Saturday, May 28, 2011

Pyrogies, Wareniki and Days Long Past

When reading one of my German cookbooks recently--called Alles Soljanka oder wie?--I came across a recipe called "Wareniki."  It immediately reminded me of my long-time friend Jerry Sarabin, who had been of Ukrainian descent, and who had often talked about the dish that his mother had made.  When I read the recipe, I knew I would have to write about it.  Not only because of Jerry and his "wareniki" but also because of the word I know better--pyrogy--which reminded me of my mother-in-law, Kate, as that is what she called them.

Kate below, in the 1950s
I had not seen a recipe for wareniki or pyrogies in a German cookbook before, although perhaps parts of former East Prussia (now Poland) knew that dish.  (In this part of Germany, Swäbische Maultaschen are somewhat similar, in that pastry is wrapped around a filling--quite a different filling however.) 

Thousands of Russian/USSR troops (including Ukrainian) were stationed in the former DDR during the Cold War era, bringing some of their dishes and recipes with them.  As well, East Germans, who were allowed to travel only to the East Bloc countries, likely discovered such dishes as wareniki while visiting those countries, thus bringing memories and recipes home. 

The Alles Soljanka cookbook is about the food that home cooks in former East Germany served their families during the DDR era (1949 - 1989).  Wareniki (pronounced 'vareniki') is only one of the recipes--but the one that caught my eye.  Of course, Kate grew up with pyrogies, her mother no doubt having brought the recipe "in her head" from eastern Austria.  I am sure, too, that Jerry's mother knew how to make them long before the family left the Ukraine.

The map below of Galicia and some of the history I found on the website of, which had excerpted it from the web site of
What is interesting is that both families, Jerry's and Kate's--one of Ukrainian descent, the other of Austrian descent--came from Galicia.  That province was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and under Austrian rule from 1771 to 1918.  It was created artificially in 1772 with the partition of Poland.  The treaty between the last King of Poland and Empress Maria Theresia of Austria took effect on 18 September 1773.  (The vertical line near the centre separates the Ukrainian Galicia on the right from the Polish Galicia on the left.)

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, persecution of Ukrainians by both the Russians and Austrians began.  Following the Russian Revolution, in April 1917, Ukraine gained autonomy.  In October 1918 they formed a state called Western Ukrainian National Republic, which included eastern Galicia.  The Austro-Hungarian Empire was disintegrating.

After WWI all of Galicia ended up being part of Poland again.  So many wars, so much history.  In 1943-44 the Red Army regained Eastern Galicia and it became incorporated in the USSR's Soviet Ukraine.  Western Galicia remained part of Poland.  Finally, in 1991, the Ukraine became an independent nation and Eastern Galicia became part of independent Ukraine.  Minor parts of western Galicia remain in Poland.  None of it remains part of Austria.

I could not understand in the beginning why my mother-in-law Kate's family were Austrian and from Galicia and Jerry's family were Ukrainian and also from Galicia.  I now know why:  two parts to Galicia and two countries.  (Kate's family lived in Austrian Galicia well before it became part of Poland at the end of WWI.  By that time, they had been in Canada for more than 15 years.)

I have known Jerry and Marina since 1956.  We met at RCAF Station Greenwood, where Jerry and my husband were stationed.  We remained friends throughout their careers.  In 1970, with both now stationed in Winnipeg, Marina and I began taking gourmet cooking classes together and then putting them to work in our kitchens, often having family dinners at one house or the other.  We have continued to keep in touch all these many years later.

Jerry and Marina in 1974 (at right).  

The picture below left was taken in about 1975 at the Reminihof in Wittelbach, Germany.  The picture on the right, a picnic, was taken near Greenwood, N.S. in 1958.  (Marina and Jerry, Satch and young Terry)

Spargel season in the 1980s here at our house in Germany.  Hans is demonstrating how to peel white asparagus with Jerry copying him.

Jerry's parents and his sister Olga emigrated to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan about 1931/32 from Galicia in the Ukraine.  His father's brother lived on a farm outside the city, thus the reason for choosing that area.  Jerry was born in Prince Albert, Sask. in 1935.  He grew up speaking the language at home as well as growing up with all the Ukrainian traditions and foods.

He loved wareniki--I think the ones filled with sauerkraut but also those made with cottage cheese.  (He also liked cabbage rolls--another of Kate's specialties--made with buckwheat.)  Recently, at a Russian grocery store in Lahr, I found frozen wareniki, with a choice of fillings:  potato, sauerkraut or cottage cheese.  I bought a bag of the potato wareniki to try.
Below, all of us at Dennis' wedding (Satch's brother) in 1960.  Mac and Kate on the left (Dennis partly hidden) with three of Kate's sisters (from left, Mary, Lil and Anne) in the photo beside me, Satch and our two young children, Susan and Terry.

Kate's parents, her sister Emily, maternal grandparents and other family members emigrated to Winnipeg, Manitoba in about 1902 from Galicia, Austria.  Kate was born in Gimli, Manitoba in 1905.  Her parents homesteaded, clearing land for farming.  Years later, two of her brothers, John and Adam, had huge farms and many cattle.  I remember, from visits there, that the freezers were always filled with pyrogies and cabbage rolls along with homemade pies.  Dinner would be on the table in no time with enough for ten people--and usually there were that many of us.

Below, Terry and Kate, in 1957.  His Dad had just returned from duty at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, thus the T-shirt Terry is wearing..

Kate was a great cook and a wonderful woman.  Although she, her husband and two children eventually left Selkirk, Manitoba for Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, she continued to cook and bake the foods she knew.  Whenever she visited us she would make enough pyrogies and cabbage rolls to last us for some time.  Here is her recipe for pyrogies as she made them for me and my sister Paula in July 1981, not long before I left for Germany to work at the Canadian Forces hospital in Lahr.  I wrote the recipe down as she made them.  Below, freshly made pyrogies.

Kate's Pyrogies
4-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
2 Tbsp oil
1 cup or more water (Kate used 1 cup of the potato water instead of all plain water)

A Regular carton cottage cheese (drain well and mash fine)
7 small potatoes (mashed) (Save 1 cup of the potato water from boiling the potatoes)
2 tsp salt
1 egg

Mix together the first three dry ingredients in a bowl.  Mix together the 3 eggs, oil and potato water.  Make a well in the flour mixture and add the liquid ingredients.  Mix well and knead (in bowl) until smooth (add a bit more water if needed while mixing).  The longer you knead, the better (10 minutes or so).  Let dough sit at least one hour.  Keep covered with wax paper.  In the meantime, mix together the filling ingredients well.

To fill pastry:  Take a length of dough and cut it into equal parts and form small balls.  Roll each out.  Add a tablespoon or so of filling to each rolled out piece of pastry.  Fold one long side over to the other long side and crimp the edges shut with your fingers.  Keep on well floured wax paper while making them.  (My friend Gertrud rolls out the whole pastry, using a cutter to cut each individually--as one does for doughnuts or cookies--and then fills them.)  I have watched both Kate and her sister Lil making them by hand and they certainly worked quickly.  I'm afraid I was much slower the one time I made them!

Have a pot of boiling water ready with salt and 2 tablespoons oil in it.  Place the filled pyrogies into the boiling water, but do not overfill.  (Change water every third batch.)  Gently stir them to keep them from sticking.  Let the pyrogies rise to the top.  Allow them to simmer a few minutes and then remove them with a slotted spoon into a large bowl.  Gently stir melted butter onto them until all are coated or shake the bowl gently instead.  The butter helps to keep them from sticking together.

The just-cooked pyrogies with melted butter.

To serve:  Fry some bacon until crisp and then crumble it into small pieces or bits.  Melt some butter.  Place some pyrogies on each plate and pour the melted butter and bacon bits over them.

Here is the way I like them best:  Melt the butter in a fry pan and place the cooked pyrogies in the pan, sauteing them carefully until golden and a little crisp on both sides.  Place them on plates and pour the melted butter left in the pan over them and then sprinkle them with fried bacon bits.  You can instead add the bacon bits to the butter in the pan if wished.

Kate's youngest sister, Lil, who lived in Winnipeg (and still does), made them for us when she and her friend Edna visited us in Lahr in the mid 1970s.  (Satch had been posted to Lahr in 1974 and we lived there for three years at that time.)  Lil's filling was similar to Kate's, though with a few differences.  Lil's Filling:  She used 1 pound cottage cheese, mashed potato (equal amounts of cheese and potato), 1 egg (if cheese wet, yolk only), chopped onion (as much as desired), salt and pepper.  Also excellent.

My mother-in-law spoiled me and just for me would make some pyrogies filled with mashed potato and Cheddar cheese, along with a little onion, salt and pepper.  I loved them, although I later came to like those with the cottage cheese in them as well.

The photo below, from 1958, is unclear, but another of Kate with Susan.

Another pyrogy the family loved was not really a pyrogy at all; we called them "big pyrogies" to differentiate them from the regular ones.  My husband and his brother Dennis called them "blue boys" as they turned slightly bluish-grey when cooking.  (Likely, though, as Kate always made a big batch of them at one time, the potato had coloured slightly from sitting a few minutes before being cooked.)  Kate called them "karumba" pyrogies, likely the name her mother called them.  The only similarity to the regular pyrogies is the filling, which is identical.  I have never made "blue boys" but Satch made them each year for the kids for New Year's Day.

Here is Kate's recipe for Blue Boys, Karumba or Big Pyrogies
15 pounds potatoes, grated (hard work!)
Mashed potato (small to medium bowl full)
2 eggs
2 Tbsp flour

Kate placed the grated potato into cheese cloth or a dish towel and squeezed it above a bowl.  She would let it hang a while to continue dripping and then would squeeze it again.  It is important to get all the liquid out of them.  She would then pour off the water but save the starch at the bottom of the bowl, which she would then put back into the grated potatoes.  After the potatoes have been drained and starch returned to them, she added the mashed potato, eggs and flour and mixed them well.

While the potatoes are draining, prepare the filling, which is the same as for the small pyrogies.  
Now, with your hands or a big spoon, take enough of the grated potato mixture to make a good-sized ball.  Then flatten it in your hand, add a spoonful of filling, and close the grated potato mixture all around it until it is well enclosed.  Continue until all the grated mixture and filling are used.

Place the balls into a large pot of boiling, salted water (don't overfill).  Stir very gently in the beginning with a wooden spoon so that they don't stick to the bottom.  When the balls rise to the top, let them simmer a couple or so minutes and then remove them with a slotted spoon into a bowl.  As with the small pyrogies, place them on serving plates and pour melted butter and fried bacon bits (if wished) over them.  Also, as for the small pyrogies, they are very good sauteed in butter in a frying pan until golden and slightly crisp, especially when having them the following day.

At left, Lil and her daughter Elaine at my nephew Stephen's wedding (Dennis' son) in about 1999.

Lil's Big Pyrogies:  Grate and squeeze potatoes as Kate's above.  Then add the mashed potato (a cottage cheese dish full); add some salt, and one egg, which is optional; she said it is not needed.

In Germany there are also similar large pyrogies, which are called Kartoffelklösse or Kartoffelknödel, but they do not have the same filling.  Hans makes Kartoffelklösse each year for our Christmas Day goose dinner.  Every fall and late winter the Kleiner Meierhof serves them with their wild boar. 

Those above and at right at the Kleiner Meierhof in Ettenheimweiler are much lighter in colour but similar in size (although a little smaller).

I have made the small pyrogies only once, although I keep saying to myself that I shall make them again.  Such a lot of work and I end up, when making pastry, with flour everywhere.  I am not a great pastry baker and really don't like making it.  My sister Paula, on the other hand, makes wonderful pastry.  So did my mother and so did Kate.  I'm hoping someone else will make them one day, but, if not, I shall buy the ones in the supermarket.  As I did this time!  (The package ingredients included potatoes, flour, water, egg, onion, salt and pepper.)

I cooked the frozen wareniki (without thawing) in a large soup pot of boiling water with salt and oil added to it.  (Kate and Lil's were fresh, not frozen, when cooked, but they are cooked the same way.)  I stirred them gently.  After they rose to the top they simmered for a few minutes before I slid them carefully into a large bowl.  I poured some melted butter over them and shook the dish gently, before serving them with hot melted butter from the frying pan and crisp bacon bits, freshly fried, on the side.  They were excellent!

Guten Appetit!

A Note:  My niece Shelley (MacDonald) Reid and Dwain (Sarabin) Sager Wilson, the daughter of my friend Marina, gave me a  lot of information about each side of the family.  I did know some of it, of course, but not the names of places from which each family came nor exactly when.  My friend Marina also contributed to the information.

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