Grandma K’s Christmas Eve Pierogies

She’s been gone for too many years now, still how can I forget? The crackle of the frying pan, the heady scent of brown butter and caramelized onions. There she stands at the kitchen counter—shoulders hunched in concentration, her pretty hands working the dough to perfection, reciting the measurements from memory like a silent novena.

Regrettably, I was not the first one to adopt my grandmother’s tradition of making pierogies for Christmas Eve. But better late than never, right? Rather, it’s been my brother’s wife who has boldly taken up the mantle of official family pierogi-maker, helping us all to keep this beloved tradition alive. Kudos to you, C, and thank you for contributing this guest post to Smallpeace.

Grandma K, circa 1933

It was love at first sight when I first met my Polish-American husband 28 years ago. Shortly after we started dating, I spent my first Christmas with his family, and it was love at first bite when I tasted Grandma K’s pierogies!

I remember Grandma standing over the stove with her Christmas clothes carefully protected by a pretty apron, frying her pierogies in butter and onions. They were the most delicious things I’d ever tasted, and our family looks forward to eating them every Christmas Eve.

On the years when I am more organized, I try to assemble them early in the month and freeze them. Unlike Grandma, the thought of making these slightly labor-intensive delicacies on Christmas Eve is overwhelming. (I still don’t know how Grandma
did that.)

One year, Grandma was sweet enough to come to my kitchen and show me her famous pierogi-making technique, and there are a few tips I’d like to share with you here. This year, I enlisted the help of my 9-year-old daughter, and we made a day of making two batches. Our favorite fillings are sauerkraut and potato and cheese, but mushroom and onion and sweet fillings such as stewed prunes or cherries with a dusting of powdered sugar are also common.

Ingredients for dough:

1 egg

1 cup milk

1 cup water

3 Tbs sour cream

4 1/2 to 5 cups flour

Ingredients for fillings:

One “hunk” of mild-to-medium sharp (orange) cheddar cheese, cubed

Six Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes, peeled and boiled

1 package high-quality sauerkraut, drained and liquid reduced on stovetop

Chopped sweet onions for final sauté

Instructions:

Mix the wet ingredients together until blended. Here’s where my Mixmaster with the dough attachment comes in handy. Add flour one cup at a time until a nice consistency is formed that is not too dry and not too wet. Remove dough from mixer and turn out on a floured board. Divide into fourths and roll out the dough to desired thickness. Then, use a teacup or cutting form to cut out the circles that will eventually be stuffed.

For the sauerkraut, make sure to buy the best available. Eden Organic, Real Pickle, and Pickle Planet are a few brands that come to mind. Drain and put on the stove until most of the excess moisture evaporates. It’s important that the sauerkraut is dry, or it will cause the dough of the pierogi to become soggy.

Place a small amount of filling in center of a dough circle, use water on fingertips around edge then fold over and crimp the edges to form a half circle or moon shape. Place pierogies on sheet pan lined with cornmeal so they don’t stick.

Boil a big pot of water and drop in 4 to 5 pierogies at a time, leaving them in the water until they float. Meanwhile, brown butter and onions in a sauté pan. Transfer cooked pierogies to the pan and sauté them until golden brown, then transfer them to a casserole dish. At this point, the pierogies are ready to be eaten, or you can cover the dish with wax paper and foil and store in your freezer for later.

The next filling is potato cheese. Grandma was very clear on how this filling was prepared. She did allow me to use Yukon Golds but she preferred using Russet. Peel potatoes and cook in boiling salted water until done. Drain in a colander and add back to hot dry cooking pot. Meanwhile, cube orange cheddar cheese.

Perhaps because of my profession*—with its emphasis on healthy living—I was tempted to challenge Grandma on the quality of some of her ingredients. Here, I proposed using a higher-quality, sharper cheese. However, she insisted it had to be orange cheddar and, to this day and forever, that is what we will use.

Add the cubed cheddar to the potatoes and mash. Do not add anything else to the mash—no butter or cream—as the consistency needs to be dry.

Repeat steps for dough preparation and stuff your potato-cheese pierogies accordingly.

*A pioneer of restorative anatomical function, Corrie Egoscue Karas, together with her partner and husband, is the creator of Functionetiks, a hands-off, natural system of movements and exercises for addressing pain and dysfunction.

About Smallpeace

Michele Karas is a poet, essayist, and longstanding professional copywriter, who currently works for a top-five US book publisher. Her poems and prose have appeared in literary journals, including Tinderbox, THRUSH, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Narrative magazine, among others. Michele holds a BA in Journalism from San Diego State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from CUNY, The City College of New York. Find her on Twitter @small_peace.
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6 Responses to Grandma K’s Christmas Eve Pierogies

  1. Touch2Touch says:

    Your grandmother was so pretty! Rarely do people have (or show, perhaps) photos of grandparents when they were so young.
    The pierogies sound scrumptious, and your family sounds equally scrumptious.
    Wonderful holidays to you all!

  2. Smallpeace says:

    I’m proud of that photo, T2T, because people say I look a bit like her in that image. So thank you. And wonderful holidays to you and yours.

  3. Hadiza Dockeray says:

    What a beautiful photo of your grandma. The pierogies look so delicious I may actually be motivated to try and follow your recipe … or better yet, get someone who knows how to cook to make them for me!

  4. John Gaines says:

    Yes, you have her eyes

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