Up and down the Pioneer Valley, Polish names on farms, businesses and mailboxes are as common as maple trees. The Valley’s Polish community is long-established and well-assimilated so there are fewer specialty stores than is the case with more recent ethnic communities. However, there are outposts on either end of the Holyoke Range, in Chicopee and in South Deerfield.When you ask around in Chicopee for Polish food stores, the two names that pop up are Millie’s Pierogi and Chicopee Provisions.
MILLIE’S PIEROGIS at 129 Broadway in Chicopee (594-4991; www.milliespierogi.com) makes and sells pierogis (filled dumplings) and kapusta (sauerkraut blended with kielbasa), and offers a full line of T-shirts, mugs and other pierogi-based merchandise. Full disclosure — I met Ann Kerigan, who runs Millie’s, because my company does programming for her company. However, once I noticed the copies of Fine Cooking in her office, we began talking food.
Millie’s sells cabbage/sauerkraut, potato/cheese, cheese, prune and blueberry pierogis, one dozen to a tray. The pierogis are hand-pinched and fully cooked, making them easy to heat and serve. My wife, who ate several dozen pierogis during the research for this article, tasted one and said, “Are these the hand-pinched ones? They’re the best.” We both prefer the cabbage pierogis. The cheese, which is farmer’s cheese, is pretty mild. I discovered that combining a piece of the prune and a piece of the cheese produces something that is better than each of those individual parts. You can boil the pierogis, saute them in butter, deep-fry them, or treat them like pot-stickers and saute them for a few minutes, then add a little water and steam for a few minutes more.
In the 1960s, there really was a Millie, but she soon sold her combination pizza place and pierogi factory to a variety of owners. Ann’s father, Walter Lopuk, bought the business in the mid-’70s and immediately sold off the pizza ovens. The former pizza place still operates as a cafe. Millie’s built a new and larger factory behind the cafe, and added a concession truck to sell pierogis at summer festivals during the slow months. The business now sells and ships pierogis worldwide from its Web site.
The factory store for CHICOPEE PROVISIONS is located at 19 Sitarz Ave. in Chicopee (800-924-6328; www.bluesealkielbasa.com). The brand, Blue Seal kielbasa, is ubiquitous in area supermarkets, both as whole kielbasas and as hot-dog sized links. The excitement of going to the factory store is the excitement of following any packaged food to its source. You sign in at the reception area and follow the signs to a large door. Behind it is a walk-in refrigerator larger than the average living room, filled with open boxes of packaged kielbasas and hams, a rack of bologna and head cheese, and other miscellaneous jars and packages. Chicopee Provisions also sells farmer’s cheese. One of the workers will help you select what you want and write it up. You pay at the reception window.
In the center of Chicopee, at 65 Cabot St., Europa Deli (594-7644) sells imported foodstuffs. Also in the center, at 105 Exchange St., is Bob’s Bakery (592-9416) which stocks various Polish baked goods, including babkas and prune Danish.
If you find yourself north of the range, you might try BBA DELI MARKET at 39 Thayer St. in South Deerfield (665-9171). Located down a residential side street on the way to South Deerfield center, the deli combines a bakery display, a deli counter and some shelves filled with imported Polish jams, fruit juices, kluski and other egg noodles, and more. The deli sells pierogis and kielbasa, as well as golumbkis (stuffed cabbage), and an array of prepared foods that you can have heated up or packed in containers. I am not particularly fond of the thin tomato sauce on the golumbkis, but the rolls are first-rate.
While you’re in South Deerfield, run up Route 116 to Pekarski Sausage at 293 Conway Road (665-4537). Pekarski’s makes its own kielbasa, in addition to a full line of smoked bacon and pork. You can get regular, cheese-filled, spicy cheese-filled and unsmoked kielbasa. It’s cash or check only. With summer grilling season coming up, you might want to make a special trip to stock up.
The most familiar Polish foods to enter the mainstream are golumbkis, pierogis and kielbasa. Kielbasa seems to need no introduction — it’s a garlicky pork sausage that is available everywhere in the area.
Golumbkis are typically stuffed with a mix of chopped meat and rice, although I have turned up recipes for cooked chicken, mushrooms and hard-boiled eggs.
Every culture seems to have dough-wrapped delicacies, from wontons to ravioli. Pierogis are Poland’s contribution to the mix. They are usually filled with cabbage or sauerkraut, cheese, potatoes or fruit.
I had never heard of kapusta until someone called Chicopee’s former mayor a kapusta-head. There are worse things one can be called. Essentially sauerkraut simmered with kielbasa and other goodies, it is too thick to be a soup and has too much sauerkraut to be stew. It is, however, to quote a popular tag line, good eats.
Originally published Daily Hampshire Gazette, March 30, 2007