|Traditional Mennonite Fruit Pockets|
In my experience, perischke have been an essential fastpa treat, but they have struggled to find a true place in the North American holiday schedule. Anabaptists have long enjoyed perischke for “tea”, coffee breaks (lunch) or fastpa while working in the fields, between church services and choir practice or tucked into summer Bible school (DVBS) lunch-sacks. Eating them always makes one feel warm inside – like when Grandma would sneak you an extra molasses cookie. Like molasses cookies, they were never a “holiday” food, but just that sort of home-cooked goodness that gave you a sort of after-lunch or mid-afternoon hug from Mom or Grandma.
The Mennonites of Montana have made perischke into a Schmekfest classic – along with pfefferneuse, tweibach and verenika. In fact, while Grandma often made perischke for everyday consumption, Mom was more likely to make her annual super-batches that required a herculean effort to complete. A few dozen were set aside for Schmekfest – the rest were squirreled away in the freezer to last out the year.
Of course, the entire family, privileged patriarch excepted, got roped into helping Mom complete her late night baking. To this day, the baking of perischke remains one of the few activities us kids have retained binding us and the grandkids together in her memory (their privileged patriarchs now excepted).
The term perischke is seemingly becoming an anachronism amongst the American Russländer. While Canadian, Mexican and Paraguayan literature and cookbooks continue to use the term, apart from the Mennonite Brethren and the Brüderthaler, many American Mennonites now seem to prefer the term peroghi (drawing from the Bethel archives, Edna Kaufman uses the term perogi). No self-respecting Russländer Mennonite would make such a mistake, however. Everyone (at least those with whom I grew up) knows that perogi are boiled while perischke are baked. A Polish friend in Chicago once actually apologized for serving his grandmother’s perogi baked (he had just moved and did not yet have a boiling pot). “No problem,” was my response, “these are just like my grandmother’s perischke” – which was almost true.
Judging from Winnipeg, Minneapolis and Chicago – all with large Polish enclaves, true perogi are a bit more similar to vereniki – more of a noodle dough rich in cream and eggs. When you bake, rather than boil, a verenika or a peroghi, the dough tends to form a tough outer skin that easily turns rubbery in the oven. So it is really a misnomer that perischke are merely fruit-filled peroghi. Like lions and tigers, perischke and peroghi might look alike but are entirely distinct species.
Nor are perischke a form of Anabaptist danish – the doughs are not at all similar. A danish is constructed from a flakey, buttery puff pastry dough more similar to a croissant than to a pie crust.
Thus resisting all attempts at cultural ecumenicalism, the perishke must stand alone.
In the 3rd Lustre EMB Ladies’ Aid cookbook, What’s Cooking in Lustre, journalist and cultural historian Carolyn Fauth defines perischki as “… a fruit-filled pastry. The crust is generally a rich pie crust dough but can also be a yeast dough like a basic sweet roll dough. The fillings vary with the two most commonly used ones being finely cut apples with sugar and flour mixture sprinkled with cinnamon or fruit mixture made of dried apricots, dried peaches and prunes or each separate cooked with water until the mixture thickens like jam, then add sugar to taste. Other fruits are cherries, Juneberries [Saskatoons], or blueberries.” To her list of add-ons, one might readily add the historic mulberries of Molotschna.
Having identified perischke, here are a couple of ideas to make holiday perischke special and reflective of other holiday food traditions (see the recipe tab for recipes).
The Pumpkin Perischke is an idea whose time has come. An aficionado of traditional pumpkin pie, I have often been guilty of having pie for breakfast. These treats are equally good for dessert or that quick morning pick-me-up. I recommend the half-circle shape for the pumpkin perischke. Just beware that pumpkin perischke are a bit more work than pumpkin pie.
There are a couple of differing opinions regarding the correct shape of perischke – namely whether they should be cut and formed into half-circles similar to verenika or folded into true square fruit pockets. My mother preferred the more decorative square pockets she had been taught by my great grandmother – but also tended to make perischke only for special occasions. My grandmother tended to make perischke more often for everyday consumption and almost exclusively folded hers into little half circles.
Otherwise there is no clear reason as to why some fold their perischke one way or another. I have heard that the half circles are easier to form, but this has not been my personal experience.
It is possible that more people from Mountain Lake tend to fold theirs into half-moons – this might also hold true for their descendants out West. Possibly then, the square pockets might be a more traditional Nebraska approach to perischke -- with possible ties to the Kleine Gemeinde. But this is all speculation.
Another new holiday favorite for me is the cranberry-apple perischke. These tasty bites look great peeking through the folds of the traditional square pockets. You might even want to consider adding walnuts to the filling -- but be sure to label your perischke clearly for those guests with food allergies.
Celebrating the global diversity of the Mennonites diaspora during the holidays, I am a new fan of the guava perischke reminiscent of Mexican or Cuban Pastelitos. Definitely consider cheating and resorting to use of a commercial guava paste such as is used by my local Mexican pasteleria – you might have to look in the ethnic food aisle of your favorite grocer or specialty market. Guava paste has the added benefit of being relatively inexpensive – a lot of taste for the buck.
Finally, for more of an ethnic Mennonite touch, it is now possible to purchase dried mulberries at Whole Foods. While they are sold as “The Turkish Super Food” meant for trail-mix, it should be possible to reconstitute them into a suitable filling.
So while I am comfortable with the humble perischke remaining a simple everyday treat, try out a few new twists and dress them up for the holidays. There might be some life left in them yet.