A Brief History of Perogies in the US
While the origin of perogies is debated, in America, the food has a strong connection to Polish tradition and immigrants. Settling in the northeast and Midwest, immigrants from Poland started arriving in the United States in the 1900s, with a big wave of immigrants coming around the time of the Second World War. Originally, perogies were eaten at home by Polish families, but soon they were being consumed by locals with their popularity being driven by charity fundraisers in the 1940s. By the 1960s perogies were in supermarkets’ frozen food section across the US and Canada. Today, the culinary traditions Polish immigrants brought with them remain, but perogies have also evolved in unique ways suited to American tastes.
Polish Origins and Methods of Preparation
Today, perogies are one of the national foods of Poland. Some stories claim perogies were brought there in the 13th century and for a long time were considered food for the peasants. However, by 1700’s it was clearly a staple beloved by all echelons of society. There is even a saying – “St. Hyacinth and his pierogies!”, the Polish equivalent to “Holy smokes!”.
There are many local variants of perogies, known by different names throughout Eastern and Central Europe. They are commonly filled with potatoes, cabbage, meat, cheese and sweet fruits. Serving styles also vary, with favorite garnishes and dips being sour cream, fried onions, butter and fried bacon and mushrooms. Perogies with sweet cheese or fruit fillings can likewise be served with butter, sour cream, sugar, jam and honey.
Perogies are made from unleavened dough derived from wheat, sometimes using mashed potatoes and buckwheat. Combined with water and, optionally, an egg, the dough is rolled flat, and circles are shaped by pressing down with a cup. Fillings are added onto them, and the dough is then folded over and sealed to create half circle pockets which are then boiled or fried.
Traditions in Poland and the US
In Poland, perogies are served as an entrée and have a special place on celebration and holiday tables. With so many different varieties, it’s no wonder each occasion has its own type of perogie. How else can you make sure you try them all in a year? Christmas is a particularly important time for perogie consumption, with cabbage, sauerkraut and mushrooms being the fillings of choice. This is due to the religious observance of fast during Christmas Eve, which then grew into its own tradition which continues today. Other occasions featuring perogies on their menu include Easter, weddings, mournings, wakes and during the January carolling season. Part of their appeal lies in the community element during preparation. Traditionally, the whole family would come together for a day of making hundreds of perogies for a given special occasion, making them a food associated with celebration, good times and cherished family moments. Many Polish families preserve these traditions today, bonding over perogie making and, just as importantly, perogie eating.
In the United States, perogies have integrated into the diets of Americans with widespread popularity and new varieties with non-traditional ingredients. Jalapeño, chicken, spinach and cheddar cheese are all North American contributions to the perogie tradition. In the US, they are enjoyed during festivals, sports events and can be frequently found in restaurant menus across the country. In gaining recognition in the North American food scene, perogies have reinvented themselves, but one thing holds true – they are food for all, bringing people together for any occasion and catering to any taste!