ELMIRA HEIGHTS, N.Y. (WETM) — In the Twin Tiers, there is a strong connection to Ukraine, especially in Elmira Heights at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church. Many residents look forward to the pierogies sales, but this year, keeping the tradition alive feels more important than ever.
“Pyrohys”, as it is said in Ukrainian, dates back centuries and the origin story has been claimed by several countries including Russia, Poland, Ukraine, and others. For a Ukrainian pyrohy, they are handmade with dough and a filling comprised of potato and cheese or sauerkraut.
This dish transcends international boundaries and is shared by many cultures, each with its own unique twist. For parishioners at St. Nicholas Chruch, they are passionate about the food that helped literally build their church.
“This church was built by the immigrants who came from Ukraine and settled here in Elmira Heights. And the program is what actually built this church,” Joseph Nimec said.
Nimec’s parents were among those who started the pierogi sales in the 1950s before the church stood on McCanns Blvd. Now, they have been doing the sale for 66 years with all proceeds going to the building. The parish is the oldest in the diocese, dating back to 1898 after Ukrainian immigrants settled it when moving to a new country. They continue to sell the dish in order to keep the tradition alive.
“People forget how to make this stuff or how to deal with this stuff. It’s very sad,” Bonnie Stetz added.
For Stetz and Nimec, they sell the dish as an homage to their culture and family, but also to pass it on to new faces and the next generation.
While this sale happens in the Heights, another cultural crisis is happening overseas.
“Just scares the heck out of me. It really does,” Stetz said. “It really bothers me. Last night I was watching as bombs were going off.”
Stetz says while she does not know the entire story of her ancestors, she knows somewhere in Ukraine there are relatives of hers who could be fearing for their lives. This sentiment makes the pyrohy sales feel more important than ever.
“This hits close to home. We have our traditions. We’d love our traditions. We’re very comfortable in our traditions and very proud of our traditions,” Stetz continued.
Nimec shared his father was born in Ukraine and making the iconic dish was very important to him. Now, his son does it in honor of his father.
“He loved being American, but he loved his Ukrainian culture,” Nimec concluded. “I pray for those people [Ukrainians] that they stay safe and God works everything out.”