National Pierogi Day

October 8

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National Pierogi Day occurs in the United States on October 8 of every year. Sadly, it’s not yet a legally recognized national holiday, but it nevertheless figures in all sorts of calendars and almanacs. You can check for yourself.

Boiled pierogi. Photo by the author.

The history of the National Pierogi Day is shrouded in mystery. There is very little information about when exactly it came into being, who proposed it, and why October 8 was chosen of all the days in a year.

This is further complicated by the fact that in Poland, pierogi are commonly associated with the figure of St. Hyacinth (Sw. Jacek Odrowaz) whose day of celebration falls on August 17th.

Regardless of its provenance, though, it is a welcome celebration of one of the most iconic Polish dishes.

The Linguistics of “Pierogi”

You may sometimes see pierogi spelled (incorrectly) as perogi, or pierogy. The word “pierogi” (pronounced pyeh-roh-gee] is the plural form of the Polish word pieróg (pronounced pyeh-roo-gh). It’s really very simple: one pieróg, multiple pierogi.

For this reason, the expression you too often hear in the US: pierogis, is ridiculously redundant and incorrect. Unfortunately, this is so common a mistake, that even some of my Polish-American friends (who should know better) fall into the trap of saying “pierogis” when they address an English-speaker. You can gain an instant boost in your Polish credentials, and earn the corresponding awe of your Polish-American friends, when you correct this frequent mistake. The word „pierogi” is already plural – no need to add the „s” at the end. The singular form is rarely used in the Polish language anyway, because – well – you can’t just have one pieróg. They are so delicious that you will always end up eating multiple pierogi. 😊

The History of “Pierogi”?

Pierogi is a traditional, even iconic Polish dish. It supposedly arrived in Poland and Polish territories in the 13th century, possibly imported from the Far East, via eastern neighbors such as today’s Ukraine. The first written pierogi recipe comes from a book published in 1682. [4]

There are other similar types of dumpling-like dishes in other ethnic cuisines, but when you say „pierogi”, that’s a Polish word specifically denoting the Polish variety. Pierogi can be served as the main course, as a side dish, as a dessert, as a snack – there really is no limit. They were popularized in the United States by early Polish immigrants. At first, they were served to only their families, then ethnic restaurants added them to their menus and ethnic churches used them as a staple fundraiser. Finally, from the 1960s until today they could be found in the frozen food isles of grocery stores in many regions.

Boiled, then fried pierogi (Photo Anna Woźniewicz)

In Poland, they can nowadays be found in food shops, eateries, restaurants, school canteens. Recently, a concept of pierogi house – called “pierogarnia” – has emerged in numerous places. This type of restaurant, sometimes very fancy, specializes in one and only type of dish – pierogi.

What Are “Pierogi”?

Pierogi are stuffed dumplings made from unleavened dough and various sweet or savory fillings, that were boiled in water, and then maybe, optionally, fried or baked. The filling can be just about anything, but it must be present. If it doesn’t have a filling, it’s not a pieróg. Yes, I am aware of the existence of the Lazy Pierogi (leniwe pierogi) in the Polish culinary tradition, but I am deliberately ignoring these, since – despite the name – they are not really pierogi, but cut pieces of pasta, so it’s really a misnomer.

Depending on the filling, you may have meat pierogi (pierogi mięsne), sauerkraut-and-mushroom pierogi (pierogi z kapustą i grzybami), blueberry pierogi (pierogi z jagodami), sour cherry pierogi (pierogi z wiśniami), prune or plum pierogi (pierogi ze sliwkami), cheese pierogi (pierogi z serem), potato pierogi (pierogi z ziemniakami), spinach pierogi (pierogi ze szpinakiem), or – let’s say - the fancy salmon pierogi (pierogi z łososiem), to name just a few.

Meat fillings are quite popular, including pork, beef, chicken, and veal, as well as the more fancy duck, lamb, or goose meat. Meat for pierogi is first cooked and then ground. In some regions, buckwheat or other grains and legumes are popular as filling. The sauerkraut-and-dried-mushroom kind of pierogi are part of customary Polish Christmas Eve dinner (Wigilia) along with the tiny, mushroom-only variety of small pierogi called uszka (little ears), and sweet poppy seed stuffing-filled kind for dessert. All kinds of fruit can be used as stuffing: raspberries, strawberries, prunes, plums, apples, blueberries, and so on.

However, by far the most common kind of pierogi are the – confusingly named – so called, Russian pierogi (pierogi ruskie) with a filling that’s a combination of white farmer’s cheese and mashed potatoes, with some fried onions added for taste. They are not really Russian at all – they are Polish, but that’s how they are called in Poland, probably for similar reasons that potato fries are called “French” in the US: just to confuse the uninitiated.

Another reason may also be that they arrived from a prewar region of Poland that is now part of Ukraine but used to be called Rus. Supposedly, before 1945, Ukrainians used to call this particular variety of pierogi “Polish pierogi”. Maybe they were created by Poles living in Ukraine at the time and gained their new name after WW2 when tens of thousands of Poles were forced to leave their homes in Western Ukraine and relocate to the post-war Western Poland. Regardless of the name’s origin, it’s important to note that they are Polish and that the cheese in ruskie pierogi must be the soft, non-sweet kind of white, pressed cheese commonly referred to as farmer’s cheese, or quark cheese, and not any other kind of cheese.

In some stores in the USA, you may encounter supposedly Polish “pierogi ruskie” filled with potato and cheddar cheese (or Swiss cheese, or American cheese, etc.) which is an abomination. This has nothing to do with real Polish pierogi ruskie in which the potato-and-cheese filling contains the mandatory “white cheese” (farmer’s, or quark kind). The reason for that is that the manufacturer substitutes the readily obtainable cheddar cheese for the real Polish “white cheese” which is harder to find in the US (but really easy to make on your own, if you are so inclined, but that’s another story).

There exist numerous recipes both for the stuffing and for the dough. During the decades of communist regime, only the simple, rural versions with basic fillings were available, of which ruskie are a prominent example. Perhaps this is why, nowadays, a lot of eateries and homes are experimenting with extravagant stuffing and fancy toppings to turn this simple dish into a gourmet delicacy. [4] There simply were no salmon pierogi when I was growing up! Also, back in the 13th century, when pierogi supposedly made their appearance in Poland, potatoes were still unknown in Europe, so the stuffing necessarily included such delicacies as chopped kidneys, veal fat, and nutmeg. These days, some chefs of Polish restaurants refuse to serve pierogi at all, as an inherently peasant and low-profile dish.

How Pierogi Are Made

Pierogi are conceptually easy to make, but they are definitely labor-intensive and take some time, especially since you really need to make quite a few, because they have a tendency to disappear quickly when served. These dumplings can be made manually or automatically using machines on an industrial scale.

Preparing pierogi (Source: Wikipedia)

They are made from a small circle of thinly-rolled dough (it’s rolled into a thin sheet with a rolling pin, and then cut into circles using, for example, an upside-down drinking glass), folded to form a pocket, filled with a filling (farsz), and then the two sides of the dough pocket manually pressed tightly together to form the seal of the semi-circular dumpling.

The dough is similar to what you would use to make homemade Italian pasta or noodles. It contains just wheat flour, eggs (both whites and yolks), and water. The pierogi dough should be elastic, delicate and soft, so it does not dominate the taste and allow the stuffing to come through. It should not be too thick.

Once the filling is placed inside and the pieróg is formed and sealed, it must be boiled in hot, salted water for a few minutes.

Usually, pierogi are boiled together by the dozen or so in a large pot of lightly salted water (do not cover the pot, or it will boil over), then drained and either served immediately while still hot, or left to cool down and served cold, in either case, dressed up with some toppings.

Depending on the filling, and whether they are served hot or cold, they could be dressed with either fried/sauteed onions, fried bacon bits, sour cream, sweet heavy cream, whipped cream, any kind of sauce indeed, plain sugar, melted butter and sugar, or just salt and pepper. They are delicious in every way.

The overall idea of pierogi allows for endless opportunities for experimentation with the stuffing (yes, I suppose even the cheddar cheese filling will finds its adherents) and the toppings.

After boiling them, people will often either bake, or fry them in butter, to finish cooking them. This is also a good way to revive any (unlikely) leftovers the next day. Keep the boiled pierogi refrigerated, covered to prevent them from drying out, even for several days, and then reheat them by frying in oil or butter when ready to serve. Some people definitely prefer them fried, so if you are making them – make a lot more than you think you need, to ensure that there are some leftovers to fry. They also freeze very well, so you can always keep a supply handy in the freezer.

How to Celebrate National Pierogi Day

Celebrating this holiday is as easy as eating pierogi, so definitely have some. Make them, if you can.

You can invite friends over and have them participate in the making process. Have the guests bring their favorite fillings also and, together, create a buffet of several different kinds of pierogi. It’s a delicious way to celebrate with both savory and dessert varieties.

If you are in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area, you can visit the Polish Center of Wisconsin in Franklin (www.polishcenterofwisconsin.com) for the celebration and a taste of delicious pierogi on October 8, 2021.




Sources/Bibliography:

  1. Pierogi | Wikipedia (en)
  2. Pierogi | Wikipedia (pl)
  3. National Day Calendar at https://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-pierogi-day-october-8/
  4. Polish Food 101 ‒ Pierogi, Magdalena Kasprzyk-Chevriaux, Culture.pl, May 22, 2014
  5. Hyacinth of Poland | Wikipedia

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