Pirogi Polish cuisine history recipe

Polish pierogi.

Pierogi: A Flavorful History of the Polish Dumpling

Published: October 18, 2023

Pierogi are dumplings and considered Poland’s national dish. They consist of a dough case, usually formed into a semi-circle and stuffed with either sweet or savory fillings, such as potatoes, cheese, meat, mushrooms, or fruit. They are boiled and then sometimes fried before serving.

Pierogi are an old Polish dish and are consumed nearly everywhere the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth once ruled – and especially in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, and Lithuania. Pierogi can also be found across the globe, especially in cities with a large Polish diaspora. In fact, the food has recently enjoyed a vogue status and revival not only in its home country, where restaurants specializing in the food are springing up, but also in such countries as the UK, Canada, and the USA where they are subject of festivals and increasingly available in cafes and grocery stores.

 

Why They’re Called “Pierogi”

The English term ‘pierogi’ is derived from the Polish pieróg, meaning ‘filled dumpling’. This Polish word in turn has its origins in the Old East Slavic “пиръ” (pirŭ)  and Proto Slavic *pirъ, meaning feast.

Students of Russian may immediately recognize the cognates of пирог (pie) and пирожки (filled pastries), although these foods are baked pies with bready or thin, hard shells. Anyone familiar with Ukrainian cuisine will also note that they are generally indistinguishable from varenyky, the Ukrainian national dumpling. In fact, in western Ukraine, varenyky are often referred to as pyrohy, indicating a likely connection.

Variants of names used for what may be the same dish include pirohy, pyrohy, pyrogy, varenyky, and vareniki.

Myths and History Behind Pierogi

The recipe for pierogi was first recorded in Stanisław Czerniecki’s 1682 Compendium Ferculorum, the first cookbook written originally in the Polish language. This book included many dishes that are particularly beloved by Poles. As with most first records, the dish was most certainly around for much longer before being officially documented.

Pirogi are dumplings, one of the world’s oldest and most common foods. Archeologists have uncovered evidence of dumplings being consumed – and used in burial rites – in China some 1700 years ago. Many food historians have traced the origins of the dumpling from there to locations throughout Asia, where manti, pozi, and bauzi, for instance, are very similar, and Europe, where variants such as Russian pelmeni and Italian ravioli exist. Some believe that the Mongols or Tatars brought the food originally to Eastern Europe.

Indeed, there are several myths that link pierogi to a 13th century Polish Dominican monk named Saint Hyacinth (also known as Jacek Odrowąż). One of these is that he was gifted pierogis after he delivered the people of Krakow from starvation after the Mongol invasion of Poland in 1240-41. What we know, however, about the life of Hyacinth comes to us from the 14th century De vita miraculis sancti Jacchonis (The Miraculous Life of Saint Hyacinth) by Lector Stanislaus, which does not specifically mention pierogi. That detail seems to have been added in later through folk understanding of the tale.

Saint Hyacinth has become inextricably connected with pierogi in Polish national thought, however. The 16th century Krakowian Dominican priest, Father Felix of Sieradz, is attributed with the now colloquial phrase Święty Jacku z pierogami!, transliterated as “Saint Hyacinth with his pierogis!”. This is a phrase usually used in supplication for help during hard times but is also used as an exclamation during trivial or slightly annoying situations. Samuel Adalberg, a well-known Polish folklorist and paremiologist (a person who studies proverbs), identified several proverbs linking Saint Hyacinth to flour-based dishes, including pierogis, in his 1890 book Księga Przysłów Polskich.

Further claims have been made about the dish’s origin, such as its exportation from China or the Kievan Rus’. Magdalena Gessler, for instance, a Polish celebrity cook, states that Saint Hyacinth traveled to Kyiv during his life, fell in love with the dish there, and brought it back to Krakow in Poland.

However the history may have played out, pierogi are now an intractable part of Polish cuisine and identity.

How and When Pierogi is Eaten

Due to its ubiquitous cultural status in Poland, both historically and contemporaneously, pierogi has become the customary dish to consume for a variety of events and occasions. For example, sanież or socznie, a sweet version of pierogi, are often eaten at name-day parties or on birthdays, and uszka (lit. “little ears”), are filled with mushrooms and served alongside barszcz (borscht) on Christmas Eve (Wigilia). They are also often eaten for Easter (Wielkanoc).

In addition, the dish enjoys the limelight of Pierogi Festivals. For instance, Krakow has an annual festival that fall, appropriately enough, on around August 17 for the Feast of Saint Hyacinth. A pierogi contest is held with the best chef being awarded a statuette of the saint.

Festivals are also held abroad by diaspora communities. For instance, such festivals are held in Whiting, Indiana (very near Chicago) and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Moreover, the continued popularity of pierogarnie, or “Pierogi Houses”, cafes and restaurants that specialize in the dish, has helped cement the pierogi’s place in national and international cuisine throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. These can be found in Poland and abroad, often with a seemingly endless variety of pierogis on offer.

Lastly, a vast array of frozen or refrigerated pierogi are produced and can be bought and warmed at home – although, of course, fresh pierogi are almost always best.

Pierogi are often accompanied by several garnishes, such as sour cream, chives, and onions, fried or freshly diced. The sheer variety of condiments and drinks that can accompany pierogi speaks to the dish’s versatility. For example, pierogi is often served in pierogarnie with hot beer, but crisp white wines such as Riesling, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc are also appropriate. Other side-dishes served alongside pierogi include sos grzybowy (mushroom sauce) or other condiments, from garlic sauce and bechamel to chocolate sauce and cranberry relish. Savory versions will often have cracklings (fried pieces of back fat) or bacon. More gourmet versions can include braised sauerkraut and forest mushrooms, especially during the autumn and winter months.

 

How Do You Correctly Cook Pierogi?

To make perogi, one starts with dough that is rolled out and cut into circles (often with a glass). Then, filling is placed in the center and circle is simply folded over and either pinched together or, more traditionally, sealed by pressing the edges together with a fork. Likewise, molds are also sold that can help you press out the dumplings quickly.

As a rule, pierogis are either boiled, or par-boiled and then fried. This is reflected in the affinity between the Ukrainian words varenyky and variti (to boil). After this rule, there seems to be unlimited possibility when it comes to the flavor profile of pierogi, with such examples as jalapeño pierogis or even vegan Big Mac pierogis making the cut.

More popular and traditional variations include pierogi ruskie, often considered the mainstay of the pierogi family, which is made with potatoes and twarog, or quark cheese. Pierogi z łososiem is made with salmon and is eaten widely in lake-laden Masuria (Mazury in the Polish) in the North-East, and on the coast of the Baltic Sea. Pierogi kaszubskie originate in the North-West region of Kashubia (Kaszuby), this pierogi is filled with goose paste, commonly known as obona, which is made by grinding up raw goose meat and skin, adding garlic, herbs, and seasoning, and cooking it with melted goose fat in a stoneware pot.

Slovakia also has native pierogi, which they refer to as pirohy, much like Western Ukrainians. Slovak pirohy use a potato-based dough wrapped around salty brinza cheese.

Pierogi lubelskie is a rather eclectic variety, originating in the South-Eastern city of Lublin, and involves a filling of buckwheat, mint, bacon, and onions. However, buckwheat-based fillings feature in many of the oldest recorded recipes for pierogi, meaning that trying this should be high on the list of any true foodie. We’ve included a recipe below.

There are some members of the pierogi family that differ in shape and size. For instance, uszki, (lit. “little ears”), often served at Christmas Eve, resemble Russian pelmeni (whose name is likely derived from the term “bread ear” in Uralic languages). There is also pierogi leniwe (lit. “lazy pierogi”), which omit having to cut and fill the dough by just squishing the twarog into the dough and dropping small handfuls into boiling water. The result is akin to the Italian gnocchi.

Polish cookbook foods history Polish cookbook foods history Polish cookbook foods history

For more on Polish cooking keep exploring this site or try some of the great resources above!

Let’s cook!

 Tradycyjne pierogi po lubelsku

Składniki:

  • Farsz:
  • 100g kaszy gryczane
  • 1 duża cebula
  • 500g twarogu (półtłustego lub tłustego)
  • 250g boczku wędzonego lub słoniny
  • 150g śmietany
  • sól i pieprz do smaku

Ciasto:

  • 400g mąki pszennej
  • ciepła woda

Sposób przygotowania:

1.     Ugotować kaszę gryczaną na sypko (można ją ugotować dzień wcześniej, gdyż kasza musi wystygnąć).

2.     Cebulę obrać, drobno posiekać. Na patelni stopić pokrojoną w kostkę słoninę. Zeszklić na niej cebulę.

3.     Kaszę, twaróg i cebulę wraz z wytopioną słoniną zemleć w maszynce do mielenia mięsa. Do miski z farszem dodać śmietanę, doprawić solą i pieprzem.

4.     Zagnieść ciasto: do przesianej mąki dodać stopniowo wodę – tylko tyle, by ciasto było elastyczne. Zawinąć w ściereczkę i odłożyć na bok. Po kilkunastu minutach rozwałkować ciasto, szklanką wykroić krążki, łyżeczką rozłożyć nadzienie, zlepić pierogi i ugotować. Odcedzić.

5.     Polać śmietaną lub stopionymi skwarkami.

* Kaszę gryczaną można zastąpić kaszą jaglaną.

Traditional Lublin Pierogis

Ingredients:

  • For the stuffing:
  • 100g buckwheat groats
  • 1 large onion
  • 500g cottage cheese (semi-fat or fatty)
  • 250g smoked bacon or bacon
  • 150g cream
  • salt and pepper to season

For the dumplings:

  • 400 g of wheat flour
  • hot water

Directions in English:

1.     Cook buckwheat groats (you can cook it the day before, because the groats must have time to cool).

2.     Peel the onion and chop finely. In a frying pan, fry the diced bacon. Add and sauté the onion.

3.     Mix the groats, cottage cheese and onion together with rendered bacon grind in a meat grinder. Add sour cream to a bowl with the stuffing mix, season with salt and pepper.

4.     Knead the dough: gradually add water to the sifted flour, just enough to make the dough elastic. Wrap in a clean cloth and set aside. After about a dozen minutes, roll out the dough, cut out the rings with a ring-cutter, spread the filling with a spoon, place the dumplings together and cook. Drain.

5.     Pour over the cream or melted greaves.

* Buckwheat groats can be replaced with millet.

 

Our Favorite Pierogi Videos

A simple-to-follow, informative video guided by the expert cooks Dariusz and Susan.

 

This videos walks the viewer through a version of pierogi ruskie, with potatoes, cheese, and chives.

 

Ania shows the recipe that her family has used for generations; with only three ingredients it is simple, insightful, and entertaining. The video only covers the dough itself, which is the fundamental aspect of cooking pierogi to master first.

 


You’ll Also Love

Medovukha Honey Drink Russia Maslenitsa

Medovukha: The King of Slavic Honey Drinks

Medovukha (медовуха) is a Slavic honey-based alcoholic beverage. It is one of the most recent and perhaps the best known iteration of a long evolutionary tree of Russian honey-based beverages that can be traced all the way back to the Old Slavs. In Russia today, some argue that a return to these honey drinks, which […]

0 comments
borsch recipe history culture origin

Borsch: The Slavic Signature Soup

Borsch (Борщ) is one of the most popular soups in Central and Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. It is sweet and sour, healthy and can be eaten at any time of year. It has a complicated and very long history, with the soup changing over time within various geographic regions. Today, the broadly recognized “standard” borsch […]

0 comments
bird’s milk cake recipe history

Bird’s Milk Cake: An Airy Russian Cake as Unusual as Its Name

Like the soft, meringue-filled candy on which it was based, bird’s milk cake (торт «Птичье молоко») consists mostly of filling. Thick but exceptionally airy layers of soufflé are separated by thin, fluffy slabs of cake, and the whole confection is covered in chocolate glaze. The cake’s fantastical name, connoting rare and wonderful luxury, is fitting. […]

0 comments
Pirogi Polish cuisine history recipe

Pierogi: A Flavorful History of the Polish Dumpling

Pierogi are dumplings and considered Poland’s national dish. They consist of a dough case, usually formed into a semi-circle and stuffed with either sweet or savory fillings, such as potatoes, cheese, meat, mushrooms, or fruit. They are boiled and then sometimes fried before serving. Pierogi are an old Polish dish and are consumed nearly everywhere […]

0 comments
Bigos Polish Hunters Stew

Bigos: A Hearty Polish “Forever” Stew

Bigos, sometimes referred to as “Hunter’s Stew,” is a Polish dish comprised of slow-cooked meat, cabbage, and spices. There are many variations of this simple dish. Different meats such as pork, beef, and mutton in fresh, smoked, and/or sausage form can be used. Sauerkraut can be used instead of or with fresh cabbage. Red wine […]

0 comments

About the author

Robert Polya

Robert Polya

Robert Polya, at the time he wrote for this site, was a student of Russian and Italian at Durham University in the UK, who plans to study Eastern European and Russian languages, cultures, history and politics at postgraduate level. His research interests included Polish language, cuisine, history, and politics. The material he wrote for this site was written as part of an SRAS Online Research Internship.

Program attended: Online Internships

View all posts by: Robert Polya