Grandma Barovian told my mom early on that she wasn’t free babysitting, but there’s always a loophole. Even she – the toughest of birds – wasn’t going to say no when sweet Lizzy asked to sleep over. And why wouldn’t I? Friday nights at my grandparents’ meant an ice cream cone while we watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. It meant a queen-sized bed all to myself. But the sleepovers were really about Saturday mornings when I’d plop myself in the hybrid that is the kitchen step-stool/seat and watch Grandma cook.
She was always cooking, and she never wanted help (girl didn’t need help). I never knew what she’d be cooking from one Saturday to the next, and she rarely consulted a recipe, so I sort of got the sense that Grandma could cook anything. Anything she wanted, anything at all, and everyone would love it. Like if there was a reality show that shuttled feisty Polish women to other people’s kitchens and commanded, “Cook something special! With just 4 ingredients! In 4 minutes!” She’d win.
But this was the 80s. No reality show cameras in her kitchen – just me on the step-stool/seat, listening to Grandma narrate tips for the day’s menu in her gravel voice, courtesy of her pack/day cigarette habit. Non-filtered, obviously. There was always a haze of smoke in the kitchen, and maybe that sounds gross to you. It does to me if we’re talking about someone else’s kitchen, but it suited hers. She’d alternate inhales with sips of her morning coffee that sometimes she’d reheat in her dial microwave and sometimes not. Now that’s gross, regardless of how you swing it.
I wish I could remember more of what Grandma said, but I was more interested in watching her cook than learning how to cook. I don’t remember her tips. I remember her movements – how she’d sprinkle flour on the table before rolling out the pierogie dough, pick up that circle, sprinkle more flour, turn the dough over, and roll again. She didn’t stop until the dough was translucent enough to see the table top underneath.
“How do you know when it’s thin enough?” I’d ask.
Then she’d cut the dough with a circular cutter she used only for pierogies.
“Why that cutter and not others?” I’d ask.
“It’s what I’ve always used.”
Then she’d place a heaping spoonful of filling in the center. She was always risky with the dough-to-filling ratio, wanting the dough thick enough to envelope the filling but never more because the cheesy potatoes, not the dough, were the star of her pierogies.
“How much do you put in?” I’d ask.
“As much as the dough can handle.”
“Your dough can’t wrap around that much filling without breaking,” I’d point out.
She didn’t pay me any mind. She didn’t need to. The dough always obeyed her fingers, which is why she never understood how my pierogies split apart when we boiled them.
“You didn’t pinch hard enough,” she’d diagnose.
“Yes, I did.”
She’d hold up a broken pierogi as evidence and laugh right at me. You know what else would make her laugh? That I wrote about making pierogies in Lu.
“Lizzy doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” she’d tell anyone within hearing distance.
I’d remind her I don’t need to know how to make a good pierogi to write about it. I just need to write about them well enough to make people hungry. She’d like that. Grandma Barovian was hard with her words and reserved in her affection. But she was extravagant in loving her family through her food.
I miss my grandma. I’d trade quite a bit to spend another Saturday morning in her kitchen.
“Do you know there’s a National Pierogi Day? It’s coming up this weekend, October 8,” I’d tell her from the step-stool seat.
She’d snort. Every day was pierogi day in her world.
“Do you mind if I share your pierogi recipe?”
She’d stare at me over the top of her glasses, but nod after a moment. “Sure. Just so they know they can’t make pierogies like I make them.”
So here you have it: the recipe for Grandma Barovian’s Pierogies (which you will never make as well as Grandma Barovian).
Grandma Barovian’s Pierogies
Potato & Cheese Filling
- 1 quart diced potatoes
- 1/2 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 2T butter
- 1t salt
- 2-3 finely chopped green onions
- 1 1/4c flour
- 1 heaping T sour cream
- 1T oil
- 1 egg
- 1T water (or more if dough seems dry)
Filling (Can make a day ahead)
Boil potatoes with salt and drain. Mash well with butter and cheese. Cool in fridge.
Mix all ingredients and form dough into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and let sit for 30-45 minutes.
- Flour work surface and pin. Roll out half of the dough (keep other half in plastic wrap to prevent drying) from center until 1/8″ thick, adding flour to counter and pin to prevent sticking. Cut rounds with a 2.5-3″ cutter or glass/cup.
- Place heaping teaspoon of potato filling on center of round. Fold dough over to form a “half moon,” wet fingers, and pinch well to close. Place finished pierogies on a floured towel.
- Repeat with other half of dough.
- Combine dough scraps and roll them together. This dough will be drier than the original dough, but still usable.
- Boil water in a large diameter pot with salt. Prepare a bowl of cold water and place near the stove.
- Gently add some pierogies to boiling water, but don’t overcrowd. Boil 2-3 minutes until pierogies float.
- With a slotted spoon, transfer pierogies to cold water. Let sit 1 minute. Transfer with slotted spoon to a towel.
- Continue cooking pierogies in batches until finished.
And now …
Saute with butter, onions, and garlic and serve with sour cream. Because every girl has a pierogie-sized hole in her tummy that needs constant tending.