Friday, Early Evening
The Man has just shuffled out of the kitchen with an exclamation of "OH MY EYES!" He also took his glasses off and started rubbing like crazy. I added another small onion to the pan, because it just didn't look like enough to me. As I'm working along here, I'm trying to channel the spirit of my Grandmother, so I've been asking questions all along: how much saurkraut--does this look right? A little less? More onion? Yeah, I think so too...
I think the whole thing is snowballing. As I ponder making pierogi, and go loosely by the recipe in my Ukranian ladies' cookbook, I know that to make 4 dozen, I need 3 cups of filling. I feel fairly certain that I will have 6 cups of filling, or enough to make nearly 8 dozen pierogies. 96 pierogies. Hmm...
I have made pierogies before. A couple of times I made potato and cheese ones--and they were yummy. Hence, the picture for my last entry. My sister didn't know I had made them before, or forgot, or whatever. So, when she saw that picture, she thought; "WHAT?!? DID SHE START WITHOUT ME???" No, that's an older picture.
Hm, come to think of it, my eyes are burning too. So much for scoffing at my husband. I have to say though, the mingled smell of the saurkraut, the pork roast, and the frying onions is intoxicating: hanging in the air like a memory, evoking a certain intangible feel of my Grandmother.
The meat grinder--ugh. I don't know if I had it hooked up 100% correctly. What a grotesque contraption. I took the first piece of pork roast, shrugged--HERE GOES NOTHING--and shoved it in. Then I turned the handle. Eureka! She works! But, how come on some turns it makes this loud GROANING noise? Also, what is that black liquid dripping out of the back onto the floor????
Next, saurkraut--oh, that's not going through well...hmmmm...
Next, mushrooms--on no, it's too slippery to push through properly! Well, I'll just grab a handful of ground pork to put behind and help push it through. Oh yuck, it's not plunging the veg through...it's turning into some gross, pale beige sluicy paste.
Ella: "Mummy, I'm tired, I wanna go to bed."
Me, in a frenzy, trying to TURNTURNTURN the handle and get that junk through:
"GIVE ME A SECOND"
When I went to get Ella a moment or 5 later, she was putting on her own pyjamas.
Oh good news! If I turn the handle backwards it reverses the goop back up. That's good, it won't be stuck. I'm NOT looking forward to cleaning this thing. Iccchh--no wonder people become vegetarians.
The filling is in the oven for the final roasting stage.
I started making this filling at noon. I didn't work on it non-stop, of course, but I'm still a little tired. The pork roast turned out the way I figured it should: tender, but a little saw-dusty. However, I think this is how it should be, because once the cabbage, mushrooms and onions are added, that will certainly give it some moisture, no?
Oh the doctoring I have done. I was afraid to taste the filling after I put it through the meat grinder. I don't know--there's something about grinding everything, and that thing having some ancient greasiness built into it--I just imagined I was creating a listeriosis factory. So, it may sound crazy, but I seasoned it by smell. I mixed all the filling together but it didn't smell like Grandma's. Not enough saurkraut! However, I did NOT feel like cooking more for another hour. Instead, I got out my food processor and ran some un-boiled saurkraut through that, and added it to the filling. Then I added a ton of black pepper. Now that smelled more like it! Finally it met my needs, and I shoved my casserole dish FULL of filling into a 400 degree oven. I'm only going by "feel" and memory here. That's all I've got.
I just tasted a little of the roasted filling--it's so exciting. It is right somehow--simply right. Tears came to my eyes for a second. I can almost imagine Grandma beside me: squat, sturdy, barely 5 feet tall, with dyed pale blonde hair, a high-necked sweater and black polyester pants. Suddenly years of family dinners, and visits to Grandma's house flooded my brain, just from that scent.
9:20 PMI am a genius. I am a freaking pierogi genius. And nobody will come over to sniff my meat. Sigh.
I have made the dough. It will rest until 1 PM, and then the kids and The Man will be going out, and my sister and I can make pierogies in bliss and freedom.
Nerdo (it's a sisterly nickname--no malice intended) arrives in high spirits and we are good to go! She sniffed the filling, looked at me and said: "That's it."
When we started, we were of course, rusty. Also, the filling is much more difficult to work with than a nice, glutinous potato and cheese filling. It wants to just roll right off the sides of the little circle of dough. This will take forever at this rate! And then we discovered that if we squish the filling just a little in our hands (mm, sound yummy?) we can form a more compact, workable ball.
Aim's pierogies are much prettier than mine. Mine have a nice, utilitarian folded over edge, and hers are are all finger-twirled like little pieces of art. Enh, who cares--I'm sure my Dad and The Man aren't going to notice. My brother might, but then, he's got that eye for details. We pause every now and then to do some ridiculous dancing, but Aim says that my "Muppets and John Denver" Christmas cd is "terrible." Pfft, what does she know? We both agree though, that the "Twisted Sister" Christmas cd that was bought for us is even worse. Unlistenably (is that a word) bad in fact.
At 4:00, even though we were on a roll, we ran out of dough. "Well," said Aim, "maybe you don't have that much filling left?" I took out the casserole dish from the fridge and showed her the startling amount of filling that was left. Damn it, I'd just have to make more dough. I only had enough flour to make the dough though. I would have none when it came time to roll it out. Aim took one for the team, and headed off in the cold and snow to get another bag of all purpose flour.
We already decided we simply had to eat some, both as a reward, and to see if they would be good. I started cooking them just before my sister returned. My biggest worry was that the dough would split, while boiling them, and I'd have a pot of boiling water, empty dough pockets, and filling frothing around. However, as I held my breath and dropped them into the boiling salty water, they all hold together beautifully.
*it should be noted at this point that once the pierogies are boiled, and swell up slightly, my sister's fancy-shmancy rolled edge wasn't even really noticeable. Hee hee.
I boiled them for 8 minutes. Then, with my slotted spoon, I transferred them to my hot frying pan with sizzling butter. I fried them until they were golden brown on each side, as Grandma did. If I wanted to be totally authentic, I'd have fried up some onions first until they were carmelized, but EFF that.
And then we tried them. Aim says they were DELICIOUS. I think they were delicious, but a) I was getting tired, b) I was analysing every detail so much, I could hardly taste them for what they were. That being said, the dough was delicious, not thick and gluey. The filling was wonderful--probably even a little more peppery than Grandma would have done. The texture was a teeny bit different though. It's hard to explain but maybe it had more of a shredded saurkraut texture if that makes any sense.
Once the last ball of dough had rested and was ready to roll, Aim ended up making most of the pierogies. I was dead, dead tired, and my quality was going waaaay downhill. I suppose that rye and cola didn't help (it was only one, and we had to toast each other!). I was DONE. Finito. Bye bye. Finished. We used up all the dough, and Aim left with a small freezer bag of filling--enough to make 2 dozen, I'm guessing. So, she can pull that out of her freezer in a few months and make some pierogi if she's so inclined.
My sister left. I turned the cd off. There was no noise in my house--no tv, no music. I bagged the rest of the pierogies (we had been flash-freezing them on a large cookie sheet covered in parchment paper), and labelled the bags with date, and amount. I sat down at the little kitchen table with paper and pen and tallied it up. 99 pierogies. We had eaten 10, so 88 were left, but we'd made 99.
I put down my pen and sobbed.
Christmas Dinner, 1976
"Okay People! EAT!"
When Grandma said that, you'd better get to that table. So, everyone converged at once. I always felt shy at this point. "Mom, where should I sit?" I asked, just above a whisper.
"I don't know!" Mom said annoyed, "just pick a chair!"
So much food! There were platters overlapping platters overlapping bowls: meat on a stick, traditional bread stuffing, cranberry jelly--still with the lines of the can on it-- cut in slices, pickles and olives, soft hamburger stuffing, cut into large cubes, kapusta, slices of polish sausage, potato and cheese pierogi, meat pierogi (everyone's favourite), pickled mushrooms, canned button muchrooms with fried onions, a salad tossed in oil and vinegar (way more oil than vinegar), a large dish of corn, thick mashed potatoes, gravy, buns, and last, and certainly least; the world's driest turkey. All of the other food was always delicious, but Grandma suffered from poultry paranoia, and that bird had been cooking since about 6:00 that morning. Everyone only takes a token amount of turkey.
The adults have wine, and I have a tall glass of whole milk. My youngest aunt always drinks Pepsi. Everyone chats and jokes, and it's noisy and lively, and the food is so good. Grandma doesn't eat though. She sits in the kitchen and has a cigarette, and then she returns to the dining room to hover around the table with that angry look on her face.
"Eat!" she urges. "Everybody eat!" She shakes her head at everyone. "You don't eat much!" she says, with what seems to be near-disgust. "Karen," she says (and it sounds like "Kedden"), "you don't eat nothing!" Oh but I have been, and I'm nearly stuffed. I particularly love the meat stuffing. It's soft and salty, savoury and delicious.
After dinner there is jell-o cake--everyone's favourite. A dreamy, creamy layer of white with little blobs of all different coloured jell-o sits on a sponge cake base. When the eating is done the women immediately clean everything up, scraping plates, washing endless dishes, smoking and smoking and smoking. The turkey carcass sits on the kitchen table next to a heaped plate of turkey meat. The men sit on the couch dozing and watching TV. Grandma would get angry if they even offered to help.
Mom gets angry when my brother and I whisper to her if we can go home yet. She's just starting to have fun because all the dinner work is finally over. She loves being with her family. Sometimes I think she loves being with her own family better than she likes being with us. She has lots of laughs with my oldest aunt. Finally we put our boots and coats on, which is good because that means my brother and I can get into the freezing vinyl-seated station wagon, go home and play with our new toys, which we've been dying to do all day.
We say "goodbye," I give my Grandma a kiss, and another Christmas is over.