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Along with the peroghi, I learned to make halusky with sauerkraut with the help of Anna Kosca. As good as it was, I was more impressed by her raka, a delicious caraway soup. It is a simple dish: a small onion sautéed in butter, flour to make a roux, caraway seeds, a dash of salt and paprika, and some water. Mrs. Kosca added some small dumplings to put in the soup. Another woman made a fragrant dill soup. And on the dreary, wet morning that we left Tichy Potok, Anna Kiktava and her sister Maria made a bean soup of kidney beans, diced carrots, kohlrabi, celeriac and potatoes.

In the early 20th century many Ruthenian immigrants came from villages in Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine to work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. St. Mary Protector, a Byzantine Catholic church in Kingston, near Wilkes-Barre, was founded to serve these immigrants, whose descendants have stayed in the area long after the mines shut down.

Four times a year St. Mary’s holds a peroghi sale, twice during the 40-day Filipovka fast before Christmas and twice during the 40-day Great Fast before Easter.

For each sale, about 30 volunteers spend two days making 4,000 potato peroghi. Church fund-raisers selling Ruthenian food are common in most parts of Pennsylvania, including my hometown of Bethlehem. (The regional popularity of peroghi is such that Pittsburgh is called the “peroghi capital of the world.”) The language and many of the traditions of the old country may fade, but its foods bind the generations together. Such is the American “melting pot.”

Conversation at St. Mary’s peroghi sale inevitably turns to food. Just as in Eastern Europe, the parishioners once slaughtered their pigs around Christmas, curing the meat to last throughout the following year. For Lent, people made do with “a barrel of cabbage and a bin of potatoes,” I was told.

While some Byzantine Catholics (as Greek Catholics are called in the United States) observe a strict lenten fast, many just abstain from meat and dairy products on alternating days. As in Tichy Potok, older people tend to be more observant. Father Theodore Krepp, pastor of St. Mary’s, acknowledged the unevenness of the fasting. “We’re all working on perfection so there’s no expectation that we are perfect. Part of being a Christian is to keep working on it.”

This year, I joined the parishioners for two days of peroghi making. Most of the volunteers were in their 70’s. Recognizing the need to get younger parishioners involved, Father Krepp made an open plea to his congregation. Ann Derhammer and Arleen Sovak, two middle-aged sisters, were among those who volunteered their services. “When Father said we’d have to stop the tradition of making peroghi unless more people helped, we decided to come,” said Ms. Derhammer.

For many years, it took several women an entire day to make the dough for the peroghi. But recently, retired baker Joe Natishan assumed responsibility for the kitchen and brought in a mechanized dough maker to speed the process. Mr. Natishan oversees a crew of four, who make the dough, mashed potatoes and cheese filling.

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Tags: Carpatho-Rusyn Cuisine Central Europe