Much has been written about the cross-cultural ubiquity of the dumpling, so I won’t rehash old truisms or wax poetic about the peace-building possibilities of the shared experience of stuffed dough balls. I’m here to talk about the dumpling that I know and love: the pierogi. Specifically, the frozen kind.
Why frozen you ask? Because I am a child of a single working mother of Slovak heritage. There was no way she had time for from-scratch. Here, I give you the (entirely un-scientific and unofficial) power rankings of the frozen pierogies of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
#3 – Mrs. T’s
Easily the most recognizable and accessible of grocery store brands, Mrs. T’s was a staple of my public school lunches from the ‘90s through the late aughts.
The company was founded by Ted Twardzik, the son of Polish immigrants and mine workers in Shenandoah, PA (approximately two hours south-west-ish from Wilkes-Barre), using his mother Mary’s recipe. The “classic cheddar” style, when drenched in melted butter and onions lazily sautéed by a high school cafeteria cook, are the bedrock of any quality public school education or festive church gathering. The dough, no matter how well cooked, is always a bit rubbery, and the potatoes and cheddar taste much like their boxed, instant brethren, but the heavy nostalgia always overcomes my better judgment.
# 2 – Wegman’s
Pennsylvania can’t claim Wegman’s as their own, but this grocery store is still an institution in the Northeast Pennsylvania retail landscape. These pierogies, smaller and with a softer, more toothsome dough, don’t come in as wide a variety of flavors as Mrs. T’s. But they make up for lack of variety in sheer quantity—you can buy these guys in seven-pound bags.
#1 – Mom & Pop’s
Ah, the hometown hero.
Mom & Pop’s used to just be a small lunch counter that specialized in pierogies and other Eastern European favorites (bobalky, nut and poppy seed rolls, etc.), but they recently expanded into wholesale dumpling distribution. You can now buy these hand-made dumplings in packs of eight, and in truly delicious flavor varieties like sour cream and chive or the more traditional sauerkraut or farmer’s cheese, from nearly every major grocery retailer in NEPA.
Cover photo: Theodore Twardzik, in a Mrs. T’s delivery van, circa 1950. Courtesy of the New York Times