My mom had recently read about an upcoming Polish Pierogi cooking class in a Strawberry Hill Museum newsletter. In keeping with my "Life List" endeavor, I agreed to challenge myself to this undertaking.
Getting to the class proved to be far more challenging then mastering any cooking skill. When I called the number in the newsletter, I spoke to Cathy Kolenda-Smith who would be teaching the course (funny enough, we went to high school together but were in different classes). Back then, Cathy’s mom owned Sophie’s, a bakery that specialized in all types of baked goods, but put extra special care into Polish specialties like pierogies, golabki and poviticia. Cathy along with her sister and mom, Betty, still make their comforting creations, but now they do it privately by request and for special events.
Cathy and Betty have both been involved in KCK cultural events like Polski Days on Strawberry Hill for many years. Working with the museum was not only a chance to contribute to the community, but Cathy saw an opportunity to share her knowledge in the extra large Strawberry Hill kitchen.
The fee for this class was $25 and included pre-made dough and two types of filling, cabbage and potato. With all the hard work done, what’s left to do? Cathy said I just needed to bring a rolling pin and a cookie cutter. A trip to Pryde’s Westport hooked me and my mom up with the perfect sized cookie cutter. Mom still had her heirloom rolling pin, permanently stained with my Play-dough adventures and I had my virgin Williams Sonoma rolling pin.
The morning of the class, my alarm went off and I rolled out of bed. We pulled in the parking lot and marveled at our perfect parking space. We tried the door and it was locked. It was dark through the windows, so we walked around front trying another door. I opened up my Facebook app and looked up Cathy’s phone number.
"Oh yeah, we cancelled that class."
I mentioned that we were standing in front of the building and we had worked to fit this into our schedule. "Oh yeah, we are going to reschedule that, I will call you," she said while having a simultaneous conversation with her husband. I elected to hang up rather than try and evoke an apology for the mix up. There’s still a mystery as to why I wasn’t called about the cancellation. Apparently, everyone else got the memo. Weeks later, I got a phone call saying the class was rescheduled for a day I already had plans.
I cancelled those plans and threw my apron back in the bag.
Mom and I arrived in time to score a table in the back where we could take in all the action, including the shenanigans of fellow students. I was reminded that no matter what the age, a class consists of all the same characters. The class clown, the teacher’s pet, the know-it-all, the chit-chatters, the self-deprecating…they were all there. Back in grade school all that commotion might have distracted me, but at this age I was focused on a payoff. If I’m going to spend time putting these things together, I better be able to cook them up and eat ‘em.
Even the ridiculously shaped hot dog pierogies to my left couldn’t throw me off my game.
Watching Cathy and her mother work the dough made me realize why we skipped that step. The chit-chatters would never be able to absorb that much information and the know-it-all would try to take over the demo. We all got our pre-made ball of dough and scurried off to our tables of two. The partner thing really worked out well as I scooped the filling onto the circles of dough and Mom would fold them over and seal them up.
Haunted by childhood memories of other kids stealing my fired ceramic items, I wrote my name big and bold across my freezer bag. All the bags were off to the freezer while we migrated to the cooktop. Cathy threw her pierogies into boiling water and the know-it-all piped in with a "Don’t you want to add oil to the water?" Cathy’s quick "no" left little invitation for further comments, yet he continued to pepper the demonstration with his useless anecdotes.
Cathy’s mom kept her back to the class as she gave herself a steaming butter and onion facial, stirring the sauté pan as Cathy added the boiled dumplings to her pan. The scent of butter filled the room and instantly made my stomach growl. Cooked pierogies were laid out for us to sample. Know-it-all decided he would serve us and the two chit-chatters were first in line. I couldn’t help but show my annoyance as Mr. Smarty-pants plopped two pierogies on my plate as if he was a glorified lunch lady that had cooked them up himself. Ugh.
Four pierogies and a bottle of water later, Mom and I looked at each other and suddenly realized how our Polish ancestors got through the long and lean winters. This small snack made my stomach feel as if I had just eaten a huge meal. I imagined the cooked dough tripling in size, fueled in part by my bottle of water. We grabbed our Ziplock bags, cleaned our table and headed out for an already-scheduled lunch. If ever I was craving a salad, it was at that moment.
I now have a freezer full of pierogies.
You know what would go good with that? A vodka-making class.
For future classes, call Cathy Kolenda-Smith at (913) 721-0081.