It was the day we had been waiting for; our long anticipated tour of Cheemo's perogy factory in Edmonton, and the leaden skies and drizzle did not dampen our appetite.
Perogy making, you see, is big business in Canada, and the good people at Cheemo must be ever vigilant to ensure that details of their specialist perogy-making machine does not fall into the hands of competitors such as Naleway Perogies of Winnipeg. These reporting restrictions are paramount in order for Cheemo to retain their competitive edge, and to continue making the very finest perogies, frozen. I am sworn to secrecy, I hope you can understand.
I can however bring you this shot of the potato peelers.
Cheemo is Canada's largest perogy maker. Exclusively based in Edmonton, Alberta, they are one of the province's unsung manufacturing heros with a growth rate of 15% a year. Albertans eat an average of 3.3 lbs of frozen perogies every year, cheddar and potato being the top-selling variety. Frozen perogy sales in Canada are in excess of a staggering $40 million a year.
The question is: "If perogies are so good why can't you get them in England?"
It seems an obvious question. Perogies are ideal for England. Traditionally they are served with English staples such as sausage or bacon, and HP sauce provides the ideal accompliment. Moreover, they are basically potato encased in dough, good old-fashioned stodge - like chips, only healthier. And they are fast food - pan to mouth in under 10 minutes - and incredibly versatile, going with practically anything that you would normally serve with mashed, boiled, baked or chipped potatoes. So just why can't I buy frozen perogies in England? It was a question that I put to Cheemos. Basically we don't have them in England because of the cost of shipping them over there is prohibitive given that there isn't a large enough market for them. A tragedy, for me at least, and possibly for the millions of English men and women - living or as yet unborn - who will never know the tase of a good perogy.
So as not to end on a sour note I should inform you that I left the factory with six complimentary bags of perogies (two of which were my favourite 'Pizzarogies'), a perogy recipe booklet and, appropriately enough, a Cheemo's toque.
Over at Cross of St George blog Ethelred the Nearly Ready wonders what mental image conjures up Canada:
I was trying to think of something which would instantly conjure up an image of Canada, I managed bacon for Denmark, but Canada?, a clubbed seal perhaps?
Well, Ethelred, Canada is world famous for, and Canadians are justly proud of, their 'big things'. On Tuesday I travelled out to Mundare to gaze in wonderment and awe at the World's largest sausage (I bet that Norfolk has nothing to rival that! Have Colemans erected a giant mustard pot in the Norwich City centre?).
Commemorating a Century of Sausage Making
A little over one hundred years ago, shiploads of immigrants arrived in Canada in search of a new life. Many of them, particularly from eastern Europe, chose to settle the Canadian West, establishing such communities as Mundare. With them came traditions and customs that had been important in their homeland and the legacy of those early pioneers is evident in the traditional clothing, music and dance, language, and celebrations still popular today. Nowhere is this more evident than in their food.
One such food is the kubassa or sausage, popular with several ethnic groups, and taking a variety of forms unique to each of them. The sausage was not the only staple of the pioneers’ diet but was an integral part of their cultural traditions. Early settlers made their own sausage, following time-worn family recipes; it wasn’t until “modern” times that-sausage making was left to a few “professionals” who honed their skills and sold the much-demanded product. In Mundare and surrounding areas, various individuals became well-know for their expertise in sausage-making, and over the years, several businesses took root, based on those “kitchen” recipes. They have been successful in marketing this unique foodstuff, making sausage readily available to everyone. The enjoyment of this meat product is longer limited to special occasions or to the families of those individuals who still make it in their homes.
The success of businesses such as Stawnichy’s Meat Processing has brought the art of sausage-making to a new level and has made the name of Mundare synonymous with “sausage”. Thus it is with pride that this monument is dedicated to the culinary experts who perfected the sausage
Mundare is indeed synonymous with sausage and Stawnichy's are famous throughout Alberta. I had to try one so I popped along to the shop and bought one.
It doesn't look too appetising but today, fried up with some perogies and Mrs K's homemade sauerkraut, and enhanced with cracked pepper and HP Sauce, it was delicous. Not a patch on the great British banger but still delicious. If only you could taste it.
Ukranian 'kubassa' and Cheemo's pizzarogies
Small town Alberta is fascinating. You can see the multi-ethnic heritage of Canada very easily, and it seems much more European then the larger cities, which are very American. The town of Mundare was first settled by immigrants from Scotland and Ontario, who were soon followed by Ukranian, Polish, German, French, English, Irish, Jewish, Scandinavian and American settlers in the late 1800s.
Unlike England - which any politician will tell you is a cultural vacuum in need of 'enrichment' - Canada is a multicultural paradise where everyone gets along great, just so long as they can understand what each other are saying.
Take a trip to any mall, or down any busy thoroughfare, in Canada and you will be assailed with the sights and smells of a veritable smorgasbord of fast food outlets and restaurants hailing from around the world - even 'British fish n chips'. The sheer number of cheap fill-your-face-full-of-artery-busting-junk retailers is quite dizzying to the man from England, but most of them I've either experienced at home or on my travels to other parts of the world.
The one notable exception to this is the humble perogie whose arrival in Canada seems to be credited to the immigrant Ukranian population who, because of which, deserve to be lauded and applauded above all other immigrants to Canada (except the English - but I may be biased).
Forget about Turkey Twizzlers, perogies are what you should be feeding your kids, yourself, your neighbours, and your dog. They are great. Merriam Websters describes them thus: Polish, plural of pieróg dumpling, pierogi: a case of dough filled with a savory filling (as of meat, cheese, or vegetables) and cooked by boiling and then panfrying.
But this just doesn’t do them justice. And neither do these two photos of perogie suppers created by me.
|Perogies frying with veggie chilli dogs.|
|Perogies with crispy bacon and sour cream|
Now there will be some of you reading - food snobs - that will be thinking 'Christ, this guy must have the guts of a dog' but this is not supposed to be some endorsement of the fine art of nouvelle cuisine. No sir, this is good hearty tucker to be consumed after many pints, an afternoon's dog-sledding or bear-baiting, or simply if you want something heavy to sit in your stomach as you begin your unsylph-like metamorphosis into a half-man:half-settee chimera ready for an evening's TV.
The beauty of perogies is that they are fast (pan to mouth in under 10 minutes) and carbohydrate rich, and they can be cooked by a drunken fool with no culinary skills. Of course there is a skill in making the perogies themselves but this can be easily bypassed by buying huge bags of frozen perogies from Safeways. The market leader is Cheemo's Perogies and they can supply you with a whole variety of delicious perogie flavours. My favourite are pizzarogies (with a pizza type filling) or potato and cheddar perogies.
Traditionally perogies should be eaten fried and dripping in bacon and onion, possibly with some sauerkraut, and some form of east-European sausage, but the beauty, once again, is that they are so incredibly versatile. The possiblities are endless. Endless I tell you. If you are a big girl's blouse you can eat them unfried, just boiled, without the artery clogging bacon and fried onions and they will be reasonably good for you (although maybe not according to Dr Atkins who, incidentally, weighed 258 pounds when he died).
It is nothing short of criminal, a national disgrace in fact, that these delicious savoury snacks are not available in the UK. With this in mind I am going to write to every retailer in the UK asking them to stock Cheemo's Perogies. If you would like to add your weight to this campaign then please sign the comments and I will present the list in the form of a petition to Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street on my return to England.