figuring out what I wanna be when I grow up.
Oop..I AM grown up...

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!"


  1. i love some pierogies! i've never had homemade ones though. i might need to find a recipe because dough filled with stuff is always so yummy.
    how did your roast turn out? sawdusty?

  2. No worries Sherilin--I'll tell you how the roast turned out in part 2! I can also post the recipe for the dough as well.

    The potato & cheese ones I made a few years ago were really delicious. Add a ton of carmelized onions and sour cream, and that's one fun meal.

  3. Karen Karen Karen... You always manage to out do yourself blog style. LOVE the memories. I can't picture everything... I can see and hear it like it was yesterday. Such a pity.

    Anyhoo, can't wait to see you soon to assist in folding yummy stuff in dough!!!

  4. Is pierogy the polish way to spell it? Cuz the mennonites spell it perogy...and boy can they make awesome ones too, although they call it verenika. and I have had plum filled ones...

    wow, you have some funny memories!

  5. yes, Berries, that is the Polish way of spelling it. Apparently it's "pyrohy" in Ukranian. Some funny things have definitely happened over the years. Good blog fodder. Hope you've been feeling better lately--prolonged stress is beyond exhausting.

  6. Aim--abeocx. cosoe, woeoi99o.

    Rolled way too may rogies.

  7. Hey, Karen. I cannot believe two things: 1. the amount of stories I've never heard before, though I've known you so long. 2. The commonality in those kind of memories with my memories of family times. 3. Your blog has wormed its way into my mind so much, I stopped to check it on my vacation while waiting to print off my return boarding passes at the hotel.

    Okay, so that was THREE things. I was on a roll, so sue me.

    I will wait to LURV some perogies upon our return.

  8. hey karen , i too am reading your blog while on vacation. the weird thing is those shoes look ALOT like the clogs i bought here in charlston, what old is new again..or maybe i'm just getting old! sometimes you have to go for comfort and not beauty. all the memories of your family reminds me to stop and remember these are the good ol' days for my kids..and for us. i have to try and make memories even during the stress. merry christmas!

  9. Great stories Karen. I really enjoyed it!

  10. Matt and too are somewhere having fun, aren't you. You might even be someplace warm with no snow, correct? You might even have "vacation" written all over what's happening in your life right now, right? Oh, the crushing jealousy.

  11. Aaaah, you've just brought back memories of those tights, and the reason I haven't worn tights or pantyhose in over 30 years....I did wear some on Saturday night for the first time in a long time, and sadly, I have a rash on my inner thighs because of them.
    Good luck with the do realize you can probably find a nice Ukrainian lady that you could pay to do the dirty work for you?

  12. Oh Sandra, I share your hatred for tights and nylons. HATE THEM. So itchy. Yeah, I could have bought some pierogies, or had someone else do them, but then I wouldn't be embracing that old-world spirit of overkill and martyrdom.


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