In the last two decades, pierogi (small, filled dumplings) have become the real deal in Poland. The calling card of our cuisine if you like, a worthy representation of our nation abroad along with bigos stew, kabanos sausage and of course Polish chleb (bread).
Pierogi used to only come with the traditional fillings, such as pork, mushroom and cabbage, but these days many more varieties can be found. We have come across flavours such as spinach and feta cheese, buckwheat and lentils – ingredients even our grandmothers couldn’t imagine finding in those tiny parcels!
These dumplings are now eaten all year round, but traditionally eating dumplings in Poland was associated with celebrations like weddings and funerals. Different occasions brought different pierogi to the table, with corresponding shapes and fillings. At Christmas, for example, women would gather together to make hundreds of these little parcels alongside other traditional food and dishes.
- Photo from Cookingweekends.blogspot
Christmas Eve supper is the most traditional, family orientated, awaited and festive moment of the whole Christmas period in Poland. It adopts a highly ritualistic structure. The family gathers together and the celebration begins with the first star (of Bethlehem) spotted in the sky by the children. There is a prayer and breaking of the Christmas wafer (Opłatek) that symbolizes sharing bread. After that we sit around the table with bundle of hay under the tablecloth to symbolize Jesus in the manger. We even have to watch out for animals taking on a human voice at midnight on Christmas Eve! But my favourite ritual of this whole night is that in almost every Polish home there is an extra place-setting for an unexpected guest. It could be a traveller, family member or just a stranger knocking on our doors.
The supper itself it is not just a fancy regular meal. There are certain rules not usually followed in every Polish household these days. The twelve dishes we eat symoblize the the twelve Apostles of Jesus, there is no meat on this occasion but instead many of fish dishes, the most traditional being Karp in aspic. We also eat herrings, poppy seeds cake (Makowiec), dried fruit compote, mushroom soup, Kutia (sweet grain pudding), boiled vegetable salad and as with all ‘traditional food’ there might be variation depending on the region.
But the most wanted and delicious are Pierogi. To begin with the king of the Supper, served as the first dish is Czerwony Barszcz (beetroot soup) with Uszka – literally little ears- filled with wild mushrooms.
After that, pierogi filled with wild mushrooms and sauerkraut are served. If you want to add a bit of Polish festivity to your Christmas time, try making our Polish mama’s pierogi using the traditional filling.
Like with most households who celebrate Christmas, after eating the exciting time comes, perhaps more exciting that pierogi – gift time. During the dinner the presents are sitting underneath the Christmas tree forcing kids to eat their meal in record breaking time. After eating they are finally allowed to open them.
The traditional Polish Christmas would not be complete without the Shepherd’s Mass (Pasterka) where carols are sung. But this is only for those who persevere and can survive twelve dishes including delicious pierogi and not fall asleep before midnight!