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Ethnic lunch to fuel South Side house tour

Thursday, April 27, 2000

By Marlene Parrish, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Lace on your sturdiest shoes, loosen your belt a notch or two and spend the day in one of Pittsburgh's oldest ethnic neighborhoods.

If you go ...

When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Brashear Association, 2005 Sarah St., South Side.

Menu: Eastern European favorites served at a sit-down lunch. Halupki, halusky, pierogies, kugelis, kielbasa, nut rolls, breads and beverages.

Tickets: $8 in advance, $10 at the door. Advance tickets available through the South Side Local Development Company. Reservations are recommended.

Tickets and information: 412-481-8105 or 412-481-0651.

About the South Side house tour


The South Side Local Development Company is sponsoring a house tour, its 10th. This year's "Turn of the Century" tour features a self-guided walking tour of 10 private homes spanning approximately 15 blocks of historic South Side flats and slopes. The event is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, rain or shine.

Walk into the kitchens and you can almost smell the coffee. Or is it something else? For as long as there has been a South Side, there have been Eastern European foods sizzling, baking, bubbling away for family meals. A sample of some of those special dishes and flavors will be available to tour-goers at a sit-down ethnic lunch, thanks to the South Side Community Council. The meal will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Brashear Association on Sarah Street.

Everything will be homemade. The menu will include halupki, halusky, pierogies, kugelis, kielbasa, nut roll, breads and beverages.

Two of the women behind the scenes, behind the aprons and in front of the stoves are Roberta Stackawitz and Virginia Carik.

"Our council decided it would be good for the local groups to work together," says Stackawitz, a lifelong resident of the South Side. "This is the third annual ethnic lunch that the council, an advocacy group for the community, has served."

"I've only lived here for 54 years," interrupts Carik. The two women are old friends and used to finishing each other's sentences, laughing at long-standing inside jokes.

"We think it's important to make these foods," continues Carik. "It's a dying skill. The younger women are busy, go to work and are likely to buy the ethnic foods rather than make them. Why do you think Mrs. T's brand pierogies are so popular?"

"Churches in the South Side, St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic and St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox, sell pierogies every week," says Stackawitz. "You walk into the kitchen where maybe 20 workers are making them and if there are two women who are under 50 years old, it would be a surprise."

"There aren't any secrets to making pierogies," Carik says. "You can use almost anything for a filling. Potatoes, potatoes and cheese, sweet potatoes, sauerkraut or a sweet filling. You can freeze them before you cook them, freeze them after you cook them, saute them or not. But they're best served with lots of butter and caramelized onions."

The two women differ in how they make the specialty. ""I make my dough by hand. I make pierogies once a month and freeze them. Since my husband passed away, I don't cook as much," Carik says. "The ideal pierogi has a soft dough that's been rolled thinner than pie crust, then crimped along the edges. Some people make a heavy edge. That's not good. The crimping on a pierogi is like a signature. Everybody has their own style."

"I make my dough in the food processor," says Stackawitz, who cooks daily for a family of five. She uses modern equipment to cut down her time spent in the kitchen. "I'm on my third microwave. I just wear them out. And I've been using a pressure cooker since I got married, but I won't say how many years ago that was. I have four pressure cookers in different sizes and I use them at least four times a week."

Even though Stackawitz is a black belt pierogi maker, she has a confession. "The best pierogi I've ever eaten, the best I've ever tasted, is served at the Old Europe Restaurant on Carson Street," she says. "I'm not kidding. They make the most delicious pierogies, and they're better than mine. That's saying something."

"Want to know how to make good stuffed cabbage?" asks Carik. "You have to pick out each cabbage individually and squeeze it and examine the leaves. A friend of ours bought a whole sack of cabbage to save time. She ended up throwing it all way. You need tender leaves for cabbage rolls."

"I make my own kielbasa," says Stackawitz. "It's a two-man job for sure." But for the ethnic lunch, the kielbasa will come from South Side's Mission Market. It will be baked with sauerkraut.

"I buy canned sauerkraut, and I like Snowfloss brand. I don't rinse mine much because you lose too much flavor. I will add a chopped apple and a chopped onion to the sauerkraut, add the kielbasa and cook in the pressure cooker. To cook in the oven, I'd cover the dish and bake for an hour at 350 degrees. You could add caraways seeds, but I never do."

No Eastern European ethnic lunch would be complete without nut roll. "I cook to please my family," says Carik. "I make nut roll from walnuts. But some people make variations using poppyseeds or apricot. The important thing there is to have thin layers of dough separating the filling. You don't want a bready roll."

About 16 women will do the prepping and cooking for the ethnic lunch. They plan to serve about 100 meals, but as reservations come in, they'll be adding more meat and potatoes to the pots. "In the past, we've sold out," says Stackawitz. "When the food is gone, it's gone."

Related Recipe:

Pork-Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

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