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Genoese fortress in the 14th century. The Black Sea. Sudak, Crimea
Wednesday, 06 July 2022

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Must-see in Ukraine > A good Ukrainian girl' learns to make perogies (varenyky)

've been hiding a deep dark secret for years. You see, I have never, not even once, attempted to make perogies from scratch.

I come from a long line of strong Ukrainian women who toiled for hours in the kitchen to feed their families. But for years I took the easy way out, relying on my Baba Shymkiw and my mother to make our family perogies.

Creating this Alberta dinner staple is easy in theory, but mastery requires much practice

But time has passed, and so have the wonderful women who fed us. So, when I came across an ad for a cooking class called Baba's Best in the Metro Continuing Education Calendar, I knew it was time to step up.

My Baba's perogies were the best. Hot and steaming right out the pot, they meant comfort food and family time at its best. After she died, my mother picked up the torch for a while. Her daylong kitchen extravaganzas meant flour from floor to ceiling, far from Baba's seemingly seamless production.

Before Mom could try to teach me, she suffered a devastating accident and became severely disabled. I thought our tradition had been lost forever, but the Metro class gave me hope.

When my niece Alex and I arrive, we discover 'Baba' is 32-year-old Lori Krawchuk. She, too, grew up in her Baba's kitchen, but unlike me, she did more than eat perogies -she learned how to make them.

Krawchuk asks us all why we decided to come. Stephanie Sirman talks about her Baba and family traditions fading away. Al Chow, born in Edmonton and raised on Ukrainian food, says he wants to finally learn how to make it himself. There are two sisters, one who married into a Ukrainian family and is under intense spousal pressure.

It's no surprise the class has broad appeal. Perogies are a staple food on dinner tables across Alberta. With 250,000 Albertans of Ukrainian descent, the province is home to the largest population of Ukrainian Canadians in Western Canada.

When it's my turn, I'm on the verge of tears, remembering Baba and Mom. Not wanting to unload my perogy baggage, I blurt out, "This is my coming of age, for a good Ukrainian girl." There's laughter all around, then we get down to work.

Krawchuk starts by showing us how to make the dough, mixing flour, eggs, salt, oil and hot water, then kneading it a few times. It's a bit springy, but not sticky. I roll out the dough to what I guess is 1/8-inch thick. Alex and I are busy taking photos as my dough starts to dry out. We use a small serving dish to cut out circles and put them off to the side. Krawchuk has three fillings: cottage cheese; cheddar and potato; and blueberries for dessert perogies.

Then comes the hard part: I plop a tablespoon of filling into the centre of the dough circle as it rests in the palm of my hand. Then I pinch the sides together to form a small halfmoon-shaped dumpling. Krawchuk shows us how to seal each one even more securely by folding over the top of the pinched edge ever so slightly, then adding another pinch across the seam. (Go to edmontonjournal.com/taste to see Krawchuk's three-minute, step-by-step guide.)

From the other side of the class, I hear someone yell out, "Mine looks like tortellini."

The pinching and folding isn't coming easily for me. The shape is right but the size is all wrong. It looks more like a pizza pop. Alex seems to be getting the hang of it. Is it possible to fail the class?

Eventually I use all my dough. I drop the perogies into a pot of boiling water and take them out eight minutes later when they bob to the surface. I run them under cold water so they won't stick together. But why are some flat? I don't remember Baba serving flat perogies.

Judging by the cloudiness of the water, I realize some came open, spilling their contents. But some turn out just fine.

It had been years since I had tasted a fresh perogy. I forgot how tender and delicious they are, especially with a light coating of butter and onions. I can't wait to take my perogies home for a family taste test.

Later, I serve a plate to my son. He stares up at the ceiling and declares, "Not bad for a first attempt. Mom, I'll help you next time." The family tradition is being rekindled.

- For a step-by-step video guide to the hardest part of perogymaking -shaping and sealing the little dumplings -go to edmonton journal.com/ taste.

- The next Baba's Best cooking class is set for Saturday, May 7, from 9: 30 a.m. to 12: 30 p.m. at J. Percy Page High School. Click on this story on the Taste Alberta website to link to the Metro Continuing Education website for more information and to register.

- Scan this code with your phone for a direct route to the mobile Taste Alberta site. New to scanning? See page A2.

He points out my dough is too thick, and some perogies aren't formed quite right, but he finishes most on his plate. My husband, on the other hand, is nowhere to be seen.

Battle perogy is over. I have conquered my fear of rolling and pinching, and realize making a perogy is simple, but getting it right requires years of practice that I haven't yet clocked.

I have no doubt that the Saturday morning I spent laughing and learning with my niece, that my Baba and Mom were smiling down on us in the kitchen, and most likely having a good laugh too.

Kim Trynacity is a CBC television and radio journalist in Edmonton.

This dough recipe has been used by my mother-in-law, Mary Popowich, and her family since she emigrated from Ukraine in 1929. I can honestly say I have never eaten a soggy or empty perogy around her table.

Preparation time: 2 hours

Makes: 3-4 dozen perogies

For the dough:

- 1 egg

- 1 cup (250 mL) warm water

- 3 tablespoons (45 mL) oil

- 3 cups (750 mL) flour

- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt

Mix egg, warm water and oil. Beat with a whisk. Add to flour and salt. Mix with a spoon to make a mediumsoft dough.

Knead on a lightly floured surface until dough is smooth.

Caution: too much kneading will toughen the dough.

Divide dough into two parts. Cover and let sit for 1-1/2 hours.

Prepare filling.

Potato Filling:

This is the most popular filling around our dinner table. It can be dressed with sour cream, butter and fried onions, or eaten plain. Either way, this filling is rich and delicious.

- 2 cups (500 mL) mashed potatoes

- 1/4 cup (50 mL) finely chopped onions

- 2 tablespoons (30 mL) margarine

- 1/2 cup (125 mL) Cheez Whiz or finely shredded cheddar cheese

- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt

- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) pepper

Boil potatoes and mash well. Sauté onions in margarine. Add onions and cheese to potatoes, mash. Potatoes should have a yellow appearance. Cool potatoes before making perogies. Potatoes should be smooth and not lumpy. Assemble perogies as described in the story above. For a step-by-step video guide, go to edmontonjournal.com/ taste.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a rolling boil.

Add 6 to 10 perogies and cook for 8 or 9 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. Remove with a slotted spoon.

Serve on their own or topped with onions fried in butter, crumbled bacon, sour cream or plain yogurt, or other choice accompaniments.