A Polish treat that's fun to make and eat

Some of our best loved foods are American takes on ethnic cuisine -- from New York style pizza to General Tso's chicken. However, everyone's favorite Polish dinner is plopped into the pot the same in Boardman as it is in Warsaw.

According to Mariann Poprik of Boardman, member of the Polish Arts Club, pirogi were popularized in Poland because they offer a hearty, kid-friendly and delicious vegetarian meal, perfect for Fridays and Wednesdays when Roman Catholic families do not eat meat. While the tradition of not eating meat Fridays and Wednesdays has fallen out of practice with many American Catholics, pirogi have remained a favorite.

Pirogi are rooted in any region where Polish immigrants settled. Poprik said that Polish settlers came to eastern Ohio for steel industry jobs, and there is still a large Polish population, especially in Cleveland. Pirogi were introduced to Americans and immigrants of other nationalities primarily by Polish church pirogi sales.

In regions where pirogi are popular, frozen boxes of pirogi are readily available in most grocery stores. However, anyone who has tasted home-made pirogi knows the prepackaged kind just don't compare.

The Polish Arts Club, an area club that promotes Polish culture, will be selling their much coveted home-made pirogi at the Festival of Nations, a part of the Festival of Arts at Youngstown State University on Saturday and Sunday. The club has sold pirogi at the festival for the past three years, and they sell out fast. Last year all 650 pirogi sold out in one day. This year, the club plans to make about 1,200, but doubts they will last long.

Gathering in Poprik's kitchen, the club members, all of Polish decent, stuffed dozens of pirogi for the sale. This year they will be selling potato-cheese and sweet cabbage filled pirogi.

Ada Holiday of Liberty is 96 years old and has been making pirogi for many of those years. She said that making Polish food, especially around the holidays, allows her to experience her heritage.

"It's something we look forward to because we're re-living something our parents did," Holiday said.

The money raised by the sale is put into scholarships for college-bound youth of Polish decent.

How to

Pirogi can basically be stuffed with whatever suits the taste buds of the chef. Traditionally, Polish pirogi are stuffed with mashed potatoes, cheese or cabbage. Russian pirogi are stuffed with meat filling, while pirogi made by Mennonites are often stuffed with boiled egg. There even those who stuff pirogi with fruit fillings, though our pastry-appreciative palates may have trouble enjoying the mix of heavy pirogi dough and sweet filling.

Sandy Copich of Liberty, another club member, said a key part of making pirogi is making sure they are properly sealed.

"Once you put the filling inside you have to pinch the dough tight, so when you put them in the boiling water they don't open up," Copich said.

After mixing the dough, roll it thin and cut it out into circles using a sharpened glass edge or a round cookie cutter. Then put a spoonful of filling in the center of the circle, fold one side over and pinch the pocket closed. This will create a half-moon shape. Some cooks use fork tines to press lines into the edge of the pirogi to make sure it has sealed and for decoration.

Once the pirogi are sealed, put them into a pot of boiling water until they begin to float. Poprik said boiling usually takes about five minutes. Remove the pirogi from the pot and roll them in melted butter and onion. They then can be frozen for keeping or head right to the dinner table. While pirogi are a time consuming production, once they are prepared and frozen they make a quick and easy meal, taking only a few minutes to boil before they can be served.

Poprik said that after boiling, pirogi can be put into a frying pan with butter and fried crispy or some people skip the boiling altogether and deep-fry the pirogi.

Pirogi are also easy enough for children help, and make a great rainy-day activity.

"It's a good idea to teach your grand children," Copich said. "They could do the rolling."

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