Main piece: Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Heat to boiling and simmer until potatoes are very tender. Drain potatoes, reserving 1 cup of the liquid. In a small, non-stick frying pan, sauté onions in a little butter or oil until soft. Add onions to drained potatoes and mash using a potato masher or electric hand mixer. (Add reserved potato cooking water as needed to reach a smooth mashed potato consistency.) Add cheese, garlic, and salt. Mix well. Set aside to cool. Serve with cabbage and/or potato salad.
Context: The informant (BB) grew up in Schlesien (Silesia), Germany and immigrated to the United States when she was 24 in August 1960. BB and her husband, who was from East Prussia (now known as a territory in Poland), started a family of 3 children in Orlando, Florida, and ran a greenhouse business until their retirement. BB is a devout Christian with Lutheran roots. She is fluent in both German and English. Our conversation took place by the fireplace in my home in Atlanta. The informant learned of this dish from her mother-in-law; she is not Prussian herself, but she learned the recipe to honor her husband’s family tradition of eating pierogi at Christmas. BB loves pierogi because she is proud of embracing a tradition she did not grow up with but is nevertheless very important to BB, as it reminds her of her late husband. BB even adapted the recipe for her growing family in America. Although the original recipe dictates that the “filling” portion of pierogi be stuffed into dough and boiled, BB does not use dough at all in her recipe and instead opts to make pierogi as an open dish, often with potato salad on the side. She put this spin on the recipe because not everybody necessarily likes the dough and she can’t fit as much of the filling as she would like to into a dough pocket. Because of this, she’s able to make the pierogi in bulk so that it can feed a family for a week down the line.
Personal thoughts: What is perhaps most interesting about this particular recipe is the way the informant adapted it – and why. BB mentioned taking away the dough and to be able to make pierogi in bulk. As a young child growing up poor in World War II Germany, BB barely had enough to eat each day, as her community was forced to send the food they produced to the Nazis supporting the war effort. Hunger playing a significant role in her upbringing is evident in the fact that she has 2 refrigerators and 2 pantries in her house that are always stocked full of provisions. So, when BB makes pierogi in bulk, her motivations are not gluttonous or greedy; rather, they stem from an unshakeable, foundational feeling that she must ensure her and her family’s next meal in case of any unforeseen circumstances. Therefore, BB’s adaptation of the traditional pierogi recipe is a product of her childhood circumstances of WW2 scarcity.