Meet the pierogi pinchers ...
Generations of volunteers bring generations of recipes, experience to annual prep day
Watch a video of the "Pierogi Pinchers" here.
ADAMS — On a recent Saturday, parents and grandparents of St. Stanislaus Kostka School students, students themselves, alumni and parishioners pitched in to make 4,120 cabbage pierogi.
"They're fondly called pierogi pinchers," said Judy Roy, chairwoman of the St. Stanislaus Kostka School Holiday Bazaar, which will be held Saturday, Nov. 23. "It's like a social event for them; they get out of the house and see one another. We serve them coffee and doughnuts in the morning and a hot lunch." She added most of the pierogi pinchers were women in their 70s and 80s. This past Saturday, they gathered again, this time to make cheese pierogi.
Except for the kielbasa, which is store-bought, Roy said all of the Polish food sold at the event is homemade. That includes some 7,000 pierogies, 300 to 350 golabki (stuffed cabbage rolls) and two huge pots (5 feet round and 3 feet high) of kapusta, made by Roy's nephew, Ryan Skrocki "from a secret family recipe passed down by his Babci," Roy said.
The golabki have been made by the same group of women for the past few years. "Each one has her own job: boiling the cabbage, cooking the rice, chopping and frying the onions, cooking the hamburger, making scoops of the filling and rolling the cabbage leaves — plop, flop and roll," Roy said.
The bazaar is more than just a yearly fundraiser. It's also a way for the Polish families in the area to embrace and pass down their traditions and culture to future generations.
Roy explained the school has a recipe for pierogi, or filled dumplings, that is used.
"There are 10 different dough recipes in general," she said, "Each family has one, too." Although Roy said there are no real arguments when making the pierogi, there are differing opinions on the thickness of the dough rounds, size of the rounds and size of the balls of filling. "The older women are very open to showing the younger generation how to do it."
Teams of volunteers were well into their pierogi-making tasks by mid-morning. A team in the kitchen turned out batches of dough, which were then rolled out and cut into rounds. The rounds were filled with well-drained kapusta and pinched close. From there, they were boiled and then blanched in cold water before being laid out on wax paper to dry. They were then placed on large trays and frozen for two days before being packaged for the bazaar.
Jean Koperniak was sitting at a long table with several other women, placing cabbage balls on the dough circles, folding them and then pinching the edges together to make a tight seal, so the filling wouldn't fall out during the cooking process. On her right was Louise Charron, of Adams, and Cecilia "Ceil" Burdick, also of Adams, on her left.
"All of our girls went to school together," Koperniak said.
As the women talked, their fingers flew, pinching the pierogi closed. "Everyone has a way of doing it," Koperniak said. "They use a fork, pinch it with their fingers, flute it or make braids."
The secret to making good pierogi, she confided, was making the dough and letting it rest, covered, "for a good half-hour; two hours is better. The less you handle it, the better. The more you handle it, the tougher it gets."
The three women said they had learned how to make pierogi from their grandmothers, a tradition they carry on at home.
Koperniak said she, her three daughters and sister-in-law recently made 500 cabbage and blueberry pierogi.
"We have them on Christmas Eve. It's a Polish tradition to pass down," she said.
And while this year will be the last year that she has someone enrolled at the school, she still plans to volunteer in the future.
"I'll still come. I've always done it; I always will," she said. "I used to do everything; now, I'm one of the older women who just sit and pinch pierogi."
At another table, Becky Cohen said she came from a long line of pierogi pinchers.
"I have kids at St. Stan's and one who graduated from the school. My grandfather went there," she said.
Cohen learned to make pierogi from her mother and grandmother.
"But I perfected my skills here," she said.
In turn, Cohen said, she is teaching her children the art: "We make them one or two times a year. We make cheese, cabbage ... and I like to try new and different fillings to bring new tastes into the new century."
Jacob Touponce, a freshman at C.H. McCann Technical School and St. Stan's alumnus, was busy filling and pinching pierogi — the way his grandmother had taught him.
"We make them at her house. Grandpa makes kapusta and we use it for the filling," he said, adding he likes being around the people at the "work bees" and being back at the school, which he attended from pre-K through eighth grade.
Parent Marshall Maxwell and Gerry Biron, Touponce's stepfather, admitted they were new to the pierogi-pinching game, having just learned from the older women at their table.
"Mine is more the croissant technique," Maxwell joked. "They look like croissants. I'm not sure they are supposed to look like that."
At the filling table, a group of women squeezed excess juices from the kapusta and formed it into compact balls that would fill the pierogi dough. Robin Loughman, a parent whose fourth and last child graduated from St. Stan's last year, has been making pierogi for the school for 36 years.
"I was just out of college and saw an item in the church bulletin looking for help and I volunteered." Loughman also served as the school nurse and was a pierogi pincher until 10 years ago when she moved on to making balls of the filling.
Loughman divulged the secret of creating perfect cabbage balls: "You have to really squeeze out the liquid. The dough is difficult to pinch if the filling is too wet."
The students at the school are actively involved, also. Many of them serve as runners, transporting trays of pierogi between the many stations. Some sit next to their mothers or grandmothers and pinch pierogi.
Noah McGrath, a seventh grader, was pinching pierogi for the first time, after receiving some on-the-job training from his mom, Jennifer.
"It's pretty fun, the pinching part and putting the filling in," he said. He had already made 35 pierogi.
Madison Michael, a fourth grade student, one of the many runners at the session, said although she sometimes pinches pierogi, she has been a runner for about six years.
And Amanda Reese, 11, a runner since she was in first grade, was quite proud of her position this year as a dough roller and cutter.
"I went over to someone and asked if I could do it," she said, while gripping a large marble rolling pin. "You're not allowed to do it until you're in sixth grade. I get down and dirty. I can get flour all over me, and I get to wear boots. I always wear black; if I get any more flour on me, I can be a ghost."
Roy concluded by saying, "It's amazing to walk into Kolbe Hall the Wednesday night before the bazaar with the pews and the gym space still in place, and then see it transformed into a wonderful holiday decor. It's amazing to walk into it a few days later with all the Christmas gifts and the holiday music playing. It's a very fulfilling experience."
A final word of advice: "If you want any of the Polish food, get there early," Roy said. "The door is unlocked at 9 a.m. and there is a line down the alley to the front of the church. People go directly to the Polish foods to-go booth (cold foods only) in Kolbe Hall. The hot food, including the Polish platter, will be available in the cafeteria — and they sell out, too."
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