Island Packet — If you have never eaten a pierogi, if you have never explored the magnificent taste combinations that arise when you weld a doughy dumpling to the important parts of a potato, then all I can say is that I weep for you. I weep for you nightly.
Pierogies basically are like what God would eat, if he was a Slovak, like my family. You could be forgiven before not knowing much about Slovakia (national slogan: “No, We Are Not The Country Borat Was From, And Please Stop Asking”).
Slovak cuisine, as a rule, is boiled to within an inch of its life or originates from a goat, or both, but pierogies fall distinctly into that first category. According to Wikipedia, which is absolutely reliable when it comes to the identification of doughy snackables, “pierogi” refers to “a variety of Slavic semicircular (or, in some cuisines, square) boiled dumplings of unleavened dough stuffed with varying ingredients.” Sure, I know what you’re thinking: “Gracious almighty, unleavened dough? Stuffed with VARYING INGREDIENTS? WHY HAVE YOU KEPT THIS BEWITCHING WONDER TO YOURSELF FOR SO LONG?” My apologies. Just hang on.
See, I know of pierogies because I knew my grandmother, a woman of direct Slovak descent, which meant she was made of soul and steel and would not serve you anything unless it was constructed from cheese and potatoes and weighed at least 40 lbs. Grandma Vrabel first introduced us to pierogies at a very tender age — I can’t remember when exactly, but I’ve seen pictures of her trying to cram them into sippy cups.
Pierogies are very big in my Grandma’s hometown of Whiting, Ind., where they’re so burned into the cultural consciousness that in some stores, they’re actually traded for goods and services. Whiting actually is home to an event known as Pierogi Fest, an annual festival held on the shores of scenic Wolf Lake in Whiting (civic slogan: “Yes, It Usually Smells Like This”) that makes the whole town smell like Bratislava and draws 50,000 visitors, one of whom was singer Crystal Gayle, who is OBSESSED with unleavened dough (my Dad snapped a picture of her walking offstage, ostensibly right before she went to go fire her agent).
Among other things, Pierogi Fest features anthropomorphic pierogi walking around with the name of — wait for it — Mister Pierogi, who looks more like a lopsided white Twinkie with shoes, but it’s cool.
This year, Oprah ranked Pierogi Fest No. 7 in her list of the nation’s best food festivals on Oprah.com, and this is a woman who knows something about dumplings. The event contains a polka parade. One year the festival housed the world’s largest pierogi, a hideous behemoth clocking in at 78 pounds. I can keep going with this all day, folks. All day.
I am bringing this all up now because I, Whiting and Mister Pierogi need your help: Every year, pierogi manufacturer Mrs. T’s holds the Capital of the Pierogy Pocket of America competition on their Web site, a promotion held every year to determine which American town best represents the ideals and values of the pierogi. It’s basically like the Pulitzer Prize of pierogies, only with way fewer riots and vote tampering.
And last year, despite a monthlong get-out-the-vote drive by my cousin Kevin and I, who have very little to do in the mornings, Whiting ended up losing to Binghamton, a town located in a valley in upstate New York and populated by about 34 people, all of whom are lumberjacks. There is no doubt that voter fraud caused this; I contested the results via a slew of lengthy and drunken e-mails to the Mrs. T’s people, but never heard word one back, although now I’m on the mailing list for something called Acorn. Whatever.
Anyway, this year we are redoubling our efforts. Please, I beg you, one Slovak to another, or at least one Slovak to someone who now knows what a Slovak is, click on the link above, and help give Whiting the doughy, unleavened success it so richly deserves. Whiting ‘08. YES WE CAN.