As kids, we called them Padoggies. I never questioned their proper name, until I learned my dad made up words. For example, he called pajamas, naugies. I didn’t even know naugies weren’t what other people called them, that is, until I invited kids over for a Naugie Party. Imagine that? Parents of my young friends calling my mom to ask what KIND of party was I inviting their children to?! Yikes! But, I digress. So anyway, I came across a YouTube video recently in which a cooking couple from Canada also referred to them as we did. Whether you call them padoggies, or pierogies, or simply Polish dumplings they bring me back to my parents’ tiny, crowded kitchen in western Massachusetts, in the 1970s, with the Mr. Coffee gurgling on the counter, and the familiar lingering smell of cabbage boiling in a huge pot on our electric stove.
A couple of Sundays each month were synonymous with family cooking. Family, consisting of me, my younger sister Donna, older brother Ray, baby brother Rich, and our parents, Stash and Bev. The recipe we’d follow was from my dad’s mom, our grandma Jadwiga, who lived just a few hops and skips away. Handwritten on a floured and greased lined recipe card were ingredients and instructions, but nothing specific. How much is a dash? A pinch? A handful?
It didn’t matter as it wasn’t for us kids to worry about. My dad was in charge of the dough and my mom’s specialty was the filling. Our roles were those of kneaders, cutter-outters, folders and crimpers. Our tools: pudgy fingers, drinking glasses and forks.
It was usually mid-morning when my dad pulled out the square brown wooden canisters adorned with roosters that were lined up under our cabinets. He chose the two largest, the container of flour for himself and the one with sugar for my mom. Once he gathered a salt shaker, a bowl, a room temperature egg, and glass of tap water, we knew it was time to gather around the white formica table flecked with blue. As pre-teens, we’d sit or kneel on one of the six chairs tucked close to the table’s edge. When older, we’d simply move the chairs out of the way so we could stand.
My mom’s prep space was on to the other side of the stove where she had an egg, farmers cheese, and sugar at the ready. Whistling along with tunes from the Polish American program on WTBR 87.9 FM, my dad mixed the dough and would hand the plump sticky glob to me and Donna. We’d take turns kneading it. Flour that was supposed to stay on the table, spilled onto the floor and powdered our clothes. When the dough was smooth, my mom covered it in a bowl.
Five minutes later, she’d roll it out real thin across the table. Then came our favorite part, cutting circles out of the dough with glasses. Ray and Rich joined in then. Once we had dozens, we’d divvy up the filling and plop some onto each circle. Next, we’d gently fold them in half. With forks, we’d press along the edges to seal them shut. When these passed inspection, they’d be dropped into another pot of boiling water and we’d watch them swirl once around and sink down under the foamy water.
In time, they’d bob back to the surface. That was my dad’s cue to take them out with a slotted spoon and place them directly into a hot frying pan. We had to stand back then as the sizzling butter spit out in all directions. Once browned on both sides, then…. came the hardest part. Waiting for the pierogies to cool long enough to handle them. We’d eye the platter, perched on waxed paper. When we just couldn’t bear it any longer, we’d pick them up in our fingers and we’d take that first satisfying bite of buttery dough and soft cheese.
From my journal: October 12, 1987, Redondo Beach, California
“Want to make pierogies for Rich’s visit, but the farmer’s cheese here isn’t the same, not soft …will try to make them anyway.”
Out here in California, I have never found the right farmer’s cheese to stuff my pierogies, and over the years, though I’ve made them countless times, I’ve yet to replicate my grandma’s recipe well, now written with “approximate” measurements. But, it’s okay. Each time I make them, I am reminded of those Sundays of my childhood. And I know that what has been handed down to me, Donna, Ray and Rich, is not just a recipe for Polish dumplings, but the love, connectedness, and comfort of family.