Why is it that when we are children we never realize or appreciate the family holiday traditions which have been set before us, but once it clicks as adults, we draw near and hold dear to the things that make our holidays seem real? The maternal side of my family is strong with traditions being half Sicilian and half Lithuanian. Interesting combination, no? As it is told my great grandparents felt the same way about the joining of the families in the 40's. Our Christmas Eve dinner was filled with seafood and pierogi. I've never gone a Christmas Eve without pierogi. The little dough crescents filled with cheese were carefully handcrafted by my grandma weeks before Christmas and frozen for the big night. While sharing some of my family history with a friend, I quickly realized by the puzzled look on his face that not everyone has experienced pierogi. In the spirit of Christmas and his family significance in our lives, I decided to make my very first batch of pierogi.
My grandma was a wonderful cook. Her hands were wrinkled from all of the kneading and stirring over her lifetime. I never considered this until recently but coming from a strong Italian family I wonder what it was like for her to learn to cook all of my grandpa's Lithuanian dishes. I know his mother lived with them for many years and that would have provided an opportune time for my grandma to cook with her. I'll have to find this out when I return home for the holidays.
There are dishes that I will forever long for since her passing away four years ago. After her death, I found her pierogi recipe written on piece of paper. I am not sure why she wrote it, who it was intended for or perhaps it was just a reminder to herself. Because it is so precious I keep it in a very safe place in my home until I decided to follow in her footsteps and make my first batch of pierogi unassisted. I had watch her make them dozens of times but never had a chance to participate without the training wheels.
The recipe in itself is quite easy being a simple dough and filling. As I started to mix and roll out the dough I prayed that it would come together just as hers did. Little by little the crescents were dropped into the boiling water and there were no catastrophes. No sudden outpouring of filling. They simply floated to the surface when they were done. I became overjoyed at my accomplishment and ever more connected to my grandma's memory.
I will share that to prevent the boiled pierogi from sticking together the secret is bacon and lots of it. Frying up 1 lb of center cut bacon renders plenty of oils to address any concern of sticking. Also, it creates the most wonderful flavor when the pierogi are reheated.
In my family, you can't have a Christmas Eve celebration without pierogi. They are one in the same. I can't wait to see down the road how our Collier family will begin to integrate former traditions with our own new traditions. But I will promise you, pierogi will be there.