There is something universal about a good dumpling. It is most definitely comfort food of the highest order. Filling, tasty and versatile. Think of ravioli, pot stickers, kreplach and samosas. In fact a couple of years ago I bought the cookbook, “A World of Dumplings,” by Brian Yarvin, filled with recipes covering the globe. I couldn’t resist.
Think too of pyrohy (that’s the Ukrainian spelling; you might be more familiar with pierogi, the Polish spelling), a Polish and Ukrainian dumpling typically filled with a potato and cheese mixture. And if you live near Warrington, think St. Anne Ukrainian Catholic Church, right on 611, south of Doylestown. There you will find on most Wednesdays a hard-working group of over two dozen women and men making pyrohy for sale.
It works like this. You call the main office between 9 am and 12 noon and order your pyrohy by the dozen ($6.50/dz). Then you pick them up between 12:30 pm and 3 pm. And they are made fresh that day.
“We’ve been making pyrohy in some form here at the church for at least 45 years,” says Gretchen Jubinski, who’s “only” been doing it for 15 years. The church itself is approaching its 50th year. Gretchen was my guide, showing me how pyrohy are made at St. Anne’s and introducing me to the group. How many do they make each week? “On average, 180 dozen,” says Gretchen, without blinking. That’s…over 2100 little dumplings. And 90-95% of the orders come from outside their church community.
It begins early Wednesday morning with 300 lbs. of onions, chopped up and sautéed in butter, and combined with the potato and cheese mixture. Large pots of water are set to boil on the stove. Then the “potato ballers” get started, two men who stand over a large bowl of filling and form small balls. Meanwhile the dough is being mixed and rolled out on professional grade dough rollers and cut with dumpling cutters – sort of like a rolling pin with small round cutters on it. When it’s rolled over the dough, it makes small disks, or platskys, that when folded will become the pyroghy.
Imagine a sewing circle – a group of middle-aged and older women, sitting, gabbing and working. But instead of sewing, they’re pinching. Each woman reaches for a potato ball, puts it in a platsky and pinches the ends, forming the familiar half-moon pyrohy shape. Remember, 2100 pyrohy. That’s a lot of pinching. Most have been doing it for years. The oldest pincher of the group of 14 – 15 women is Stella Kaskiel at 93 years old. She couldn’t tell me how many years she’s been pinching. She was too busy.
From the pinchers the pyrohy go into boiling water where they are cooked “until they float to the surface.” They are then dumped into an ice bath and drained, halting the cooking process. Add a little bit of oil and they are ready to go into bags (one “bag lady” and one “assistant bag lady”).
Obviously it is more than just an assembly line. It’s clear it’s a social event too. The buzz around the pincher circle made me want to sit down and start working. Some of the workers aren’t even church members. Several are people who came into buy pyrohy, saw the operation and wanted to learn. It looked like fun, and it is. At noon, everyone breaks for lunch. Every week, one person makes the lunch for everyone else, and the duty rotates. By 2 pm they are finished making pyrohy.
The tradition of making pyrohy for sale began mostly for lent and other holy days during the year when meat is prohibited, explains Gretchen. Now they make them every Wednesday from September through December (with a break for Thanksgiving), and then February through June (with a break after Easter). They also sometimes make other flavors, like sauerkraut and onions, but not as many because it is more labor intensive (more labor intensive?!). Just before Easter they also make to order paska/babka (round bread) and sell several kinds of sausage. Set your calendar for the last Sunday in June, however, when St. Anne’s holds their annual festival. You’ll be able to eat homemade holubschi (stuffed cabbage) kielbasa and sauerkraut, halushki (noodles and cabbage) and, of course, pyrohy.
St. Anne Ukrainian Catholic Church
1545 Easton Road
Warrington, PA 18976
To order pyroghy: 215.343.9809
For more information: The Pyroghy Kitchen
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