Pittsburgh is chock-full of foods that are iconically tied to the city; a list that includes Heinz Ketchup, Clark Bars, Klondike Bars, Isaly’s Chipped Ham, Primanti Brothers sandwiches, Iron City Beer…and pierogies. After all, no Major League Baseball team other than the Pirates hold a costumed Great Pierogi Race at every home game. (Really, read about it here.) Pierogies are boiled, baked or fried dumplings of unleavened dough stuffed with sweet or savory fillings; potato/cheese being most common. So when struck by the most recent Super Bowl appearance, a celebration was in order to showcase traditional Pittsburgh fare. And while Sunday’s game definitely did not include a hometown victory, my sisters and I were more than victorious in making our first unassisted batch of homemade pierogies. Alright!
[You will notice that there are many variants to the word pierogi, namely perogi, pyrogy, perogie, pirohi and so on. Know that they all refer to the same thing – and that is YUM. I prefer the spelling of pierogi, have a fondness for the enunciation of pirohi and stick with using the simple nickname of pyro.]
Pierogies are an Eastern European culinary tradition, commonly linked to Polish, Slovak and Czech heritages. These ethnicities make for an extremely high percentage of the Pittsburgh population, dating back to the honest, blue-collared steelworker days. My maternal grandparents, bona fide experts in pyro-making and proud members of the Pittsburgh Sokol Club, have long enjoyed these potato/cheese-filled, sauerkraut-filled or other-filled delicious pockets of pillowy dough. Lucky for me to have inherited their taste while developing a keen interest in keeping these culinary traditions alive through the generations.
In Western Pennsylvania, and I imagine most Eastern European-populated towns across America, you’ll find pierogi sales popular at local churches throughout the religious calendar year – usually made by an enthusiastic bunch of grandmas who add that extra touch of authenticity and love. While church-bought pierogies are a great option, I look forward to each Christmas Eve dinner knowing that I’ll enjoy a homemade batch of my grandparents recipe (along with a few other Slovak delights, namely Pagach and Sour Mushroom Soup). Now that I know firsthand of the relative simplicity of pyro-making, their frequent appearance on my kitchen table seems all the more likely.
Following the below outlined instructions will most assuredly achieve the desired result. The most important step, in my opinion, is making sure the dough is well-kneaded to fully incorporate any lumps of flour; the dough should be smooth, yet firm, and easily rolled out to a very thin layer will a little bit of elbow grease.
*Note: neither my maternal Grandmother’s name is “Honey” nor is my Grandfather’s name “Paul”…it is simply the name of the published recipe. And, until I track down the accredited source of the recipe, it will have to suffice to say that it came from a photocopied piece of paper in my Grandparent’s recipe box. Those recipes are always the best.
Gramma Honey’s Pirohi Recipe
From a photocopied piece of paper in my Grandparent’s recipe box
Yield approximately 4 dozen pirohi
1 c sour cream
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 whole egg & 1 egg yolk
2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
2 c onion, chopped
1 c unsalted butter
1 recipe Paul’s Favorite Potato/Cheese Filling (below)
Paul’s Favorite Fillings
Yield enough filling for 1 recipe “Gramma Honey’s Pirohi”
2 large potatoes cooked and smashed (not mashed)
1 heaping TBSP butter
1/2 tsp salt
2 oz sharp cheddar cheese (*Longhorn recommended by my Grandparents, along with another oz or so)
*Combine ingredients and spoon on to prepared
Sauerkraut (alternative filling suggestion):
1 can sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
*Fry sauerkraut in a little butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool before spooning on to prepared pirohi dough.
1. Add 1 c flour to sour cream. Beat well. Add remaining ingredients to make a pliable dough. (Not too sticky.) Knead. *Make sure to work the dough enough to fully incorporate the flour so it is lump-free and smooth.
2. Roll dough out 1/8 inch thick and cut into 4-inch squares. Place a heaping 1 tsp of filling at the center of each square. Fold dough in half over filling and pinch all around the edge to seal and keep filling from running out. *Dabbing water along the edges helps seal the pirohi more easily. In addition, folding the edges (to create almost a woven look) allowed me to seal a larger quantity of pirohi faster than pinching; personal preference.
3. In a large pot bring salted water to a rolling boil. (Hint: A bit of butter in the water will help prevent the pirohi from sticking.) Working in batches, drop pirohi into boiled salted water one by one. Wait for pirohi to rise to the surface and boil for 3 more minutes. Stir gently with a flat wooden spoon during process to make sure all pirohi are thoroughly cooked.
4. Remove pirohi from pot, straining out the water. Rinse with cold water to prevent them from sticking.
5. In a skillet, fry chopped onions in butter until they are transparent. *Patience is key here so to not burn the onions – mine got more browned than preferred in this go-around. Pour onion mixture over pirohi and serve.