How do you spell ‘perogies’? Sorry, ‘pyrohy.’ ‘Pierogi’? It depends on whether your heritage is Russian or Ukrainian, Polish or Mennonite. It depends on whether the perogies you’re most familiar with come from the frozen foods section or from your Oma’s kitchen. In Edmonton, it depends on how the billboard for your local perogy-supper-hosting church or community centre spells it.
According to Susanna Brytan, who organizes the perogy suppers at the St. John’s Institute, the correct term for boiled (not baked) potato-dough dumplings is actually ‘varenyky.’
“But if we put that on our billboard,” she says, “no one would no what we were talking about!”
(For the sake of simplicity, we’ll use perogy from now on.)
Though it’s become a widespread tradition enjoyed by Edmontonians of diverse backgrounds, the perogy supper is not such a simple matter.
At St. John’s Institute, they’ve been hosting their perogy suppers since 2011, when the new building opened to the public. Though the institute has existed for over 50 years, Brytan says, the group wasn’t very visible or engaged. Its reopening came with a new mandate to develop a stronger presence in the surrounding community, and perogy suppers became an important part of that endeavour. These days, Brytan expects around 120 people to show up for each of the Institute’s twice-monthly events.
“Perogies are more of a big deal than we thought,” she says.
(Perogy suppers at St. John’s happen on Tuesdays to avoid a conflict of interest for anyone wanting to avoid eating meat on Fridays as per their cultural or religious dietary restrictions—but also wanting garlic sausage.)
Meanwhile, at St. Andrew’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, an average perogy supper brings in 300 people from all over the city.
Though he passed on the torch a few months ago, Marshall was a volunteer coordinator for St. Andrew’s perogy suppers for 10 years. (The older man declined giving his last name—twice—with no explanation, but he was contacted through the church.)
St. Andrew’s has a supper every first Friday of the month, and each event is run by 25 volunteers. About 40 people get together once a month to “pinch” the St. Andrew’s homemade perogies by hand. “It’s a half-day affair,” he says; approximately three thousand perogy need to be prepared for a single supper.
The fixings and side dishes St. Andrew’s serves alongside their perogy are also homemade, including sausage, fried onions, coleslaw, rice pudding, and fruit crisps.
At St. John’s, only specialty perogy filled by request are made on-site, but the bulk of the perogy served at the Institute come from Baba Jenny’s Ukrainian Foods, an independent Edmonton business. Like St. Andrew’s, St. John’s makes all it’s perogy-supporting dishes from scratch—desserts, salad, roasted potatoes, garlic sausage, caramelized onions, and real bacon bits. “Some people from the Ukraine don’t know what fake bacon is,” Brytan says. “The cardiac paddles come out after the meal.”
Joking aside, perogy suppers have a long and important history in Alberta.
“Perogies were a staple for the influx of Ukrainians into Canada,” Marshall says, and German, Russian, and Polish immigrants also made and ate perogies in copious volumes. Today, perogy suppers are still a staple of many communities. They take place year-round in Edmonton, even though many people associate them with fall—perhaps because communal meals at other times of the year have become so unusual.
“They started off as fundraisers,” Marshall notes, though he says that St. Andrew’s events do little more than break even these days. Brytan agrees. “It’s been said that lots of churches and parish halls were built on perogies.” At St. John’s, perogy suppers bring in some money for the Institute, but they also serve as publicity.
In fact, St. John’s is becoming steadily better known for their perogy. The institute was part of six festivals this summer, including Taste of Edmonton and Bacon Fest, and they’ve been asked to take part in Heritage Festival next year. And soon Edmontonians might not need to wait even two weeks between perogy fixes; Brytan says St. John’s is also looking forward to applying for restaurant zoning for their dining room.
Perogy suppers around the city:
St. John’s Institute: twice a month on Tuesdays
St. Andrew’s Ukrainian church: every first Friday of the month (except January, July, August)
Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist: at least once a month, irregular Fridays
St. Basil the Great Ukrainian Catholic parish: see current calendar
St. Josaphat Cathedral: see current calendar