Dumplings are a part of many ethnic food traditions. But in Minnesota Sounds and Voices this week, we're interested in potato-dumpling comfort food that can be traced back generations to the pierogi of Poland and the pyrohy in Ukrainian.
Maria Iwonoch, Nadia Doroschak, Nina Mikulak, and more than two dozen other volunteers were mixing, rolling, filling, pinching and boiling the dumplings recently in the school cafeteria and kitchen at St. Constantine Ukrainian Catholic Church in northeast Minneapolis.
"Cost effective, easy to make, fills the tummy, all those good things," says Nadia Doroschak.
The dumplings look like ravioli, a two and half inch circle of dough that Maria Iwonoch folds over the filling.
"Potatoes, cheese, onions, butter together," she says.
Pierogi or pyrohy production begins early every Friday morning at the church. It's been that way for nearly 40 years now. Dough maker Larry Bell pours ingredients into the bowl of a huge commercial kitchen-sized electric mixer.
"The trick is to add just enough flour that you get good dough and not too much..."
Bell should know. He's is a pierogi prodigy, having grown up in New York eating his mother's version of the comfort food.
He knows the tradition. But he only started volunteering at St. Constantine's last year upon retirement. Bell achieved the rank of dough maker with encouragement from his spouse, Leysa Bell.
"How'd I talk you into this Larry?" she jokes. "It was something to do after the golf season is over."
“Cost effective, easy to make, fills the tummy, all those good things.”Nadia Doroschak
The dough is put through a flattening machine and next goes to a squad of rollers. Then circles cut from the dough go to a long table where Bev Bachman and other women add a scoop of potato filling and pinch the edges of the circle closed.
By the middle of the Friday morning, just an hour or so before the first diners arrive for the weekly lunch at noon, volunteers pause to serenade one of their own on her 50th wedding anniversary. Then the doors open and the kitchen crew loads plates with fresh dumplings topped with melted butter. Smiles abound, especially for those who remember the food as deliverance from bad times.
Nina Mikulac recalls the hunger in the Ukrainian town where she was born.
"You'd go in a line and stay in a line for bones to make something, bones or grass," she says. "Anything you can get your hands on."
Nadia Doroschak, chair of the St. Constantine parish, wants people to come and eat her traditional food, but she's happy to sample comfort food from every culture's cook book.
"That's part of being American," she says. "I mean, we're all together here in this world, we might as well get together and learn about each other, right? Take care of a lot of the problems."