Making pierogi

As the Lenten season approaches with Ash Wednesday’s arrival on March 5, so does the return of a popular ethnic food enjoyed especially at holidays.

It’s the pierogi, although there are some variations on the spelling and pronunciation.

I’ll go with this one since that’s how the pierogi production crew at Blessed Sacrament Church, 852 Main St., Wintersville, spells it.

While there may be other churches in the area making these at this time of year, I was invited to Blessed Sacrament in recent weeks for one of its work sessions to get a flavor for how it’s done, although I do have a little insight on the process. In the Kiaski family, pierogies are hardly a foreign food.

After a one-year hiatus that generated distress among the pierogi-purchasing public, Blessed Sacrament volunteers – about 70 of them – are back at it this year with some changes, mainly in that they’ll only be selling frozen pierogies.

The sale begins on Ash Wednesday and continues each Wednesday during Lent except during Holy Week. The sale is in Sargus Hall from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Orders can be placed by calling (740) 264-0311, and walk-ins are welcome, too.

The volunteers have made four varieties – potato onion, prune, potato kraut and potato cheese. They are $7 for a dozen.

The additional frozen menu also includes half pints of butter and onions for $1.25 or by the pint for $2.50.

Patrons also can buy frozen 16-ounce bags of gnocchi for $4 and meatless sauce at $1.50 a pint or $3 for a quart.

The pierogi sale at Blessed Sacrament is a tradition of 30 plus years, according to Sandy Talarico, who has been in charge of the project for nearly 28 years.

The absence of the sale last year brought flack and phone calls, so a decision was made to give it a go again with modifications, she said.

“We couldn’t do it last year because it was too large a project for the number of people we had left, mostly older people,” Talarico explained, noting recruiting the younger generation to step in or take over is a challenge given their busy lives and busy schedules.

So volunteers for the project overseen by the Catholic Woman’s Club have this year come together to make the back-by-popular-demand pierogies to the tune of 1,390 dozen.

In prime years, though, the volunteers made 4,300 dozen and in others years, around 3,500 dozen. They are pierogies enjoyed locally, they tell me, and have gone all over Ohio not to mention Hawaii and Texas. Two years ago, some went to Iraq.

Talarico says it’s an experimental year just selling the frozen variety, but it’s hoped to go over with the availability of the frozen butter and onions, too.

The volunteers working on day and night crews have pierogi production down to a science with duties delegated to cover all the steps, from making, rolling and cutting the dough to making the filling, filling the dough, pinching once, pinching twice, pre-cooking and packaging.

In addition to the pierogi volunteers, a group made gnocchi to freeze, preparing about 100 units for starters to see if they’ll sell. A crew made about 20 gallons of sauce, too.

“If you like kraut (pierogies), they’d better get it early, because we have cut back on everything, and when they’re gone, they’re gone, because we don’t know what to expect this year,” Talarico said, noting, “Everything is homemade, except for the prunes.”

Among the work crew on my recent visit were Talarico and her husband, Vince; Mary and Bill Edwards; Pat and Bob Ryan; Jeanne and Ken Simpson; Hilda DeStefanis; Rosemary O’Brien; Yolanda Almonte; Carleen Scurti; Bill Gavran, Pat Porter, Marsha Phillipson; Iris Bardone; and Dave Harrison.

Profits from the pierogi sales have helped with many church projects, according to Talarico, from parking lot resurfacing and kitchen improvements to awnings and other church needs.

Sales are hoped to generate $10,000 this year.

The volunteers say they enjoy getting together to make pierogies, that it’s a nice diversion from the winter doldrums, and it’s a time of camaraderie and socializing.

Veteran pierogi maker Marty Van Fossan, 92, agreed.

“It’s wonderful fellowship,” she said.

“I’m so happy to be here again this year.”