GateHouse – If you have ever had occasion to visit Whiting, Ind., you know that it is not often that the town is nominated for an an award, much less the potential capital of anything. If you have ever been to Whiting, Ind., the chances are good that sometime during your trip, someone in your party uttered one of the following things:
- Why are the skies here so orange?
- Can I swim in the lake?
- Why was that man sitting in White Castle every afternoon?
The answers, in order, are as follows: Because the steel mills have been belching low-hanging smoke for 100 years; sure, if you’ve been looking to add a pair of gills and a tail; and that was my grandfather, who, in his heyday, spent at least a couple hours every day in the White Castle on Indianapolis Blvd., meeting and/or chatting up what was apparently every human soul who ever set foot in Whiting, Ind. My grandpa was like that. He and Grandma lived most of their lives in Whiting, and as such it’s where much of my family hails from, the family having moved there from Czechoslovakia (whose official motto is “By the time you finish spelling it, we’ve changed the name”) in the early part of the 1900s to get a little of that burgeoning steel mill action and, of course, the various and delightful respiratory ailments that came with it (Whiting’s skies are sort of brownish-gold a lot of the time, except in the evenings, when they turn George Hamilton-orange, lit by tongues of flame that regularly erupt into the night sky). But to this day the town is lousy with Vrabels; you’ll generally find us in the Knights of Columbus hall on those rare occasions we’re not failing again at spelling our name over the phone (“NO, LISTEN – V, AS IN VICTOR…”).
So I have some history with Whiting, and it is with great pride and zero irony that I am asking for a little help, as it was recently brought to my attention by my cousin Kevin, no stranger to White Castle himself, that Whiting is currently in the running for Mrs. T’s Capital of the Pierogi Pocket of America.
What is a pierogi, you might ask, if you’re unfamiliar with the delightful cuisine of my eastern European ancestors? It’s OK. Unless at some point in the past you were my grandmother, you probably don’t often make pierogies, which are dumplings of unleavened dough that are stuffed with all manner of traditional Slovak delicacies, such as cheese, onions, sauerkraut, cabbage and cat meat (Kidding! I’m kidding! If we Slovaks love anything, it’s making people think we were the country Borat came from). Like many Slovak foods, pierogies are basically food hunks that have been shrouded in other, slightly more gelatinous food hunks. They are readily purchaseable in the Potato section of your local grocery, are best when sauteed in butter and onions and tend to make your entire kitchen smell like Bratislava. (Note: It has been recently brought to my attention that pierogies may not actually be a native Slovak food, but here’s the thing: It’s my column space, it would take like 30 seconds to Wikipedia, and besides, I’m not exactly writing the Encyclopedia Brittanica here, so let’s just, for the sake of argument, go with the Slovak thing. Cool? Cool)
Whiting would get the edge anyway, if I’m doing the judging, but especially so because of its Pierogi Fest, which happens every year, once featured Crystal Gayle (she is OBSESSED with unleavened dumplings) and helps keep the citizens’ minds off the orange skies. The Pierogi Fest features a Pierogi Toss, a Pierogi Eating Contest and once boasted the world’s largest pierogi, a terror-inducing behemoth that weighed in at 78 pounds. Let me reiterate that: There is a PIEROGI FEST. Every year! It draws like 50,000 people! The White Sox can’t draw that!
So I ask for your help in bringing a little sunshine to Whiting’s potato-loving people. Here are the details: Voting for the Mrs. T’s contest (I’ll even plug their pierogies, that’s how much I care about this) takes place at http://www.pierogypocket.com; voting ends on Oct. 23. Whiting is in the running with Clifton, N.J. (pfft); Binghamton, N.Y. (lame); Buffalo, N.Y. (what?); and Lancaster, N.Y. (ugh), all towns that are probably like nice or whatever, but cannot hold a candle to Whiting’s people and history, to say nothing of their White Castles.