While I wouldn’t say that our closets are full of skeletons, I can say that there are plenty of family secrets to go around. A big one is that my maternal grandfather’s side of the family is actually Russian. While this may not be a surprise to you, there are many members of our family who are still not aware of this fact. For whatever political reason at the time, when our family first came over in the early part of the 20th century they pretended to be Polish. I’m not sure if this ruse was underway when they first lived in Pennsylvania or if they waited until they arrived just south of Manistee in Michigan. To this day Manistee has a solid population with Polish heritage. My only question: where are all the Polish restaurants to go with these people?
In an effort to fit into the area, my grandfather’s family not only learned to speak the language, but they also learned how to prepare many spectacular dishes as well. Today I’d like to share a few of our family secrets (be they ours or borrowed as the case may be) as well as some improvements that we’ve made along the way. Ever since I can remember, I helped my mother and grandmother make the perogies that we’ve grown to love. What most of the family doesn’t know is that after I was about eight years old, nearly every time platters (or crockpots as the case may be) of perogies were brought to a family event, I was the one who was making them – not my grandmother. Shhh…this family secret is definitely out of the bag. Not only did I have a knack for it, but it was one less thing she had to worry about making for the meal.
The recipe for the filling goes back to my grandfather’s mother (if not further back in our family tree), the original dough recipe (which I would love to relocate) was changed in the 1980s, and my husband Nigel began making the cheese when we were living in Houston because we couldn’t find the right kind of farmer’s cheese down there. Who knew that farmer’s cheese varied across the U.S.?
Although many of you have probably only seen the potato-cheese fillings available at your local freezer, I actually don’t believe I’ve ever had one. I’m not saying it’s not authentic in some way, I’m just saying that it isn’t popular in my neck of the woods. The farmer’s cheese that can be found in Northern Michigan is similar to a very dry cottage cheese, but it can be rather pricey! While it is available to purchase locally, a package generally ranges from $6.99-$10.99 per pound. You can purchase Andrulis Farmer’s Cheese directly from the company in Fountain for around $5.80 per pound. However, this is still a bit much for my frugal nature. Fortunately, when we were living in Houston and this type of farmer’s cheese wasn’t available, Nigel came across a recipe and altered to serve our purposes. So it will merely cost you a bit more than the price of a gallon of milk to make the cheese (oh, and a little time as well).
For those of you who aren’t quite adventurous enough to attempt cheese making (trust me, this will probably be one of the easiest cheeses that doesn’t give off a stench that you’ll ever make), or if you’re not sure that you really want to see what this farmer’s cheese is all about (it’s very mild in flavor), there are a few other fillings that are more mainstream which you might enjoy: shredded ham and cheddar cheese, pizza sauce with mozzarella and mini pepperoni or ham, or even sauerkraut. In fact, I think the sauerkraut filling might just be Nigel’s favorite (of course, that could be because he developed the recipe himself). Regardless, you should find them pretty tasty and easier on the wallet than buying several boxes in your freezer department or heading out to a restaurant that makes them.
Below are the ingredients that you will need for to make the cheese, the filling, and the dough.
1 gallon of fresh whole milk
¼ cup of vinegar or lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 bricks of Farmer’s Cheese (or the curd from the cheese you’ve made)
salt to taste
chives to taste
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sour cream
bowl to cover
4″ round cookie cutter OR coffee can
Cup of water
Pot of boiling water
Frying pan (preferably cast iron with butter or margarine)
Making the Cheese:
1. Put cold milk into a non-reactive pot (enamel, stainless steel, etc.) and heat to 180F over medium-low heat while stirring constantly.
2. Once milk is at temperature remove from heat and slowly add vinegar or lemon juice while stirring.
3. Continue to stir for a few minutes until the first curds form.
4. Allow the curds and whey to sit for about half an hour, stirring every few minutes to break up the curd.
5. Strain through a cheesecloth.
6. Add salt and mix through the curds.
7. Tighten cheesecloth to remove excess whey.
8. Place in fridge suspended over a bowl. Allow to sit overnight.
9. More whey will drop into bowl overnight. Discard the whey.
Making the Filling:
1. Crumble farmer’s cheese.
2. Add chives & salt to cheese.
3. In a small bowl, beat the eggs.
4. Mix beaten eggs with cheese.
Making the Dough:
1. Sift the flour
2. Add the salt to the flour and sift again.
3. Make a hill with the flour and make a crater in the center.
4. Beat the egg in a bowl.
5. Fold the sour cream and melted butter into the beaten eggs.
6. Dump the egg mixture into the crater.
7. Work the flour/egg mixture with fingers until smooth.
8. Roll into a ball and set on a platter.
9. Cover the ball with an inverted bowl and let sit for ten minutes.
Oh…if it’s not very humid, you may need to add more wetness to the dough. Just take 1 tablespoon of milk & 1 tablespoon of sour cream, mix it together until smooth and gradually add to the dough until it’s a good consistency. On the other hand, if your dough is too wet then add a little flour a couple of tablespoons at a time.
Making the Perogies:
1. Roll out 1/3 of the dough to about 1/16″ (leaving the unused portion under the bowl).
2. Cut out as many circles as possible using the ring.
3. Put a good amount of filling into the middle of the circle (1-2 tablespoons-ish). Be sure to leave at least 1/4″ of dough around the filling.
4. Using your finger, wet the edge of the dough with water.
5. Fold closed into a half-circle and pinch the edges tight to close.
6. Place finished perogie in boiling water, it will float once it’s cooked through.
7. Once cooked through you can either fry immediately, refrigerate and fry later, or you could freeze them for later (they’ll be better if you don’t fry them prior to freezing).
*Note that you will probably need to make two batches of dough for the amount of filling that you’ll have.