Every Saturday before Thanksgiving marks the best and “wurst” of times for the self-described “Kucharski Kielbasa Company” in Olathe. Male members of the Kucharski family gather as they have since 1999, when Polish patriarch Bob Kucharski shared a secret recipe to make kielbasa.
After Bob died in 2011, his three sons — Mike, Dave and Steve — have carried on the tradition of making kielbasa in their homes, inviting sons, sons-in-law and cousins with Kucharski family ties to link together.
With a gathering of nine male family members present for this year’s annual Kucharski Kielbasa Day, oldest brother Mike assumes the role of sausage spokesman. “This is something we look forward to all year long,” he says. “Our cousin Dan flew in from Detroit to be with us to learn how to make the Kucharski kielbasa.”
“My daughters Carrie and Katie made the pierogi we are eating,” Dave says. “And I couldn’t be prouder.”
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“Pop (Bob Kucharski) loved this tradition, and we know he’s here with us,” Steve says. “We always crack open the customary Coors banquet bottle and put it on the table where he used to sit and supervise.”
Q: Mike, can you tell me how this kielbasa kinship all began?
A: Pop had a job with General Motors in Detroit and accepted a transfer to Kansas City in 1972. Much of our extended family still lives in Detroit, which is why it’s so much fun when our cousins fly in to help make sausage on Kucharski Kielbasa Day. After we moved to Kansas City, Pop knew to buy traditional kielbasa at Polish butchers near Strawberry Hill in Kansas City, Kansas.
While there are still some great butchers in the old neighborhood — like Krizman’s — when the little shop that would sell Pop kielbasa closed in the late ’90s, that’s when he got serious about making his own sausage. Pop went back to his food roots in Detroit to get the recipe, and we’ve been perfecting it every year.
Q: What can you tell me about the kielbasa recipe?
A: This recipe is a closely guarded secret, which is only shared among the Kucharski men. This year we will make more than 100 pounds of kielbasa and will divide it among ourselves to enjoy throughout the year. Our Thanksgiving table has a turkey but also has a big platter of kielbasa. You can boil it, fry it or smoke it on the grill. It has a secret blend of spices, with just a hint of cayenne for a kick at the end.
The night before we make the kielbasa, we cut up about 120 pounds of pork butt. Pop’s final contribution to the Kucharski Kielbasa Day before he died was to buy us the grinder we use to this day. He would sit and eat kielbasa and pierogi the entire day, while we all worked to make the sausage.
Q: Now, the pierogi recipe is one you’re happy to share …
A: Pierogi are little dumplings that we eat filled with potato, or for dessert a fruit filling. My nieces Katie and Carrie Kucharski have been making pierogi the last few years and share this recipe.
Kielbasa and pierogi are a simple Polish meal that our family has enjoyed my entire life. It makes me happy to share this recipe because the next generation has taken up the challenge to preserve our Polish cooking heritage. I just love that.
One of the special things we do with pierogi is to fry them in butter after they’ve been boiled. You don’t need to do this, but it sure makes them taste even better.
Q: Can you articulate what it means to be Polish?
A: It is a source of pride to be Polish, because we come from a people that are very resilient and fiercely loyal to each other and community. The basic root of the name Kucharski is “kuchar,” which means “cook” in Polish, so I guess we come by this honestly.
We like food, but the truth is, making kielbasa is the Kucharski boys’ favorite day of the year, because we get to catch up with each other. This is a time of ritual. From the dunking of rye bread into coffee poured into our grandfather Joe Kucharski’s mug to passing down these traditions to new people in the family, this all brings us closer together.
I can’t prepare a ring of kielbasa without thinking of my Pop, and we all feel so blessed to be together. This is what Pop had envisioned — all the generations coming together — and it just makes me thankful to be a Kucharski.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Makes 48 (3 1/2 -inch) crescent shapes
For the filling:
8 baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
For the dough:
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups sour cream
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
To finish the pierogi:
1 cup butter
To prepare filling: Place a large pot filled with water over medium-high heat, add potatoes and boil until fork-tender. Drain potatoes and return to warm pot. Add cheddar cheese, salt and pepper to potatoes and mash until well incorporated. Cool mixture.
To prepare dough: Into a large bowl, whisk flour and salt together and set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk butter, sour cream, eggs and oil together. Stir the wet ingredients into dry ingredients until a dough forms. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes.
Divide dough in half and roll out to a 1/8 -inch thickness. Using a 3 1/2 -inch biscuit cutter, cut out 24 circles of dough (combine dough scraps, roll again and cut out more circles, as necessary).
To assemble pierogi: Place a teaspoonful of filling on 1 side of each dough circle. Brush the outer rim of the dough with water, fold the dough over the filling and seal by pressing the edges together firmly, using the tines of a fork. Place the filled pierogi on baking trays. Repeat the process with the remaining dough and filling.
Fill a 5-quart pot with water and add 1 teaspoon salt. Bring water to a boil over high heat. Drop uncooked pierogi, 6 at a time, into the boiling water and cook 3 to 5 minutes, or until pierogi rise to the top. Remove with a slotted spoon to a colander placed over a baking tray and cover to keep warm. After all pierogi have been cooked, make the sauce.
To finish the pierogi: Melt butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add cooked pierogi, 6 at a time, and sauté 1 1/2 minutes on each side, or until slightly browned. Serve immediately, continuing to sauté pierogi until finished.
Dessert pierogi: Instead of preparing potato filling, use 2 (21-ounce) cans blueberry pie filling. Assemble and prepare pierogi in the same way, using pie filling. Any pie filling left over can be warmed and drizzled over top prepared pierogi.
Per pierogi: 149 calories (51 percent from fat), 9 grams total fat (5 grams saturated), 33 milligrams cholesterol, 15 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 143 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.