The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 15, 2012

Tom Lavis | Not a prude for prune pierogi


— Last week, I was approached by a reader who identified himself as George. He wanted to tell me how pleased he was that the newspaper did an article on Orthodox Christmas.

“It’s nice that you guys recognize the other Christmas,” he said.

He told me that his family has followed the Julian calendar, which recognizes Christmas 13 days after the traditional Christian observance.

When I was a youngster, I was envious of my classmates who celebrated two Christmases.

Later in life, I resented my Orthodox friends when they told me they waited until Dec. 26 to do their Christmas shopping because retailers slashed prices after Christmas to liquidate merchandise.

But there was one thing George said to me that really made me jealous.

“We make 10 dozen pierogi to eat at Christmas,” he said.

Our conversation would have ended there except I’m a pierogi-holic.

I’m not Orthodox, but my roots run through Eastern Europe and the Pierogi Belt.

I could not resist taking our conversation to another level.

“Well, George, I guess you only make potato-filled,” I said. “That seems to be the most popular.”

His answer transported me back in time. More on that later.

“I’m giddy with euphoria,” I told him.

“I don’t know where Euphoria is, but my ancestors came from the Ukraine,” George said.

No matter how you spell pierogi, this half-moon-shaped dough pocket can be stuffed with a variety of fillings.

I can’t tell you how many weddings I’ve attended in the past five decades where an argument

didn’t erupt about the best-tasting pierogi.

While the customary pierogi in my family was filled with a potato-and-cheese mix, there was a lot of experimenting with other fillings.

My aunts would use ground beef, cabbage and sometimes cheese only.

My mother once served Dad a sauerkraut-filled pierogi. One bite, and he immediately deposited it into his napkin and declared that that flavor would never pass his lips again.

I didn’t want to be too crude and tell you that he actually spit the pierogi into a paper towel and instructed my mother to throw the rest in the garbage.

Luckily there were several other varieties available that evening for him to eat.

He is probably going to take a few spins in his grave, but I like the sauerkraut variety.

Our pierogi resembled triangles instead of half-moons. The dumplings in my mother’s ham potpie also were triangles.

I believe the isosceles shape allows for one of the three points to enter the throat easier, thus guiding the morsel down the gullet without having to be chewed.

That’s how fast we seemed to devour them.

No matter what the filling, most pierogi are best served bathed in butter and onions.

Dessert pierogi are stuffed with strawberries, cherries, peaches or plums.

We never got dessert pierogi at home because there were always apple, cherry or pumpkin pies that followed our meals.

My mother’s pierogi were first boiled, then plopped into a frying pan.

Making pierogi is time consuming, to say the least.

Perhaps that’s why my sister and a cousin get standing ovations from relatives when they show up at family reunions with roasters full of homemade pierogi.

I’m sorry to say that my wife and I have fallen into the same pierogi trap as many others – the frozen variety.

That’s why I was so happy when George told me about pierogi that were not potato filled.

“You probably think I’m crazy, but we made four dozen pierogi stuffed with prunes,” he said.

After hearing that, I couldn’t talk because my mouth was watering.

Prune-filled are my absolute favorite – they’re plum terrific.

Hello. My name is Tom and I’m a pierogi-holic.

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