Food Traditions: Pierogis, Kolachis, and Front-Yard Barbeques

“See, okay, the thing is, you better know that in this country nobody eats in the front yard. Really. Nobody” –Diana Abu-Jaber, “A House and a Yard”

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Food traditions surround every culture. Whether this means barbequing in your front yard to the dismay of your neighbors, like Diana Abu-Jaber explains in “A House and a Yard,” or gathering around the table for turkey and stuffing on Thanksgiving, or cracking crawfish with your hands at a backyard crawfish boil, we all grew up with our own sense of “normal” when it comes to food. As explained in “A House and a Yard,” Abu-Jaber felt ashamed of her traditional Middle Eastern fare when she realized that it wasn’t the norm in her American suburb. Her family’s grilled meats, tabbouleh salad, and skewers of veggies weren’t typical American cuisine, which thus segregated her family from the rest of the neighborhood and caused her great distress.

Have you ever had a moment where you realized what you thought was so normal and traditional, in fact, wasn’t? Maybe you haven’t barbequed in your front yard like Abu-Jaber, but I can guarantee you have had at least a split second when your sense of culinary normalcy was shattered.

Coming to the University of Alabama straight from the Midwest was a huge culture shock. I learned I had an accent and that the whole world does not in fact call Diet Coke “pop.” One of my biggest culture shock moments came during Lent. I am no devout Catholic, but I did grown up avoiding meat on Fridays from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday. We would go to community fish fries on Fridays during Lent, more so a social event than anything else. At such fish fries, I always stuck to the pierogis that were served instead of going after the actual fish. Buttery, delicious pierogis were a staple Friday meal, one that I loved dearly and was certain the rest of the world did as well.

In a pierogi-deprived state, I one day suggested to my college roommates that we eat pierogis for dinner. What ensued were looks of pure confusion, blank eyes staring back at me, wondering who the hell this Ohio girl was suggesting they eat some unknown food. It turns out the pillowy, potato-pockets that are pierogis are a 100% Midwestern dish. None of my Southern roommates were familiar with them. This led me to wonder: what else did I grow up eating that other people weren’t familiar with? Was my sense of “normal” when it came to food not so normal after all?

My insecure freshman self really tried to like all of the southern classics. I ate at Fried Friday, consuming so many foods that I never knew could be fried (Oreos? Mac and cheese? Corn?). I tried to not make a funny face as I ate grits for the first time, genuinely repulsed by their slimy, goopy texture. After a few years, I really came to love southern cooking, but I also came to terms with the food traditions that I grew up with. I spent the first eighteen years of my life eating stuffed, steaming cabbage rolls, polish pierogis, chili atop spaghetti (an Ohio classic), and other rich, hearty, stick to your bones type food. Why should I be ashamed of that?

One day I made those infamous pierogis for my roommates and guess what? They loved them. Now my roommates beg for me to cook for them.

Being so far away from home, I’ve come to cherish the food traditions and unique dishes that I grew up eating. One of my favorite things to make were kolachis on Thanksgiving morning. I can proudly say that I have consumed an inordinate amount of them in my life. Much like pierogis, many people aren’t familiar with kolachis, which is devastating. Kolachis are small, pie-like envelopes of dough and fruit that populate holiday tables in the Midwest. There’s an absolute genius within the design of a kolachi because they’re small enough that you can eat several without getting full. Instead of having to commit to one flavor, you can get the full spectrum, ranging from sweet, tangy pineapple, to tart, classic apple.

I haven’t brought the kolachi to Alabama quite yet, but I think its shining moment is soon to come. All it will take is one smell of their buttery, fruity deliciousness cooking and I think my roommates will be hooked. Much like the pierogis, it might seem weird at first to people unfamiliar with them, but I think they’ll come to love one of my food traditions if they give it a shot. And hey, maybe I will cut Southerners some slack and try grits again, but I’m not making any promises.


Kolachis

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 Ingredients:

– 1 lb. cream cheese [each package is typically 8 oz.]

– 2 cups butter flavored Crisco

– Pinch of salt

– 4 cups of flour

– 3 Tablespoons sugar

– 2 jars of fruit filling [I prefer pineapple, apple, apricot, or peach]

 

Steps:

1) Cut the cream cheese and Crisco into flour, sugar, and salt with a pastry blender.

2) Form dough into ball and put into four packages. Chill overnight.

3) Roll thin with rolling pin and cut into 2 inch squares.

4) Fill with fruit fillings. Wet the corners and pinch together.

5) Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

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