Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

In Lovingly Made Pirogi, a Taste of the Old World Supports the New One

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

In Lovingly Made Pirogi, a Taste of the Old World Supports the New One

Article excerpt

It's 7 a.m. on a brisk Tuesday morning, and an assembly line is already at full speed in a spacious assembly hall across the street from the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Passaic.

Fifteen to 20 women, wearing hairnets and aprons, are spread out in the building's kitchen and at long tables in the auditorium. One pair of volunteers feeds slabs of dough through a machine; after it rolls out the dough, the women cut it into biscuit-sized circles. Other women use scoopers to carve out identical spheres of filling - usually potato or farmer's cheese, but sometimes sauerkraut - to pile high on trays scattered among the women.

And the rest fold.

Some of the parishioners have their own style of folding these traditional pirogi - Ukrainian dumplings - which they make every Tuesday from 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Some pull the dough to make it more oblong, reshaping the staple into its signature half-moon after pinching it closed, while others indent the filling with a thumb to make it fit better.

Hovering over one end of a long table, Anna Lapiczak, 86, of Clifton creases a perfectly crescent-shaped pirogi. She said the first one or two you try to fold won't look too good. But it's a simple skill to master, she said, gently placing the dumpling on a tray lined with dozens more.

"I've been doing this since I was in my 20s," said Lapiczak, who volunteers with other women once a week in the church hall on President Street, making pirogi to raise money for the church and the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic School.

Juliana Romaniw, who started volunteering in the 1960s, said the process has remained largely the same, except that they used to roll the dough completely by hand.

"Now we make more; it goes faster," Romaniw said.

After the pirogi are filled and folded, they are brought into the kitchen, where other volunteers boil them, assemble packs of 12 and place them in the refrigerator for the week. They are sold six days a week out of the same building: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Whatever isn't sold is frozen and saved.

This tradition may go back as far as a century, though no one knows for certain. Some accounts say it has been going on since 1910, when the church was established a few blocks away on Van Buren Street, said Olga Converse, 55, of Passaic, the group's organizer. Other accounts trace its origins to the 1950s.

The dumplings are still in high demand, as people of all nationalities visit the hall to place special orders or buy a few packs at $6 each. Last year, pirogi sales produced revenues of about $70,000. All went to the school, which has about 90 students from Grades K to 8, said Father Andriy Dudkevych, who has been the priest at St. Nicholas for about five years.

"These are the best women in our parish," he said, "because they are here every week. …

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