Potato and Cheese Pierogi and Book Review

Since being asked by Rachel of The Crispy Cook to read and review this fictionalized biography of the author's grandmother, Anna Anisovich Olchick, in Anna, Heart of a Peasant, by Carol Marie Davis, I've come to think I may have the heart of a peasant as well.  Certainly if cultivating herbs, fruits and the odd vegetable, making wine, sauerkraut, bread, jams, etc. are a criteria.  Peasants rule!

I love reading books like this one, evocative of a life and time so removed from my own, yet which reveal the relatedness of our human experience, across the generations and borders.

Though a trip through Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway is only a dream, I do have one Russian travel story, with food involved, which this book brought to mind.  Years ago, on one of those dual purpose cargo vessels with passenger accommodation, Bob and I journeyed from Japan to Hong Kong.  The ship was Russian and so were the meals, which I remember as being excellent.  Our table mates were an Italian B grade movie producer and his Japanese girlfriend, but that's another story.  I will say she was not all that thrilled with the food, and he kept asking for more bread, which was actually quite good.  Baked on board.  That being another era, the entertainment consisted of propaganda movies, which we considered moderately interesting.  Ah, memories.

But back to the book; short, but descriptive and well-written, it is the tale of a hard life, adventure, and of a brave and indomitable spirit.  I especially enjoyed the story of Anna's escape from servitude to traveling with gypsies, eventually making her own way to America.   Davis has done her research and is able to clearly evoke the culture and landscape of peasant life in Byelorussia just before and after the turn of the century, as well as immigrant times in depression era New York.  She has also provided us food lovers with some of her grandmother's favorite traditional Russian recipes at the end.

I had only ever heard of pierogi, wondering how they tasted, how difficult to prepare, so was delighted by the excuse to make up a batch from her recipe.  We had Jook to celebrate Chinese New Years and I wanted something to serve alongside that traditional rice and chicken congee.  Potato Cheese Pierogi with melted Parsley Butter, and Sauerkraut with some Orange Bell Peppers were the perfect accompaniments. My grandson reported to his mother that he had tasted Russian ravioli.  Well, sort of chubby ravioli.

Potato and Cheese Pierogi
From Anna Heart of a Peasant by Carol Marie Davis

Pierogi Dough
2 cups sour cream
4 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
butter, melted for serving (I used parsley butter)
Mix the dough ingredients together in a large bowl (I cut the recipe in half and there was still enough for about 5-6 people, so I froze half  the filled pierogis for later).  Knead into a soft, pliable dough; cut in half and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes.

Filling ingredients
1 1/2 lb. of potatoes, peeled (I used left-over mashed potatoes)
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 lb. Farmer's cheese (I used cheddar)
4 tablespoons milk
salt and pepper to taste

Boil the peeled potatoes, drain and mash with butter and milk.  Add cheese and season with salt and pepper.  Set aside to cool. (If you are using left-over mashed potatoes no need to add the butter and milk.)

Roll out each half into a thin circle.  Using a drinking glass, cut the dough into rounds and fill them, 1 tablespoon of filling (I got about a heaping teaspoonful in them, I guess it depends on how large your circles are) in the center of each.  Fold over to form a half-moon shape and press edges together with fingers.  Be sure the edges are sealed well to prevent the filling from running out.

Cook in boiling salted water for about 8-10 minutes, stirring gently with a wooden spoon to separate them.  Pierogies will be ready when you see them puff up.  Drain and place on a dish.  Serve warm with melted butter or sauteed sliced onions.  I drizzled over some parsley butter we had on hand and it made a delightful color and herbal taste contrast.  These were just delicious, and now on my list of treats to repeat.  I'm already thinking of variations possible.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would highly recommend this delightful book.  What a wonderful opportunity to understand a bit more of the life and times of those who went before us.


Rachel said...

I love your comments about the book, Claudia and thank you so much for participating in this project. I know my mom will also be very proud to read your post.

Those pierogies are none too shabby, either!

Eliotseats said...

I have never made pierogis either. Your post and pics may have inspired me. Did you drizzle a bit of pesto on top?

Claudia said...

Thanks Rachel, and Eliot that was parsley butter. The recipe recommended serving with melted butter or sauteed onions, but I thought the green butter was a nice contrast.

Carol Marie Davis said...

Dear Claudia,

How great to know that there are many peasant hearts among us.

Thank you for reviewing my book and trying Anna's recipe. Your pierogis look scrumptious. I like the parsley butter topping.

Joanne said...

Your pierogi look so perfect! ANd your review was excellent. Great post all around!

Simona said...

Pierogi are on my to-do list. Yours look beautiful! And I like the touch of green on them. Interesting story about the trip on a Russian ship.

Deb in Hawaii said...

Such perfect pierogi and I love the parsley sauce. Great review! ;-)

Josie said...

You don't know me, but I was in school in WI with Sunny - I got to your blog through her FB!! THIS post caught my eye because I'm of Russian-German descent (technically Mennonite) and I GREW UP making and eating pierogis! We not only fill them with potato and cheese, one other common variation is dry cottage cheese mixed with an egg and seasoned with salt & pepper. We serve both varieties with a cream sauce/white sauce flavored with sausage drippings, and often some sort of warmed fruit preserve sauce (rhubarb was my favorite). We also often fried the leftovers with just a bit of oil in a pan and served them hot with some commercial sour cream and a sprinkle of sugar. SOO tasty! Good memories - I should make some for my family!