Of all the seasons, it’s spring that most reminds me of my grandmother. She loved bulbs and flowers and any growing thing, and Easter was her favorite holiday. Born in America, she proudly kept the Polish traditions of her mother, who came to this country after World War I. Growing up, I thought everyone had a grandmother who molded butter into tiny little lambs for the Easter table, spent days decorating eggs with gold leaf and paint, and served plate after plate of labor-intensive ethnic food. ( Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the May/June 2013 issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine. )
Now that I’m an adult, I know how wrong I was — and just how hard my grandmother worked on those feasts. I may have my great-grandmother’s mixing bowl and my great-aunt’s recipe, but my chrusciki — bow-tied fried dough dusted with powdered sugar — don’t even come close to tasting like theirs. So where’s a good, half-Polish girl to go when the craving for ethnic food hits?
Pauline Golec is one of the founders of the Lowell Polish Cultural Committee and the ethnic food chair for the annual Lowell Folk Festival. She knows Polish food. When I called her for help, she immediately pointed me toward her church, Holy Trinity in Lowell.
Holy Trinity — the mother parish for the Polish Catholic community in the area — holds an annual spring festival that’s very much about food. Kiełbasa (Polish sausage), babka (a type of coffee cake), and golumpki (a cabbage roll with chopped meat, onions and rice) are always available, but the spotlight shines on the pierogi.
The Polish answer to ravioli, pierogi are baked or fried dumplings that are filled with all kinds of stuffing, including potato, cabbage, cheese and meat. They are delicious, but take time to make.
Unless, of course, you have an army of pierogi makers at hand.
Betty Papik has been in charge of pierogi making for the church for the past seven years. Each year she marshals up to 40 volunteers who fill the parish hall to make the fillings one day and the pierogi the next. This year they turned out about 6,000 of the dumplings for the spring festival, making both cheese and cabbage varieties.
The church sells pierogi three times a year — during a senior citizens festival in the fall, for two weeks prior to Christmas, and at the spring festival. There’s rarely any left over.
“People love this because they don’t make pierogi anymore at home. It’s a lot of work, but people want to continue their heritage, so they appreciate that we’re offering authentic Polish food,” Papik says, noting that some of the volunteer chefs are church members who came from Poland.
One such parishioner is Christine Hologa. Born in Warsaw, Poland, she lived through the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. She remembers being lined up in a field with her parents and uncle, convinced they were about to be shot. Instead, they were loaded onto cattle cars and sent to Germany as forced labor.
After the war ended, there was nothing to return to in Poland, Hologa says. Her father died in a camp, and her 21-year-old uncle was never seen again. Hologa and her mother lived in Germany in former soldier barracks until the National Catholic Welfare Council sponsored their immigration to Massachusetts in 1951.
Hologa no longer makes pierogi at the church — her arthritis is too bad — but she and a friend make a traditional Polish mushroom soup to sell at the church’s fairs each year that always sells out. “The history of Polish food is very rich,” she says. “Most people only know about pierogies and golumpkis, but there’s much more.”
As an example, she shares one of her favorite salad recipes. (See next page.) Traditionally, Hologa says, this dish is made for the day after Easter, which is a holiday in Poland. “Easter is for family, but you usually have guests coming the following day,” she says. It’s also an easy recipe to make and bring to a family potluck or birthday.
If more elaborate dishes are beyond your skill set and you can’t wait until the next church fair for a fix of this tasty food, don’t despair. There are a few places in the Merrimack Valley that stock Polish food, including Wally’s Vegetables in Haverhill. Ostensibly a farm stand, it carries a respectable selection of Polish staples, including kielbasa, babka and pierogi.
“We wanted to have an old-fashioned Polish shower and wedding for my sister almost 20 years ago, but we couldn’t find the Polish food,” says Stephanie Lesiczka, whose husband, Walter, is the proprietor of Wally’s. “When we finally found it, we decided to carry it at the farm stand.”
Their goods, including fresh rye bread on Saturday mornings, are sourced from around the area. “No one delivers out here, so everything we have, we have to travel to get,” she says. Demand for the delicacies peaks around Easter, but stays steady throughout the year. Unusual fare includes fruit and sweet-cheese filled pierogi.
Holy Trinity Parish
340 High St.
Read the church bulletin online for upcoming
dates of food sales.
799 Amesbury Road
Hours vary seasonally – generally the stand is open from 10 a.m.
to 6 p.m. During winter months, it is worth a call to confirm the stand is open.