by Sue Ann Rybak
‘Tis the season for Pierogies.
One of Marie Thorpe’s earliest memories is making pierogies with her grandmother, Nancy Konowal, for Christmas Eve dinner. Thorpe, owner of The Pierogie Kitchen in Roxborough, recalled standing on a chair in her grandmother’s kitchen as a little girl, playing with little balls of dough and, of course, pinching the ends of the crescent-shaped dumplings filled with delicious combinations of cabbage, sauerkraut, cheese, potatoes and onions.
(Pierogies are dumplings of unleavened dough — first boiled, then baked or fried usually in butter with onions — traditionally stuffed with potato filling, sauerkraut, ground meat, cheese or fruit. Of Central and Eastern European provenance, they are usually semicircular but are rectangular or triangular in some cuisines.)
This year The Pierogie Kitchen, 648 Roxborough Ave., is celebrating its 11th anniversary. Ironically, Thorpe, 37, of Roxborough, never planned to open a store that specialized in pierogies and other traditional Polish and Ukrainian food. She bought the store, then called “Yesterday’s Old-Time Ice Cream,” from her aunt, Anne Konowal. Originally, the store was only open during the summertime, but Thorpe knew if she wanted to open the store year-round, she would have to expand the menu; thus, the pierogie platter was born.
Initially, it was just offered on Fridays. “Customers started asking if they could buy them not cooked,” Thorpe said. “At first, we just took orders and sold them refrigerated. By Christmas, we had 500 dozen ordered, and I was making them by hand in my mom’s little row-home kitchen on the corner. My friends would come over and pinch. I was whipping potatoes into the night. That was before I had a commercial kitchen, but somehow it worked.
“You used to be able to get homemade authentic pierogies everywhere,” said Thorpe, who was the general manger of The Melting Pot in Chestnut Hill before opening her own shop. “During the holidays, you could usually find them at Polish or Ukrainian churches.”
She sat down with her family to talk about “this niche.” Her grandmother came up with the name of the store, but unfortunately, she died before it opened. The Roxborough native still uses her grandmother’s recipe. “We make the dough fresh every morning,” said the pierogie-making expert. “And we NEVER use instant mashed potatoes!”
Thorpe and her team flash-freeze the pierogies as soon as they get out of the boiling water, so they are as fresh as possible. “I have a very picky family,” she said. “They know what’s authentic, and they know what’s good, and they have no problem telling me when it’s not.”
Thorpe’s favorite pierogie is spinach and jack cheddar cheese. Currently, they have 29 varieties of pierogies, and they have 17 traditional flavors all year-long. For a limited time, they have an additional 12 flavors including sauerkraut, prune and blue crabmeat. “Right now, sauerkraut is very popular. It’s very traditional. Philly cheesesteak is our second most popular pierogie.”
Another favorite is the loaded baked potato — with bacon, cream cheese and chives. A dozen pierogies cost between $9 and $12. A half-dozen cost between $5 and $8. Besides The Pierogie Kitchen, customers can buy Marie’s pierogies at Acme, Weavers Way Co-op, Swiack Meat Market in Port Richmond, T & F Farmers Pride in Andorra and Village Pantry in Feasterville.
For more information or to place a order for pierogies, call 215-483-5301 or visit www.pierogiekitchen.com.