A Polish Taste of Summer
Summer memories from my nine-year-old self
Brilliant bursts of periwinkle blue Bachelor’s Buttons push through the recently frozen ground to herald the beginning of summer. They are accompanied by the splendor of purple Crocuses and pink Hyacinths.
The gigantic, mature weeping willow tree that is situated to the right of our expansive front lawn is budding new leaves, a signal if ever there was one, that lazy summer days of swinging on its hanging branches playing Tarzan are near at hand.
The majestic, mature maple tree on the front lawn is also budding with the promise of endless summer climbing games. Who could climb the highest? Who could climb the fastest? Would there be a family of baby squirrels that needed rescuing this year? My nine-year-old self runs through these questions with pleasurable anticipation.
I walk across the lawn and delight in the feel of it squelching beneath my feet, covered in snow not so very long ago. My dad’s lawn is thick and luxuriant, the perfect place to spend hours playing swashbuckling games with popsicle sticks sharpened to a point on the sidewalks.
And as much as these things shout summer at full volume, for me it’s not quite enough. The true embodiment of summer for me is the cherry tree growing at the side of our house. Only when it is covered in blossoms do I know that summer has finally arrived.
I love climbing that tree and picking the deliciously sweet cherries that grow on every branch. Of course I will eat my fill of cherries while picking – that is to be expected – but oddly it is not the fruit that I look forward to, but the cherry pierogies my mom will make with them.
Watermelon, Gazpacho and celery soups, and borscht made from the beets my mom grows in her garden are all summertime staples for me, but cherry pierogies are quite simply the bomb. After picking the cherries, my mom and I pit them and then stew them in syrup.
My mom’s pierogi dough is the most tender I’ve ever eaten and trust me, being of Polish descent means I eat a fair number of pierogies each year and definitely am in a position to judge. Mom rolls out the dough and uses a drinking glass to cut perfect doughy circles.
The anticipation I feel during this process is almost too much to bear. I sit with her for a couple of hours, carefully filling the small circles of dough with the cherry mixture and sealing them closed by pinching them with my thumb and forefinger.
We place the finished pierogies in long straight rows on one of my bochi’s old tablecloths which my mom secured expressly for the purpose of pierogi making. We cover them with another tablecloth and allow them to sit until it’s time to boil them.
My mom and dad are sticklers when it comes to healthy eating. There is never a question of not eating dinner, but by some happy circumstance when we make cherry pierogies, they are what we eat for dinner. This tickles me. My parents, who are strident about sensible eating, allow the once-per-year practice of eating what is obviously a desert for dinner. No matter. I am grateful for the rare deviation from standard practice and I count down the time until the boiling begins.
The wait until 6 o’clock, our usual time to eat, is unbearable. I run into the kitchen to find my mom with a large pot on the boil. It is my job to ferry the pierogies to the stove for her to drop them into the boiling water with a slotted spoon. I wait with keen anticipation until they rise to the top of the boiling water and my mom removes them with the spoon. They are then placed in a roasting pan and covered with melted butter.
My dad is charged with the task of setting the patio table, the place at which we eat all of our meals during the summer. He is waiting for us when my mom and I bring out the pierogies. My brother and sister, both of whom have families of their own, will be invited for a feast of cherry pierogies the following day. For now, though, it is just the three of us.
When it comes to potato pierogies, I am able to eat only five or six at a sitting, but miraculously I am able to consume 20 cherry pierogies at a sitting without flinching. Of course I’m barely able to walk, or indeed move, after consuming so many of the extremely filling pockets of cherry bliss, but rarely does that influence my consumption.
After dinner, I position my skinny body on the sofa and watch television, gently patting my protruding stomach with appreciation. Only then do I concede that summer is well and truly here.
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