I come from a long line of women who know how to expertly roll, fold and pinch the perfect pierogi.
My mom grew up watching her grandmother Tesse, who emigrated from Ukraine to the United States in the 1910s, working dough into circles, before spooning a mixture of potato and dry cottage cheese into the center.
Eventually it was her turn to learn the time-honored tradition. Along with my three aunts, my mom stood side-by-side with my grandma Stella in their Brooklyn bungalow in the ’60s and ’70s. In the tiny kitchen with pea-green wallpaper and linoleum floors, they all worked until they got the seams just right.
And while my mom still complains about how she had to wash and peel potatoes after school — sometimes just for boiled potatoes for that night’s dinner, but every so often for the glorious filling that would go into those handcrafted delights — I know she’s a little bit sentimental.
I sat at my grandparents’ kitchen table as a child, watching these women honor their Eastern European heritage as they laughed with each other and talked about life, but I never gravitated towards joining them and carrying on the legacy. My mother never pushed, never asked why — knowing cooking just wasn’t my thing.
My mother now lives in Florida and my three aunts are in Arizona, so it’s been years since they’ve all come together to make a batch of pierogies. When my mom visits, she tends to order pierogies when we’re at a restaurant since they’re a rare find outside Northeast Ohio.
So while I can’t even begin to replicate my great-grandmother’s recipe, I sure do know how to point my mom to the best pierogies in town. Like my family, many others have similar stories of decades-old, grandma-approved recipes that they re-create, tweak and have fun with in their restaurants and shops.
We offer up 25 of our favorites this month in our “Pierogies!” cover package — some that are the classic potato-and-cheddar or sauerkraut varieties, and others that are filled with short ribs or Buffalo chickpeas. Each little pocket of stuffed dough is a testament to Cleveland’s strong Eastern European culture — and how it has shaped who we are and who we want to be.
Maybe I’ll even pick up a rolling pin.