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Why Pierogi Are Martha's Comfort Food, Plus Her Family Recipes

The Polish dumplings are her absolute favorite food, plus four sweet and savory recipes passed down from her mom.

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fruit pierogis with toppings
Photography by: Simon Brown

I am often asked: What is your favorite food? Although I always answer Japanese, the real response should be and is pierogi, the delectable Polish dumplings that my mother, Big Martha, made so well in many incarnations: potato, cabbage, blueberry, peach, plum, and apricot.

 

Everyone in our family was and still is crazy about these little boiled dumplings, concocted from a round of tender, plain dough. The half-moon shape is formed around a savory or sweet filling, carefully designed to delight the eater with a soft pillow of potato, a burst of sweet-tart blueberries, or a delicate apricot, pit removed and cavity filled with crunchy Demerara sugar and unsalted butter.


It seems many of my colleagues also loved Mom's pierogi, and when I was asked to write about them, I was very ready to oblige and very ready to eat some of each of my favorites.

 

If Mom's recipes are better in my mind than others I have tried, it is because she was uncompromising in her fastidious search for perfect ingredients. She insisted, for example, that the cabbages be on the old side -- drier and tastier and whiter than just-picked green cabbage -- that the potatoes be yellow fleshed and rich, and that the butter and sour cream come from a local dairy, not the supermarket.

 

She had an expert touch in making a soft, tender, malleable dough. Other recipes for dough do not have both milk and sour cream, and most do not call for rolling it as thin. We use a cookie or biscuit cutter for the rounds, but I never saw Mom use anything except the floured rim of a specific glass tumbler with perfectly straight sides. She cut her circles very, very close together, so as not to waste a centimeter of dough, which she rolled out only once. I never saw her reuse the scraps. She said they would not make a perfect dumpling.

pierogis on pan
Photography by: Simon Brown
Get Martha's Step-by-Step Guide to Basic Pierogi

Savory Pierogi

pierogis with sauce
Photography by: Simon Brown
Get the Pierogi with Potato Filling and Brown Butter Recipe
pierogis
Photography by: Simon Brown
Get the Pierogi with Cabbage Filling and Clarified Butter Recipe

Sweet Pierogi

blueberry pierogis
Get the Pierogi with Blueberry Filling and Spiced Sour Cream Recipe
fruit pirogis
Photography by: Simon Brown
Get the Pierogi with Italian Plum Filling and Spiced Sour Cream Recipe

Watch Martha and her mom, Big Martha, make potato pierogi:

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