"What are pierogi?" Since Polska Foods' inception, we found many of our customers asking this simple question, especially health conscious customers who have now found us and are enjoying a new tasty, healthy dinner option. However, our pierogi is not just a new healthy food fad; in fact, pierogi have been around since the 13th century! Read below to learn some fun pierogi facts and pierogi history!
To start, we want to first clarify that we are hardly the first to introduce "healthy" pierogi. Instead, Polska Foods is merely bringing back an ancient tradition and making pierogi as they did before industrialized farming and mass food production took over. As with most foods today, there was a time when pierogi was made without pesticides, insecticides, mass farming, artificial flavors, artificial coloring, preservatives, bleaching agents, growth hormones, flavor enhancers (MSG), GMOs, highly refined plastic oils, artificial sweeteners, etc. In fact, did you know that there are over 3000 different chemicals that are purposely added to our food today? Hungry for some recombinant bovine growth hormones? Yummy! On a serious note, our healthy pierogi fad is actually not new at all, but in support of the "slow food" movement that gets us back to the old ways--a time when we used our ancestor’s wise-old farming, recipes, and food preparation techniques.
This is also why more families are learning how to make pierogi from scratch again. For many, making homemade pierogi is about bringing back real food and reviving a loved tradition of pierogi being more than just ingesting calories. It is about enjoying a shared experience in texture, taste, smell, and nourishment. So, if you want to keep with tradition, never indulge in eating pierogi alone, but savor every bite with family and friends. And, try your pierogi either homemade using local, fresh, organic ingredients or purchased from a company who uses only the purest, organic ingredients possible. You can taste the difference, and it will enhance that "pierogi moment."
So, while you take a bite of melt-in-your-mouth pierogi with family and friends, enjoy these fun facts:
1. What are pierogi?
Pierogi are delicate dumplings that use unleavened dough (a dough made without yeast such as flatbread). They are stuffed with endless fillings such as mashed potatoes, farmer’s cheese, sauerkraut, cabbage, mushrooms, spinach, ground beef, and even healthy grains or legumes such as millet, buckwheat, or lentil. Since you are only limited by your imagination when it comes to pierogi fillings, you can find varieties from sweet to salty to spicy.
2. What is the history of Polish Pierogi?
Pierogi is Poland's national dish and enjoyed year around by all ages. As stated earlier, pierogi have been made in Poland since the 13th century. However, claims have been staked by the Poles, Romanians, Russians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and Slovaks. Some suggest that the original form came from China through Italy during the Marco Polo expeditions. Others suggest that the Tartars brought the recipe to the West from the former Russian Empire. Although nothing is confirmed, one thing we do know is that the word pierogi first appeared in Polish cookbooks and literature in the second half of the 17th century.
We also know that back then, pierogi was prepared for holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and weddings. Each holiday actually had its own designated pierogi flavor. Actually, part of this tradition is still followed today. For example, most Polish families still enjoy the traditional Cabbage, Sauerkraut, and Mushroom pierogi flavor on Christmas Eve as part of their “Wigilia Dinner.” Ever wonder why they ate vegan pierogi for Christmas Eve? A long-time Roman Catholic Church mandate is that a strict fast and abstinence be observed on the day before Christmas. Although the Church laws have changed, the traditional meal remains meatless and dairy free. (This is also why our Cabbage Mushroom pierogi flavor happens to be vegan too today).
This rich history and tradition of making and eating pierogi during so many joyous and celebrated moments in life is why you will still find Polish families today celebrating many holidays by happily slaving around the kitchen table for days making pierogi. Our goal, of course, is to not replace this tradition, but to offer a way to enjoy authentic pierogi all year round, and when you don't have the means to prepare it for several days.
3. About The Polish Word “Pierogi.”
You will be surprised how much there is to this little word. You may see it in many forms such as: “pierogi, perogi, perogy, pirohi, piroghi, pirogi, pirogen, pierogy, pirohy, pyrohy.” While there are many types of dumplings found throughout Eurasia, the specific name pierogi, with its Proto-Slavic root "pir" (festivity) and its various cognates in the East and West Slavic languages shows the name predates the current standardized languages. However, we know that in most of the languages, the word means “pie.” At Polska Foods, because we know the version of pierogi that comes from Poland, we always use the form “pierogi.” Which, by the way, is actually plural. The singular form is pieróg but you never hear anyone use this form since no one ever eats just one pierogi. So, even though many use the word “pierogies” in the United States, now you can be one of the few who knows the correct form: pierogi.
What makes the word “pierogi” even more interesting is due to the Polish language itself. Polish nouns have a diminutive form (smaller) and an appropriate hypocorism. For example, the simple Polish word dom (house and home) has both a diminutive form domek (small house) and a hypocorism domeczek (emotional). The word “pierogi” is similar. The diminutive form of pierogi is pierożki. You can use this form when expressing your admiration for the taste or quality too! The singular form also exists: pierożek.
Lastly, a plate of pierogi is the one Polish dish that actually has its own patron saint. "Swiety Jacek z pierogami!" It translates to "St. Hyacinth and his pierogi!" It is an old expression of surprise. However, the connection between pierogi and the 13th-century monk is still not clear.
4. About Pierogi Flavors and Variations
As you can read in our “100 Ways to Eat Pierogi,” there are as many toppings as there are flavors. You can use pretty much any type of vegetable, cheese, meat, or grain combination for pierogi stuffing. In the United States, the most popular pierogi are the potato & cheddar cheese flavor. However, the more traditional form of potato cheese pierogi in Poland is made with potato & farmer’s cheese. What is farmer’s cheese? Farmer’s cheese is a fresh white curd cheese that uses just milk and cultures. During processing, the whey is drained off so you get a healthier cheese with low lactose levels--great for the millions who have problems digesting dairy due to lactose. In Poland, farmer’s cheese is called twaróg. When mixed with potato and onions and stuffed into a pierogi shell, the Poles call this flavor Ruskie pierogi that literally means “Ruthenian pierogi.” It is named after a prewar region called Red Ruthenia. However, probably the most popular pierogi in Poland is a variation of cabbage, sauerkraut, and mushroom pierogi, or a dessert pierogi typically filled with fresh seasonal fruit such as berries.
I want to digress with a quick note on Polska Foods’ pierogi flavors. Although Americans have enjoyed non-traditional flavors of pierogi, we felt the true European flavors are making a comeback as more people travel and discover the amazing flavors of authentic European cheeses, pastas, and dishes. Most old-world dishes use simple ingredients, minimal processing, and focus on fresh herbs for flavor instead of artificial ingredients. It tastes better, and is much healthier. That is why Polska Foods’ main focus is to mimic the traditional flavors of Poland rather than what may seem popular currently in the States. And, selling a “whole wheat” pierogi may even seem non-traditional to some. However, original European flour was always just whole wheat. So, to keep with tradition, we use 100% organic, old-fashioned wheat (not highly modified) that allows our dough to melt in your mouth and two whole wheat flavors. But, we admit, not all our flavors are "traditional." Our Spinach Feta pierogi is a new fad in Poland today as many expand their palates to new culinary tastes.
5. About Pierogi in The United States & Canada
Pierogi appeared in the United States in the early 1900s when thousands of Eastern Europeans immigrated to the States. By the 1940s, pierogi became a staple for church fundraisers in the northeast and upper Midwest. By the 1960s, grocery chains across America and Canada started stocking pierogi in their frozen food aisles where they remain today. Americans today still consume more than 31 million pierogi yearly. And, festivals have started to pop-up, like the yearly Pierogi Festival in the town of Whiting, IN which attracts over 200,000 people in July. You can also enjoy the Pittsburgh Pirates’s “pierogi race” that is held at every home baseball game—pierogi costumes and all. But Canada still tops the U.S. with their largest culinary creation—a 25 foot fiberglass pierogi that weighs 6,000 pounds and stands tall in the air, even with a fork!
To conclude, here are some final pierogi trivia:
6. October 8th is National Pierogi Day.
7. The largest edible pierogi was made during Indiana’s Pierogi Fest in Whiting. It weighed 92-pounds!
8. Ten students from a catering school in Wroclaw, Poland were entered into the Guinness World Records Book for making 1,663 pierogi (90 pounds) in 100 minutes. They donated the pierogi to children’s homes.
9. Poland has its own dedicated pierogi restaurants called “Pierogarnia.” You can see them on many street corners.
10. At the 2007 Pierogi Festival in Kraków, 30,000 pierogi were consumed daily.