My Jewish Grandma’s Christmas Pierogis

(L) The author's grandmother, bottom right, with her family in France, c. 1945; (R) The author, right, with her cousin and grandmother at Christmas. 

If you Google “pierogi,” you'll find the following definition: a small dough dumpling stuffed with a filling such as potato or cheese, typically served as a dish with onions or sour cream.

How do I define “pierogi”? The quick answer: It’s something my Jewish grandma makes every year for Christmas dinner. The longer, more complicated answer: Pierogis are my family story— a story of love, loss, and merging identities.

Now, you’re probably wondering… why am I writing about Christmas pierogis for a Jewish blog? That’s where my family’s complicated story comes in.

My grandmother, Irene, was born in a small French town near Marseilles in 1941, during the height of World War II. Her family had fled Berlin when they realized what would happen if they stayed in Germany. Eventually, they boarded a Greek cargo ship and headed across the Atlantic.

Their goal was to reach America. But at the time, most Jewish refugees were barred from entering the country. Luckily, my grandmother had cousins who had fled Germany earlier and settled in Colombia. They were able to help her family settle in Quito, Ecuador in 1947.

Life in Ecuador was hard. My great-grandparents sold fish in a market and my grandmother and her sister went to a school where they were taught in a language they did not speak. But as tough as it was to adapt to their new surroundings, they were relieved to finally be safe. They found a community of Jewish refugees who were slowly starting to participate in Jewish life and culture. It was through this community that my grandmother’s family befriended another family that was able to loan them the money they needed to immigrate to the United States.

They arrived in Miami in 1951. From there they took a Greyhound bus to Chicago, where they would finally find a permanent home in the place they had been dreaming about for the past decade.

Not long after arriving, my grandma met a nice Polish Catholic boy.They were married in 1962, when they were both 21. To say this decision was frowned upon is an understatement. At the time, they couldn’t find a priest or a rabbi who would perform an interfaith marriage, and so they were married at city hall. Their families were so opposed to the marriage that they refused to speak to them for years. It was only after the birth of my grandmother’s first son, my father, that tensions eased and the relationship was repaired.

Fast forward a few decades to the scene at my grandparents’ house on Christmas Day: the tree next to the fireplace adorned in colorful ornaments celebrating every milestone in each grandchild's life, a menorah as the centerpiece of the dining room table, dreidels and Hanukkah gelt scattered over every surface not already covered by presents. And then, the smell of Christmas dinner wafts in from the kitchen.

There are roasts, three kinds of potatoes, many vegetables, and most importantly, over 100 pierogis filled with sauerkraut, potato, or fruit, the traditional Polish way. Every year since I can remember, my grandma makes the pierogis by hand, methodically mixing the dough, rolling it  out, cutting the circles, filling each pierogi, crimping the edges, and boiling them.

In each handcrafted dumpling you can feel the love between my grandparents, the melding of their two cultural identities into a warm and welcoming family.  There is something so beautiful about the way my grandma has been able to honor her husband’s traditions while holding on to her strong Jewish identity.

Last year, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, I was unable to return home to Chicago for our annual family holiday celebration. I asked my grandma for the pierogi recipe, and she happily obliged. Now, I’m sharing it with you.

 

Pierogi Dough

3½ cups sifted flour

2 tsps salt

2 eggs (beaten a little)

¾ cup milk

3 tbsp butter, melted

 

Pierogi Filling

1 lb cottage cheese (dry)

1 lb farmer’s cheese

4 oz cream cheese

3 egg yolks

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

½ cup (¼ lb) butter, melted

 

Combine cheeses with egg yolks, salt, sugar, and melted butter. Set aside.

Sift flour once, measure, and resift with salt. Set aside ½ cup of the flour mixture. Add eggs, milk, and butter to the remaining flour mixture. Mix together until a stiff dough is formed, adding some of the unused flour if necessary.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly until smooth and elastic. Cover with a warm bowl and allow to rest while assembling equipment to form and cook the dumplings.

To form the pierogi, roll a ball of dough into a 2-inch circle (not the size of a football, as I did the first time I made them). Place 2 tablespoons of the filling into the center. Fold the dough over and pinch shut with a fork.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Boil the pierogi until they float to the surface. If desired, take them out of the water and sauté in a pan with butter.

As you can see, this recipe is meant to serve a small army, and although sometimes my family eats like they are preparing for battle, we can never finish the over 100 pierogis that my grandma lovingly makes! Luckily, pierogis freeze well, so you can eat them not only at Christmas, but all year round.

 

 

 

5 Comments
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Yum! Hope I get a chack to try these one day.

I am 100% Polish and like you my mother showed at a young age how to make pierogi. We kept our Polish Christmas Eve tradition. My great grandmother was our matriarch. Now my children share our traditions. Thank you for sharing your recipe.

What a great American story, thanks for sharing.

Thank you for sharing this recipe! I can't wait to make for my family. Thank you also for sharing your story. Was touching.

What an incredible story of love and tradition between faiths, hardships, and the horros of WWII!! I loved your family tale for Christmas/Chanukah!

How to cite this page

Wojcik, Marissa. "My Jewish Grandma’s Christmas Pierogis." 23 December 2021. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 28, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/my-jewish-grandmas-christmas-pierogis>.

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