The house I grew up in was built for my great-great grandmother. It passed through the generations in the family through their daughters (great-great grandmother to great-grandmother to my Nana to my Mom and then to me).
Although I remember throngs of relatives descending on our house for holidays and special occasions while I was growing up, during my Mom’s youth, our house was often used for extended stays by some of her first cousins who lived out-of-state. My Nana’s sister had married a man whose career took him to New Jersey. It was there they settled and subsequently had two daughters. The girls, my Mom’s first cousins, loved to come back to The Coal Region for several weeks each summer to “get away from the city”.
As the years went by, one of cousins married and started a family of her own, the other became a college professor, but both remained living in New Jersey throughout their lives. As adults, their “summer vacations” were no longer them spending several weeks at our house as they did as kids, but up until my Mom and Dad passed away in early 1990, the sisters drove from New Jersey once every summer to visit us for a day. Along with them, they brought some of the beautiful produce Jersey (“the Garden State”) is famous for — ruby red tomatoes, crisp sweet corn and plump blueberries.
There was just something about those blueberries that made the year-long wait until next visit worth it even though blueberries would be plentiful soon in Schuylkill County. They would pop in your mouth as you bit into them, and I would eat them by the handful. My love for good blueberries never waned and to this day they are one of my favorite fruits.
A rural oasis
A few years after we moved to New Hampshire, my late husband, James, and I were stopped for a traffic light in a small neighboring town. I just happened to turn my head and saw lettering on the brown paper covered windows of a defunct pizza shop. “Look! Look!” I shouted to James. Scrawled across the paper were the words “Coming Soon – Slavic Specialty Foods and Market”. We were both so excited — no more trying to fit long drives to Worcester, Massachusetts into the schedule to get some of my sorely missed Coal Region comfort foods,
Trips for shopping, boating and dining at our favorite Thai restaurant took us by the future market often. Each time, as we longingly stared at the store front — brown paper still covering the windows — we would lament that “soon” was turning into a very long time.
“Soon” finally arrived shortly before Christmas. On a routine holiday gift-buying expedition to the local outlet center, we realized the paper covering the windows was gone ,and we could see customers milling about inside the market. Grabbing the first parking spot to be found, we got out and entered the store — and oh, what a store. It felt like Christmas came early in this oasis in the muddle of rural New Hampshire.
Cases of sausages and meats filled the side of one aisle. Across the store was a ready-to-eat food section overflowing with my kind of comfort food. Momentarily blinded by the plethora of foods I so sorely missed from home, I just happened to look straight in front of me only to find myself face-to-face with a enormous display of pierogi — in all sorts of varieties. The clouds parted and the angels sang!
There were the potato and cheese variety along with sauerkraut filled — the ones i grew up with at church picnics and block parties in Schuylkill County but too many kinds to remember them all now. There were savory versions filled with meats, some with mushroom, farmer’s cheese, and to my surprise, sweet varieties stuffed with fruit. By this time, James had caught up with me. “I can’t choose…” I whimpered. “Well, you’ll have to, hon”, he said. “We only have so much room in the car — and in the refrigerator — so choose wisely!”
My eyes fell on a package of blueberry pierogi; the dough rolled so thin the plump berries inside could be seen through it. My mind flashed back to summer visits from our beloved New Jersey cousins and those boxes of blueberries they brought us. “These, for sure”, I said. “I have to get these.” And so began my love affair with blueberry pierogi, a love that continues yet today.
As I write this post, I close my eyes and go back to the days of my childhood, anxiously awaiting a visit from those much loved family members. The warm summer breezes blow as they unload baskets of Jersey blueberries from the back seat of their car. If I keep my eyes closed, the joy of discovering that little specialty market with James floods into my memories and lessens the grief of his passing, if just momentarily.
I used to think “comfort food” was a vague term, thrown about without much focus and meaning. Now I realize that the foods we enjoy and that are part of our past not only satisfy our physical cravings but comfort our souls and connect us to much more — they truly connect us to “where we’re from”.
Not “just dessert”
Fruit pierogi are much loved in Poland. Although Americans tend to associate a sweet or fruit-based dish with dessert or the end of a meal, fruit pierogi are often served in Poland as a light and refreshing main dish during the warm summer months.
In classic fruit pierogi, the sweetness comes from the fruit itself rather than copious amounts of sugar; often only a touch of granulated sugar is sprinkled on the fruit before sealing it in the dough.
The filling in these blueberry pierogi is not thick and viscous like pie filling, it is simply a layer of berries which often hold their shape when the pierogi are boiled. Sometimes a stray burst berry will release a bit of natural juice inside the pierogi. Fruit pierogi are often served with sweetened sour cream as a topping or dipping sauce. Fruit pierogi can be eaten warm or cold.
Unlike savory pierogi that are sometimes pan fried in butter for serving after being boiled, fruit pierogi are usually not allowing the tender dough and the flavor of the fruit to shine. If you prefer additional sweetness, sprinkle the pierogi lightly with granulated sugar after removing them from the cooking water and placing them onto a plate. This will form a bit of a “simple syrup” and help prevent them from sticking together if touching.
Blueberry PierogiCourse: Desserts, EntreeCuisine: Polish, Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
2 pints fresh blueberries
- Pierogi Dough
3 cups of all purpose flour, approximately
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup warm water
- Sweetened Sour Cream
1 cup sour cream
Granulated sugar, to taste
- Attach the dough hook to a stand mixer. In the bowl, add the egg and salt and mix on low until blended. Add the flour and water. Mix for several minutes until ingredients form a dough ball that is tacky but smooth and does not look shaggy or stick to your fingers. (Adjust flour or water if needed). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Working with one piece at a time, remove 1/4 of the dough from the ball; leave remaining covered. Generously dust your board and rolling pin with flour and roll very thin, about 1/16th inch. Turn the dough over several times while rolling and add flour to the board as needed to prevent the dough from sticking.
- Cut out circles with a 3 inch biscuit cutter or rim of a glass placing the cuts as close together as possible to get the most from the rolled dough. Place 5-8 blueberries in the middle of each dough circle and sprinkle with a pinch of sugar. Fold dough in half over the berries and, dipping your finger lightly in water, dampen the edge of the dough circle then seal the edges by pinching with your fingers. Place onto a floured baking tray or kitchen towel, keeping them from touching each other until ready to boil. Repeat rolling, cutting, and filling with the remaining dough.
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to boil over high heat and add 1 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to a simmer. Drop 10 – 12 pierogi in the water. Adjust heat to keep it at a simmer. Pierogi will float to the top. Cook a minute or two longer to insure dough is cooked through. (Testing one will help you judge timing on the rest of the batches.)
- Remove from water using a slotted spoon or kitchen spider. Place on a large plate or baking sheet so edges are not touching. Serve immediately or allow to cool and refrigerate.
- Sweetened Sour Cream
- Place sour cream in a small bowl, stir in granulated sugar to suit your taste. Drizzle on pierogi or serve as a dip.
- Dough can also be mixed and kneaded by hand.