It is June, it is raining, and it is a Saturday; Farmer’s Market shopping may not happen tomorrow, due to family arriving in town for the first time in over 3 (!) years; you are slightly hung-over due to the accessibility of free wine at last night’s Best of Gage (where, unlike last year, you did not win any awards).
You are grouse-y about art, painting, and drawing in general, yet you have at least three pieces to finish up before next Friday (one fully rendered charcoal drawing and two grisaille paintings); your hair is snarled and in need of a wash, your apartment needs to be cleaned before the arrival of aforementioned family, and all you want to do is lay in bed and watch reality television all day. You are, in a word, cranky. But! In lieu of sulking in bed all day! You decide to pluck up! And remedy the situation! By combining comfort foods! With! Nostalgia!
My family goes back in Pittsburgh time possibly as far as anyone can remember, as far back as when the Northern Irish blood got booted from the motherland for Emmet’s Rebellion. While my parents both grew up in the city proper (North Side and Wikinsburgh), we girlish offspring were raised about ½ an hour North of the city. Unlike the rest of the family, I flew the coop as soon as I was able; and while I actually did live in the City of Pittsburgh for a whopping 4 years, I would never ever want to live there again. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t get nostalgic, and especially for the food:
Bagels with capers and cream cheese and red onion and lox. The real kind, not Noah’s bagels.
A proper falafel, hummus, and kebab in the tucked-away basement Mediterranean Grill.
Decent Northern Indian food. Any decent Northern Indian food.
A crispy boxty at Piper’s Pub.
A comforting brunch at the Quiet Storm.
And, of course, delicious delicious delicious pierogis.
If you were raised in Pittsburgh, or near Pittsburgh, or by a Pittsburghers, you’ll have been fed pierogis from the time you were ready for solids; and, if you were a picky little brat like me, you will have refused to put them anywhere near your mouth because you despised onions. That being beside the point, Pittsburghers cooked up all sorts of pierogis in the kitchen: those made from scratch, those purchased from the little grandmothers at Pierogis Plus, or straight from a box of Mrs. T’s (in the frozen section at your local Giant Iggle). Pierogis were stuffed with onion, potato, and cheese, boiled, then sauteed in butter and onion and served with a dollop of sour cream on the side. Sometimes, fanciness came into play and you’d be treated to an applesauce garnish, or a pierogi stuffed with rattlesnake meat (no kidding). Pierogis could be a meal in and of themselves, or the complement to sauerkraut and grilled kielbasa. You don’t need to be Polish to enjoy a pierogi (although it is a Polish treat), but being from Pittsburgh (a very Polish city) definitely helps.
OK, we’ve got the nostalgia down. Now you understand the reasoning behind my complete and utter need to have pierogis today. So let’s make pierogis, shall we?
There are about 1,001 pierogi recipes out there. While this may be daunting to some, it was easy for me to make my selection: I went with the woman who grew up in Pittsburgh. Viola! I did make a few changes to her recipe, just because I feel confident enough in my pierogi palate to do so: in place of onions, I used leeks (grilled per this fella’s instructions and because I love me some leeks).
In place of red potatoes, I used Yukon Golds (because they are creamier) and kept the skin on (because I like the skin). Everything else, I kept as-is. Pierogi-making, by the way, is a time-consuming process. Not only is there dough to be made and refrigerated, but then grilling and filling, rolling and cutting, and stuffing and folding. In my split minute decision to make pierogis, I had forgotten that I don’t own a rolling pin; so there was a bit of panic and the remedy of a wine bottle (excellent rolling pin stand-in, by the way) tossed in as well.
I was terrifically afraid that the pierogis were going to fall apart when I boiled them or when I sauteed them with yet more leeks, but guess what? They held together beautifully, I got my plateful of nostalgia, I was distracted enough to be not as cranky, and everyone wound up happy (and full) in the end.
Music for pierogi-making: Einstürzende Neubauten
Music for pierogi-eating: Hossein Alizadeh