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