Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Growing up, there were only about three sources for pierogies.

You could buy Mrs. T's frozen pierogies in the grocery store. They were our everyday pierogies. We ate them relatively often and as far as I know there was only one type of filling available - potato and cheese I think. I may be wrong but they certainly did not have the variety of fillings they sell today (no jalapeno, spinach, feta, bacon, etc).

In the summer, most local churches raised money by throwing church picnics, multi-day festivals with music, games, and lots of food. Most of the local churches had members with Eastern European backgrounds so there were usually pierogies sold and they were mainly served deep-fried. Again, they were almost always filled with potato filling.

On Christmas Eve,  pierogies were the star of the meatless meal. You wouldn't serve Mrs. T's at this meal anymore than you would serve Stove Top at Thanksgiving. I'm not sure what resources my mother used but she would somehow contact a pierogi maker, place her order, and usually one night after we were out Christmas shopping, we would stop at some random house to pick up the pierogies. I don't recall ever seeing her walk in a house - it was always dark and she'd just disappear from the car and come back with bags of pierogies. Of course, there were always potato pierogies on Christmas Eve but also cabbage and early on farmer's cheese pierogies (eventually we stopped getting these whether by choice or lack of supply, I don't know). I think at least once we got some prune filled ones.

The pierogi market has really blossomed over the years. Eventually more brands became available, some of them cheaper, mass-made Mrs. T's varieties and others are from smaller companies with better fillings and higher price tags.  You can get store-brand pierogies now. I even bought some pierogies from my son's baseball fundraiser. They were sold along with the frozen pizzas, strombolis, pretzels, etc.  These days, we can buy our Christmas Eve pierogies right in the supermarket.

So, why bother making them myself? 'Cause I wanna.  I've always wanted to master pierogi making.  I had one sort-of-failed attempt years ago.  One thing especially that has been on my 'list' for years was to find farmer's cheese to make cheese pierogies.  You just can't find it locally.  I finally found some - a HUGE package of it in Wegman's. It was almost $20 worth of farmer's cheese, which they probably would have repackaged into smaller amounts if I had asked but I knew with $20 worth of farmer's cheese, I would not be putting off making pierogies.

First, I made the fillings:

To start off, I chopped an onion (a yellow onion, not a sweet onion) very finely in my mini chopper. I sautéed it in butter until the onion was translucent and just about to brown. I set this aside.

For the potato filling, I prepared some Honest Earth instant mashed potatoes as directed (with butter, water and milk). I know, all the work of making pierogies from scratch and I used instant potatoes? Yes, I like that brand (from Costco) a lot so I was brazen. They only contain potatoes, butter and salt. I added about half of a block of Kraft Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp cheese, shredded, some of the sautéed onions, and some white pepper. I felt them mixture was still a bit loose so I opened another bag of the instant potatoes and added more until the mixture was as thick as I wanted. Next time I will make the potatoes with less liquid than the directions call for.

For the cabbage-sauerkraut filling, I removed the core from a head of cabbage and sliced it thinly. I sautéed it in butter and oil, with some salt, lots of pepper and a dash of sugar until it was cooked down well and beginning to caramelize. I drained some sauerkraut really well and added it to the cabbage, to taste. I didn't want it to overpower the cabbage (I didn't rinse the sauerkraut but I should have). I cooked that together for a while and then added some sautéed onions and cooked it a bit longer.I know some people who like all sauerkraut, and some who prefer all cabbage, but I like a mixture.

The farmer's cheese filling was one pound of farmer's cheese, 1 whole egg, 1 egg yolk, a teaspoon of salt and some white pepper.

I don't have any complaints about my fillings. They all turned out to be just what I personally wanted, definitely for the potato and the cabbage but I'm not sure about the farmer's cheese only because I'm not sure what I wanted.  It's just been so long since I last had them, I'm not sure if they were the same or not. The flavors were about the same as cottage cheese and noodles.  Cottage cheese and noodles are readily available and much cheaper so I won't consider it the end of the world if I can't make more farmer's cheese pierogies in the future. If I did want to make more cheese pierogies, as a substitute I would probably use drained cottage cheese, blended until it's smooth. I would describe farmer's cheese as having the flavor of cottage cheese with the texture of ricotta cheese, but dryer.

For the dough, I chose four different pierogi dough recipes. Two of them used sour cream. Two of them I made in the bread machine as an experiment, using the pasta dough setting. I had to run it through twice and each setting was 14 minutes. (Not worth it - I could have mixed them both by hand in that amount of time.)  I screwed up and grabbed the self-rising flour for the bread machine doughs, which I didn't realize until much later.

At this point, I don't know where the other dough recipes are but the 'winner' was one that I found on AllRecipes.com and made by hand:

Pierogi Dough

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup warm water
1 egg, beaten

1.In a large bowl mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Make a well in the center.
2.In a separate bowl mix together the vegetable oil, warm water, and beaten egg. Pour into the well of the dry ingredients. Knead dough for 8 to 10 minutes.
3.Cover dough and let rest for 2 hours. Roll out and fill as desired.

This dough was pretty easy to work by hand, it rolled out nicely, it had good stretch, fried up well. The other doughs weren't failures, even the ones with the wrong flour, but this dough was my favorite. Was it good enough to stop trying other recipes? I'm still debating that. Maybe.

The doughs do better sitting overnight so it was fillings and doughs on the first day and the second day I rolled, cut, filled, sealed, boiled, rinsed, dried, froze and packed.

I used a glass to cut the dough since I didn't have a biscuit cutter the right size.  I used water to seal the dough.  I pressed  the edges together until I was sure it was sealed well and then I pressed the edges together some more.  I'm happy to say that I didn't have any leaky pierogies at all. I boiled them until I thought they were done (I think this part will take more experience to get it right).  I rinsed them, dried them off and froze them flat on a cookie sheet before bagging them and keeping them in the freezer.  From there they just needed to be thawed and pan-fried.  You don't have to pan-fry them - you can just heat them up and top them with melted butter and sautéed onion but I prefer them pan-fried.

**Edited to add that they can be deep-fried too and of course, the freezing stage is optional and not necessary if you are going to eat them right away.

They are a lot of work but it's not that difficult. The ingredients (outside of farmer's cheese, not a necessity) are cheap so companies with big machines can sell them cheaply. But I can see why the smaller operations have to charge so much.

So that was my second foray into pierogi making and I think it was a success.


Lauren said...

I love, love, love pierogies..which is strange because they're not something I necessarily grew up with or are common where I live. But my mom and I are always searching for fresh ones of the non-Mrs. T's variety (although those are the ones I did fall in love with and always have on hand in the freezer). Now I'm going to have to convince her we should have a pierogies making party!

Karen said...

I am second-generation Polish American and I grew up in a pretty ethnic home. My grandma's house could have been where your mom got her mystery pierogies!

For the farmer's cheese (what we call pot cheese) we use cottage cheese that has been drained with finely diced mozzarella mixed in. I have also tried feta and goat cheese mixed in and they are both great. I think the pot cheese are bland without a little kick of something else.

I make dough for Christmas and Easter, but it is a pain in butt. I only know how to make a HUGE batch and when I tried to half or quarter the recipe it hasn't worked out. If I want to make pierogies any other time, I use wonton wrappers and just make fresh filling. Grandma might be mortified if she knew, but it is am easy short cut.

The Cookbook Junkie said...


It is really not that hard, especially if you break it down into two days. I found it quite relaxing to be honest. The cabbage filling is the most time consuming part of the process (there are quicker, boiled cabbage fillings but that's not what we like).


I didn't mind the bland flavor with the onions and butter on top but frankly, I'll probably just stick with our favorites (potato/cheese and cabbage with or without the kraut) from now on. I think I'm the only one who missed the cheese ones and it's not worth the extra effort to find the cheese again or a substitute. I'm guessing that the cheese ones that I remember (vaguely) weren't straight farmer's cheese if they were farmer's cheese at all. The pierogies that I bought from my son's fund raiser included a package of farmer's cheese pierogies. I haven't tried them yet. I'm interested to see what they are like.

Jeff said...

I use dried cottage cheese and put a ham gravy on it and we call them verenike!

Anonymous said...

Paula: I went to stay with my best friend for a weekend to make (learn) pierogies!!! I came home with 212 successful ones... That was my first attempt at making them... we made: potato & cheese (& onion), potato, bacon & onion, saurkraut & onion, and taco... The taco was super yummy..

Liz London

The Cookbook Junkie said...

Was the taco a meat filling? I would love to try a meat filling in a pierogi. It's not what my family has had traditionally but maybe we will start some new traditions.

Liza B. Jane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liza B. Jane said...

My family is polish and we have made pierogies every holiday forever... Our favorite fillings are cheese potato or cheese potato and sausage. Be brown the sausage and mix in into the potato before we fill the perogie. Then we top them all off with carmalized onions, sour cream, and syrup. yes syrup. Sounds gross... its DELISH.

The Cookbook Junkie said...

I love the idea of sausage. What kind of sausage did you use?

I think next time I make pierogi I am definitely going to do another filling that is non-traditional to us. It's so easy to get set in your ways with traditional family foods.

The Cookbook Junkie said...

I wanted to add that I can no longer find that brand of instant potatoes. Not sure if I'll try another brand or use real potatoes in my future pierogi making.

I can find farmer's cheese more readily now.

Anonymous said...

We buy the idahoan instant potatoes and they are the best instant ever. You cant tell the difference between real & them.