Dec 21st, 2007

I Say Potayto and You Say Potahto

Long ago and far away, all of the Jews in my hometown lived in one house: my grandparent’s house. Then my parents moved to their own place, and a couple of years later, my cousins moved down the street from us. But in between, the old house on the river was the nexus of our family. My Grandma Dorfman lived with my cousins, too (she was my uncle’s mother-in-law). I remember the first time I ate one of her pierogis. I was maybe 4 or 5, and it’s really one of my earliest memories. My mother had driven to the big house for something…probably the pierogis… but I refused to get out of the car. Since this was the 50s and a tiny little town, I got left in the car while Mummy went inside. When she came out, she stuck her arm in through the car window and offered me a bite of some soft, warm, pale little dumpling thingy. I was uninpressed, and tried to refuse, but she managed to stuff it in my mouth anyway.

EPIPHANY! Oh. My. God. The taste! The melting quality of the feather-light dough! The fried onions and mashed potato filling! I immediately demanded to be taken out of the car and up to the kitchen for more of that stuff. Grandma Dorfman’s pierogis were legendary (and remember, the women in my family consider cooking to be a competitive sport, so there is stiff competition for that word… Grandma Kanarek’s cinnamon sticky buns…Mummy’s macaroni and cheese…Southern Cousin’s lemon bars… anything chocolate from the Girlcousin’s kitchen… Great Aunt Annie’s green beans and aphids (yeah, legendary in a bad way: she couldn’t cook for shit, poor thing)) Well, over the years, Mummy and my Auntie Em tried to get the recipe for pierogis, but Grandma Dorfman cooked by feel and taste. Measurements were “a handful” or “until it tastes right”, and even then, that changed. A handful might be deemed not enough later in the recipe and then another pinch or dribble might be required. Or might be required to come out, if say, the eggs were small and there seemed to be too much flour on the outside of the well into which they were broken.

So the pierogi recipe exists, sort of. I have, over the years, made them with butter, with goose fat, with yukon gold potatoes and Idaho Russets. I take them to Auntie Em for taste testing, and they always fall short of her mother’s ideal. I have searched and Googled, and explored the world wide web for years, and still can’t quite find the right recipe.

Here’s what it must have: a dough made with a boiled potato. It must be kosher. Although I thought the goose fat came closest in taste, Auntie Em says that it’s a dairy dish, and therefore, could not have been made with schmaltz. Butter, yes. Sour cream, oh hell yes. But it was a dish from the poor shtetl, so it had to be minimal and cheap. Flour. Water. Potatoes. Onions.

Can anyone out there on the interwebs help a sister out? I must have pierogies. Please. I’d even knit you a scarf.