Quest for the best PER­OGY

SundayXtra - - LOCAL NEWS -

MY search for the great­est per­ogy in the land be­gan in early Oc­to­ber. My Aus­tralian cousin, Lynne, and her hus­band, Mike, were com­ing to Canada and I wanted them to ex­pe­ri­ence the ul­ti­mate Win­nipeg cui­sine.

First, I de­cided on bi­son steaks on the bar­be­cue, along with the usual sal­ads and veg­gies. Since it was close to Thanks­giv­ing Day, pump­kin pie with whipped cream was a must and we’d wash it down with some cold Molson Cana­dian.

But some­thing was missing. What else was purely Win­nipeg? Corn on the cob? No, I was pretty sure they have that in Aus­tralia. Lake Win­nipeg white­fish? Maybe, but they have so much seafood Down Un­der, it was un­likely that would im­press them.

Then came a eureka moment. If Win­nipeg were a coun­try, what would be its na­tional dish? Per­o­gies of course. My­menu was com­plete.

I had to find out where to get the best per­o­gies in Win­nipeg, so I en­listed the staff of the Free Press news­room via email. An­swers came fast and fu­ri­ous: Alycia’s, Ju­lia’s Ukrainian Res­tau­rant, Mom’s Per­ogy Fac­tory...

Then, St. Ivan Suchavsky Ukrainian Ortho­dox Cathe­dral, at 939 Main St., leapt out of my com­puter and burned it­self into my brain. You had to or­der ahead by call­ing 9421991 on a Thurs­day or Fri­day, so you knew when you picked them up, they’d be fresh.

But the kicker was, each of those mag­nif­i­cent lit­tle dumplings would be hand­made in the church base­ment by babas from the con­gre­ga­tion.

Re­cently, I sat down with St. Ivan Suchavsky py­rohy ( Ukrainian for per­ogy) co-or­di­na­tor Dorothy Hardy and Doris Skakun, who at 88, was there when the first per­ogy was pinched 46 years ago. I wanted to know the his­tory be­hind these North End del­i­ca­cies.

“ When we started, they cost 25 cents a dozen ( now $ 4 a dozen, or $ 11 for three dozen),” said Skakun, the 13th of 14 chil­dren to John and Mary Os­esky, who farmed near Inglis.

Life was hard back then, but with eight girls and six boys, the work­load was di­vided. The girls cooked and the men farmed. Lit­tle did Skakun know the pinch­ing skills she learned in the dirty ’ 30s would hold her in good stead in 2010. She mostly takes the or­ders over the phone now, but when the lines are slow, she is known to jump in and pinch a few per­o­gies.

They are the church’s main fundraiser, last year bring­ing in “ more than $ 50,000.”

“ We used to do bin­gos and so­cials, but they were not work­ing for us be­cause we just couldn’t com­pete,” Hardy said.

The babas and the few men who han­dle the mus­cle jobs make about 1,200 dozen per­o­gies a week, as well as pyr­ishke ( sauer­kraut), holuptsi ( cab­bage rolls), and wushka ( min­imush­rooms). In ad­di­tion to be­ing swamped with or­ders from Win­nipeg, they’ve filled or­ders from fam­i­lies go­ing to Cal­i­for­nia, Toronto, Van­cou­ver and other far-flung places who want to make sure their chil­dren don’t have to suf­fer a Christ­mas din­ner with­out per­o­gies.

Most of the babas who work in the kitchen have been mak­ing per­o­gies longer than they would like to ad­mit and Hardy, who is 80 her­self, never stops mar­vel­ling at their ded­i­ca­tion. “ Last Thurs­day and Fri­day ( Nov. 19-20), we had that huge snow­fall and I was re­ally concerned that we might not ful­fil our or­ders. But, one by one they be­gan to ar­rive. There were ladies in their 80s who braved the storm to come in by bus and many of them have some kind of lim­i­ta­tion or ail­ment. I’m amazed at how that doesn’t hold them back.”

WHILE rais­ing funds for the church is first and fore­most, they also con­trib­ute to other needs in the com­mu­nity. “ We re­al­ize there are other groups out there that need help,” said Hardy. “ We have do­nated per­o­gies to Habi­tat For Hu­man­ity, the Ukrainian Cul­tural and Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre, Oak Ham­mock­Marsh and var­i­ous school fundrais­ing projects. We give them a spe­cial rate and they sell the per­o­gies to raise money for their projects.”

Skakun says the fundrais­ers are spe­cial. Es­pe­cially one they pre­pared for the Carter Day Care Cen­tre. On that oc­ca­sion, the chil­dren pre­sented them with a large thank-you card that be­gan with the words “ Ho, ho, holy per­ogy. 29,000 kisses to St. Ivan’s ladies.”

Hardy says to­day’s two-job fam­i­lies and busy work sched­ules seem to be ring­ing a death knell for the St. Ivan per­ogy busi­ness.

“ With the younger peo­ple, and I mean mid­dle-aged, both hus­bands and wives work, so they’re not as free and can’t give the time,” she said. “ They would be the next gen­er­a­tion to us, so this could be a fast-dy­ing art.”

By the way, if you are won­der­ing how my Win­nipeg bar­be­cue went over, I’m happy to say it was a ma­jor hit, fair dinkum ( Aussies­peak for the hon­est truth). And how did the Aussies en­joy their per­o­gies? Let’s just say Skakun shouldn’t be sur­prised if one day she an­swers the phone and a hearty “ G’day mate! I’d like to or­der a bunch of per­o­gies,” res­onates from Down Un­der.

PHO­TOS BY JOE. BRYKSA@ FREEPRESS. MB. CA

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