Mary Didur was born in 1925 on a farm in Wakaw, SK, about 90 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon. The child of Ukrainian immigrants, she grew up eating — and cooking — dishes with Eastern European flavour. At 18, Didur attended cosmetology school in Saskatoon, then found work at the local hair salon. After the war, she met her future husband, John, at a community hall dance. A modern woman, she continued to work after getting married and having two children, eventually opening her own salon, La Chez Marie. Here, this Saskatoon grandmother shares with us her famous recipe for perogies.
“The first time I made perogies, I was probably five or six years old,” says Mary. “I learned in the old-fashioned kitchen of the farmhouse where I grew up one of eight children: two girls and six boys. There was a spare table where we used to roll out the dough. I found it fun; kids like to work with dough.”
“The recipe has gone through so many changes,” Mary explains. I actually got my basic recipe from a friend and she got it from somebody else. Each time it has changed hands, it has been improved. My mother probably got her recipe from her mother, in Ukraine.”
“When my mother was making the dough, she used just flour, water and salt. Today, I use milk and oil and sometimes an egg, too, and that makes a difference; you get a richer dough. My mother taught me that the dough must be soft, and not pasty; we used to work with it to make it smooth with good elasticity.”
“At that time, my mother made her own cottage cheese, and we’d use it as a stuffing, mixed with potatoes and onions sautéed in butter. Now, I do a mix of cottage cheese and cheddar. Mother wouldn’t have had access to cheddar; she used what she had. We now eat them with mushroom sauce and sour cream, or bacon bits and onions. They accompany a meal, like you could have fried chicken with perogies and mushroom sauce instead of potatoes.”
“You can stuff perogies with all kinds of things. It was a tradition in our family to have poppyseed rolls at Christmastime, and one time I had leftover poppyseeds, so I tried making a perogie filling with those and some honey. They didn’t go over so well! I’d say Saskatoon berries or plums are especially delicious as a filling. Perogies are just a bit harder to make with fruit, because of all the juices.”
“We’d eat regular perogies at least once every two weeks when I was growing up. It was lively at family dinnertimes with all those people at the table. And the next day, if there were any leftover perogies, we’d fight about who could deep-fry them to eat as a snack.”
“With all those unmarried boys still living at home there were a lot of perogies to make for one sitting. When boys over the age of 15 eat them, they’ll eat at least 20 each. Today, my granddaughter is married to a man who has a 15-year-old boy, and the last time they were here, they had a competition to see who could eat the most perogies. He ate 32. Still, 20 is the average.”
“My two sons didn’t ever learn to make perogies; they just ate them. But my granddaughter, who is now in her 30s, learned in her teens. Every time she used to come over, she’d say, “Grandma, no perogies?” So one day, I told her she’d better learn to make them with me the next time she visited. And she did. She really loves them.”
Potato-Cheese Perogie Filling
For the dough, mix together flour, oil, milk, water and salt. Knead dough until smooth. Let stand for 30 to 60 minutes.
With rolling pin, roll out really thin. Cut dough into squares. (I prefer to make smaller perogies, so they’re 2 x 2 inches/5 x 5 cm.) Spoon about 1 tbsp (15 mL) of potato-cheese filling onto each square. Fold dough into triangle and pinch edge closed to seal in filling.
Add to pot of boiling water. Once floating, cook for 1 to 1½ minutes.
For the potato-cheese perogie filling, boil potatoes as you would for mashed potatoes. Drain.
While potatoes are hot, stir in cheddar. Cover until cheese is melted, about 1 minute.
Stir in sautéed onion; using potato masher, mash until smooth. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
Using clean cloth, squeeze out all moisture from cottage cheese. Stir into potato mixture. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.