I’ve been channeling my mother the past couple of days. Not channeling her in the séance sense, just in the sense that I have been doing what I so often saw her doing, and so I feel the continuation of her life.
My mother’s parents came from Poland. It was a shock to me when I realized as an adult that my mother was a first generation American who grew up speaking a language other than English. I always knew that, of course, but as a child you accept your mother for who she is without seeing her in the broader context of life. We often think of first generation Americans as people who have a rough time speaking English (or who speak rough English), but she spoke impeccable English with no hint of that other language in her voice.
Two things she did carry over from her heritage, the Christmas wafer and pirogi. The tradition of the Christmas wafer dates back to the tenth century, and is a celebration of family. In our family, on Christmas Eve, each person got a small rectangular white wafer, paper thin and flavorless. We would hold out our wafer to each in turn, wishing each other Merry Christmas. Each person broke off a piece of the proffered wafer, ate it, then offered theirs in return. This custom in our family ended with the deaths of my mother and her sister.
We children never really appreciated the custom of the Christmas wafer, but pirogi. Now that is a different matter, and much appreciated. I make them once in a great while. A childhood favorite, it reminds me of . . . well, good food, good times, even warmth maybe. A few days ago, I had sampled some pirogi that were indifferent at best, which gave me a craving for my mother’s pirogi, so I went out and purchased the few simple ingredients. As I cut squares of thinly rolled dough, dropped a handful of a potato/cheese mixture into the center and pinched the edges, I could almost feel the shadow of my mother doing the same thing.
I must have made these treats with my mother a hundred times, but it wasn’t until now that I wondered what impelled her to make them when she did. Was it a yen for the connection with her mother? A desire for a taste of home? Perhaps, like me, she simply wanted the treat, or maybe she knew we did. I’ll never know, of course. She is beyond such questions, but it was nice visiting with her if only through memory.
This is the recipe she gave me when I left home:
6 cups flour
1 t salt
6 or 8 large potatoes; boil till soft; mash with 1/2 lb longhorn cheese, salt, pepper paprika.
Roll dough thin, fill, boil, fry.
Not exactly the sort of recipe a neophyte can follow, but it makes perfect sense to me.
If you’re in the area and want a sample, leave a message here or give me a call. I’ll be delighted to have you come for tea and a pirogi or two. I have plenty.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat onFacebook.