The 19th annual Pierogi Festival in Whiting was selected among the ranks of the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival and the World Championship Cardboard Boat Races on TripAdvisor's Ten Wacky U.S. Summer Events list released earlier this month.
"Rumor is [pierogi was chosen because] one of the chairpersons of the fest could not stand pierogi," said a laughing Karen Gajewski, the executive director of the Whiting Chamber of Commerce.
The Pierogi Fest, unfolding with trademark food and fun July 26-28 in downtown Whiting, began when some members of the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce brainstormed a way to honor their Polish ancestors and heritage. The group bestowed the namesake for the festival to a food they held quite dear – the pierogi.
Last week's latest distinction, Gajewski said TripAdvisor is a significant influence on individuals deciding and planning trips and vacations.
Why choose the pierogi – a simple dumpling from Central and Eastern European lineage?
Off-the-wall logic and mentality is the essence behind the festival and its TripAdvisor nod, poking fun at the event with annual highlights such as the Polka Parade, Pierogi Toss and a Babushka Brigade, the latter being the assembled ranks of a headscarf-wearing dedicated parade of would-be "little old lady" types, who don housedresses and are armed with mops, featherdusters, brooms and plungers as a way to hail the dedicated housewives of yesterday.
But beyond the over-the-top humor and tongue-in-cheek tasty tribute to Eastern European delicacies, she said the event connects the surrounding communities and allows them to appreciate and enjoy a carefree weekend fest for a culinary claim-to-fame.
"With this type of event, it's really a show of the Polish heritage, how strong it is," said Stan Stefanski, owner of Big Frank's Sausage, 1417 Carroll St. in East Chicago, who has hosted a food booth at the Pierogi Festival for the past six years.
"Just to call it the Pierogi Fest is a great compliment to the Polish people, because I believe right now, this is bigger than the Taste of Chicago."
While the Pierogi Fest really only draws a quarter million guests compared to the Taste of Chicago's reported 2.5 million visitors, the Pierogi Fest does have a greater number of food vendors present than the 2013 Windy City's decades old Taste, in fact, more than double.
This year, the Pierogi Festival is hosting 77 food vendors, 19 of which will specifically serve the Polish dumpling. This number dwarfs the 35 restaurants who participated every day of Chicago's Taste last week. In addition to the food vendors, more than 80 arts and crafts vendors and 30 specialty vendors will also fill the streets of the Whiting and Robertsdale neighborhoods.
Although the pierogi receives all the fanfare and hoopla of the event, the dumping is not the only dish on the menu.
Stefanski has been preparing fresh Polish and Italian sausage, stuffed cabbage, potato pancakes and roast beef sandwiches. He will not sell any pierogi, since his pierogi vendor he features in his East Chicago deli will also have its own neighboring food booth at this year's festival.
However, Stefanski has no doubts his pierogi-less booth will stand out in the crowd.
"Having a unique taste sets us apart," he said.
"People can actually taste the meat. We know what we are actually putting in there is whole meat. It is not leftovers, like other places make their sausage out of."
Stefanski said his favorite part of the festival is seeing people try and enjoy his food, as he feels a sense of pride in sharing it.
"I grew up eating this food all the time," he said.
"My mom used to make golumpki [stuffed cabbage], potato pancakes and my dad, sausage, sauerkraut [and] pierogi. When you grow up with Polish heritage, this is second nature to me."
So, in addition to ladies dressed as grandmothers, the fest also annually offers the wonderful aromas of a grandma's busy kitchen.
Barbara Duda’s Pierogi Dough
6 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 to one teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
1 stick or 1/2 cup butter
1 medium onion, chopped
Pierogi filling of choice (Filling recipe follows below)
DIRECTIONS: In a bowl, beat together eggs, sour cream and salt. Stir in flour a handful at a time. When everything is mixed, roll the dough out on a floured board. When the dough is about 1/8 inch thick, cut out 3 inch circles of dough using a cookie cutter, or rim of a glass dipped in flour. Place a tablespoon of desired filling in the center of each dough circle. Fold over one half of the dough circle to form a semi-circle and seal the edges with a fork. Drop the pierogi in boiling water; make sure not to boil too many at one time. Let the pierogi cook in the boiling water for 10 minutes, or remove each dumpling once it floats to the top of the pot. Once the pierogi have finished boiling, melt the butter in a frying pan and sauté onions. Before the onions become translucent, add the pierogi to the frying pan and cook each side for three minutes so the pierogi are a golden brown. Serve with the accompanying onions. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
• Recipe courtesy of Barbara Duda of Chicago, grandmother of writer Stephen Lesniewski
Barbara's Sauerkraut Filling
1 large can of sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1 stick or 1/2 cup of butter
Pepper to taste
DIRECTIONS: Cook sauerkraut in water for 20 minutes and drain. When the kraut is cool, squeeze out any excess water. Lay the sauerkraut on a cutting board and cut across the pile every inch. Place one stick of margarine in frying pan. Glaze onions lightly, making sure not to brown them. Add kraut, onion, sugar and pepper, stir and cook for 10 minutes. Makes enough for 2 dozen pierogi.
• Recipe courtesy of Barbara Duda of Chicago
Pierogies Cordon Bleu
1 (16-ounce) package frozen Mrs. T’s Pierogies
4 ounces sliced cooked ham
4 ounces sliced Swiss cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 bunch asparagus
DIRECTIONS: Sauté pierogies as package directs. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut each slice of ham and Swiss cheese in half. Wrap each pierogi with a slice of ham and then cheese. Place wrapped pierogi, seam-side down in shallow baking dish. Bake 20 minutes or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Meanwhile, steam asparagus. Serve pierogies with asparagus. Makes 4 servings.
• Recipe courtesy of Mrs. T's at pierogies.com