I went yesterday evening to visit our grandmother, a vibrant 83 year old lovingly called 'Bubba.'. She is constantly cooking and baking - nut rolls, poppy seed rolls, cakes, cookies, kolachi, stuffed cabbage, and most importantly, pierogis! I had asked her if she could show me how to make pierogis myself. With the holidays coming I purposely chose a day when she would have a lot to make.
I arrived at around 5:30. She heated up a stuffed cabbage for me while her brother (Uncle Tim) and his wife (Aunt Linda) chopped up a big bag of onions. Our eyes watered as the news played in the background on a12" color television. A good portion of the onions were added to 2 sticks of margarine on the stove to brown (5 more sticks of margarine were added once they browned up.) Once I finished eating it was on to work!
Grandma put a pad down on the table, sort of like a tight fibered towel. She then put a flexible mat on top of it that my sister Sharon had bought for her. Sharon, she says she uses it all the time when she is making pierogis, she likes it because she can just rinse it off instead of having to launder it like she does the cloth pads.
She let me make all the dough, instructing me through the first batch and then leaving me to make the rest on my own. To 2 cups all-purpose flour add 3 eggs and a big cup of water (somewhere between 16 and 24 ounces I'd guess). mix with a large fork and add flour until it is substantial enough to be kneaded. Put flour on top of the bowl of dough and flip onto the pad. Split the dough in half, covering half and working the other half until it has flour enough to be dry but still remains soft. Roll out to about 1/4" thickness. You should note that we didn't measure anything, save for the fact that some items come in a standard package and we'd use all of it. Anyone who has made dough of any kind already understands that you add as much flour as you need to get a desired consistency, and this pretty much carries over into all of the rest of cooking.
Grandma told me the best investment she ever made was in this 6-tiered pizza cutter. You can adjust the width of the blades to whatever you need. This is also her favorite rolling pin. It is marble and the weight makes it very easy to roll out dough. We cut the dough in approximate 1-3/4" squares. All the small scraps and corner pieces get thrown under the bowl with the unworked half of the dough ball. She doesn't use a teacup to cut the dough because you have too much scrap dough when you do this and you end up working the dough a lot more, making it tougher to work and pinch together.
The fillings were made the night before, though I asked plenty of questions on their content. For the potato and cheese pierogis, boil and mash 10lbs of potatoes, adding 2lbs of cheese. The potatoes should be mashed by hand and not done in a mixer as they become too creamy. Don't add any milk to the potatoes either. For sauerkraut, put a stick of margarine and onions in the bottom of a pan, put the sauerkraut on top, and bake in the oven until brown. When you pull it out of the oven, add mashed potato flakes. This makes the sauerkraut filling easy to roll up into balls.
With the potato and cheese and sauerkraut pierogis the method for pinching them is pretty similar. You use your thumbs and gently push the filling into the dough, stretching the dough and flattening the filling ball. It worked best to stretch the dough north and south and then fold it over, if you stretch it east west or equally in all directions you end up with a very long dumpling. Work the dough minimally until you can fold it over and pinch it closed. Grandma says you have to 'love the dough' - each batch works in your hands a little differently and you have to get a feel for it. Do not stack the uncooked pierogis as they will stick together.
Once the pierogis have all been pinched closed, put them in a pot of boiling water. Or at least very hot water, the pot is so big I don't think it was actually boiling most of the time. We added them a dozen at a time, holding them close over the water and then dropping them in. Once they are all in the water stir the pot with a wooden spoon so they don't stick to the bottom. They will float when they are done. Grandma has a nice strainer that fits in her stock pot, though you can scoop them out with a mesh strainer. Submerge them in cold water once they are done. Until they are done, get back to work on the other half of that dough ball.
Once you get it, you get it. We quickly fell into a routine. I'd roll out and cut the dough, we'd put filling on a few in front of Aunt Linda so she can start pinching, then we'd finish them and pinch the rest closed. Once they're cooked you pull the strainer and dump them in a bowl of cold water in the sink. Once they were cooled Grandma pulled them out of the water, and smothered them with onions and margarine. She portions them 6 to a microwavable paper plate and puts them in gallon freezer bags. While she was plating them I was making the next batch of dough, once that was ready, rinse and repeat. Game shows played in the background and we chatted the time away. I won't go into the subject matter, though I will tell you that some of it was quite hilarious.
From our 12lbs of potatoes and cheese I think we netted 12-1/2 dozen. We made 4-1/2 dozen sauerkraut. We also made 3 dozen 'dry cheese'. I had never even heard of these before! They are a really different taste. It took about 3 hours to make 20 dozen, and we used somewhere between 13 and 15 pounds of flour. Grandma said it usually takes 4 hours for 20 dozen, so our volunteer labor really helped her out. She had been up every 2 hours the previous night, monitoring the oven and 2 roasting pans going at the same time to make 200 stuffed cabbage for a holiday party at the steel mill.
Here is how the dry cheese filling is made; To a pound of cottage cheese add half a teaspoon of vanilla, a quarter cup of sugar, and a little flour. Large curd dry cottage cheese is preferred, but they didn't have any at the store so we used regular wet small curd cottage cheese. The filling is more difficult to work with as it is so wet. You have to stretch the dough underneath it and get a spot to pinch closed, then pinch along the edge and continually stuff the cheese mixture back in. I don't like cottage cheese at all but I found these to be quite enjoyable. The filling does firm up when it cooks, and the taste is slightly sweet and reminiscent of cheesecake. uncle Tim took a taste and looked like he was going to spit it out. 'Its sweet!' he exclaimed.
I did some calculations based on what it would cost to build your own batch of based on regular market prices. The cheddar cheese is definitely the most expensive ingredient, but even at $3.49 for a pound the material cost for 6-7 dozen pierogis is about $7.50, which breaks down to 9-10 cents each. I can definitely see pierogi making in my future.