It’s okay, I think, to adopt other families’ culinary traditions when it suits you. Having not grown up with a Ukrainian baba, and having married into a Ukrainian family that doesn’t cook (!!!), I’m perfectly happy to learn the art of perogy making with a friend who learned from her own baba Nettie, who was the type to turn out thousands of them with her crew for a church supper, celebration or fundraiser in Saskatchewan, or just to fill the freezer to feed the extended family from week to week. It’s particularly fitting that this year marks the 125th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement in Canada.
I love any opportunity to cook with my favourite people – the best part of Thanksgiving is the crammed and chaotic kitchen – and getting together for other reason than to mass-produce perogies by hand while catching up on what’s going on with who, while getting well floured in our sock feet sounds like a pretty good kind of dinner party to me. These peroghy makers were the best kind of multitaskers – socializing while pulling together dinner from scratch, and occasionally raising enough money to build a church or barn.
Another selling point of the humble perogy is its versatility – you can transform virtually anything in your fridge into perogy filling, stabilized with mashed potatoes. Although potatoes, bacon, sauerkraut and cheese are the norm, Thanksgiving leftovers come to mind – leftover mashed potatoes, shredded roasted turkey and finely shredded Brussels sprouts, all moistened with gravy, produce little pillows of comfort – perogies at their best. I’ve made them with sweetened saskatoons and the last of the pulled beef short ribs. They don’t all have to be the same (perogy roulette is fun!) and because each one is self-contained, there’s no reason to care about following a particular formula. With perogies, it’s all about the dough.
Nettie made hers with very hot water – recently boiled, in fact – but many babas use the hot, starchy cooking water left over from boiling potatoes to make the filling. When you’re turning them out by the hundred or so, there are ways of streamlining things that work just as well when you’re only in it for a dozen; roll the dough into a long, thin rope and cut into pieces, then roll each into a circle, instead of rolling and cutting and winding up with scraps. And roll your filling – assuming it’s mostly mashed potatoes, that is – into balls the size of a large marble for easy insertion into each circle of dough, rather than spooning some onto each piece. But really, whatever works.
Make them big or small – whatever you like. They can be frozen on a baking sheet, then transferred to heavy bags to freeze for months – boil them fresh or straight from the freezer until they rise to the top of the pot, then add a minute; I like to have a big pan of bacon and onions going alongside, and remove the perogies with a slotted spoon straight into the hot pan to brown and crisp up before moving to a plate and adding a glop of sour cream. Truly one of the best – and most prairie-patriotic – meals you can eat. Especially if you manage to borrow-inherit Nettie’s recipe for your own.