Pierogi are one of the most recognizable Polish foods. Pierogi is actually the plural form of the word pieróg, a generic term for filled dumplings. These half circular dumplings are made from unleavened dough and are stuffed with fillings. These fillings can include mashed potatoes, cheese, sauerkraut, cabbage, mushrooms, spinach, ground beef and even grains or legumes. Because of the endless possibilities when it comes to filings, pierogi can be anything from sweet to spicy. Pierogi is Poland’s national dish and enjoyed year around by all ages. As stated earlier, pierogi have been made in Poland since the 13th century.
Although associated with Polish food and Poland, the origins of Pierogi are often disputed. The rich history of pierogi can be traced all around China and Europe. While it’s origins are disputed, it is known that the word pierogi first appeared in Polish cookbooks and literature in the late 17th century. Claims for the origins of this dumpling have been made by Poles, Romanians, Russians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and Slovaks. Some believe Pierogi came from China and through Italy via Marco Polo’s expeditions. Admittedly, going back a few hundred years ago, we find information about quite a similar food being eaten in China. A prototype of pierogi could have come from China, however, the whole truth is not known. Others think the Tartars brought the recipe from the former Russian Empire. A popular story involving the origins of pierogi involve Saint Hyacinth, the patron saint of pierogi. Some believe pierogi were brought to Poland by Saint Hyacinth from Kievian Rus, now Ukraine. When Saint Hyacinth visited Kościelec in 1238, a storm came and destroyed all the crops. Hyacinth told everyone to pray and the next day the crops had rose back up. As a sign of gratitude towards Hyacinth, people have made pierogi out of the crops. Another legend involving Hyacinth is from 1241. When the invasion of the Tatars led to famine, Saint Hyacinth fed the people with pierogi.
Pierogi in the United States
Despite the numerous legends regarding the origins of pierogi, it is known that this food was introduced in the United States at the onset of the Great Depression. Pierogi were originally a family food among immigrants and were also served in ethnic restaurants. The first documented sale of pierogi was in May 1928. At the Marton House Tavern in Cleveland, proprietor Andrew Marton served pierogi to unemployed steel mill workers in the Cleveland Region. This goes back to the origins of pierogi, where were designed to ensure survival in very poor, overpopulated areas of Europe. In the post- World War II era, pierogi became a staple of fundraisers by ethnic churches. By the 1960’s pierogi became a common frozen supermarket item in many parts of the United States and Canada.
In the past, pierogi was prepared for holidays such as Christmas, and Easter. Each holiday also had its own flavor or pierogi and the flavor tradition is still followed today. On Christmas Eve, most Polish families enjoy Cabbage, Sauerkraut and Mushroom pierogi. The tradition of eating vegan pierogi on Christmas Eve came from the Roman Catholic Church’s mandate of a strict fast and abstinence be observed the day before Christmas. Even though the laws have changed, the traditional meal is still meatless and dairy free. For the summer, sweet pierogi filled with seasonal fruits and berries is popular. Also, important events like weddings had their own special type of pierogi, called kurniki, which is filled with chicken meat.