Valley Bounty: P’Frogi
For many local people of Polish and Eastern European descent, pierogi are the ultimate comfort food: little pockets of dough wrap around cheese, potato, cabbage or fruit fillings that bring warmth and satiety, especially during the cold New England months. For Irida Kakhtiranova, making pierogi became a path to comfort and community connection while she sought asylum through the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence.
Kakhtiranova came to the U.S. in 2003 from central Russia. Despite being married and having children in this country, immigration protections were removed under the last president, forcing Kakhtiranova to seek sanctuary in order to remain with her family. The congregation became her second family, providing sanctuary for almost three years.
As Kakhtiranova considered work options she could do in her situation, a friend suggested she consider selling her pierogi. Elders in the congregation helped Kakhtiranova set up a system of making pierogi and getting them out into the community, initially at River Valley Co-op and Cornucopia Natural Wellness Market. The business was born, and P’Frogi was named by her son, whose malapropism became the family food business brand.
Kakhtiranova says, “I grew up with pierogi, which comes from Polish origin. Instead of making farmer’s cheese or sauerkraut filling, the Russian people filled them with fruit, like cherries, plums, or prunes. I grew up watching that. I never really made it on my own until I came to the states and had my own kids. Then I learned my mother’s techniques for making them by watching her on Skype.”
Raised Muslim, if Kakhtiranova had remained at home, arranged marriage was part of her family culture. She notes, “when you get married, one of the tests that you face by your mother-in-law is how thin you can roll out your dough and cut noodles.” Although Kakhtiranova avoided an arranged marriage by coming to the U.S., she brought the art of rolling out fine dough with her. It took a couple of years to perfect thin dough on a professional scale. Most commercially available pierogi has thicker dough than P’Frogi products. She adds, “My clientele love that my dough is very thin, so you can experience the flavor of the filling.”
Local, farm-fresh produce helps P’Frogi products stand apart. “For me, it has always been important to go to the farm to buy potatoes. In Russia, we went to farms to buy our vegetables. When I came to the States, grocery store food didn’t taste as good to me,” says Kakhtiranova.
She continues, “Once I moved to this area, I saw that there are many opportunities to get potatoes and cabbage. While I lived in the church, there were volunteers who came from Deerfield. They brought me potatoes and cabbage from Teddy Smiarowski Farm on their way home. As I found out what they had at the farms, I got more produce. I even had a farm share with Mountain View Farm at one time,” says Kakhtiranova.
The seasons inspire the flavors available throughout the year. One specialty flavor, farmer’s cheese and apple pie filling made with Clarkdale Fruit Farms apples, is available at Clarkdale Fruit Farm. While the co-op carries an array of flavors in their freezer case throughout the year, some additional flavors are available at farmers’ markets.
Popular flavors include carrot and onion, butternut squash, cabbage, farmer’s cheese, and potato and mushroom. She even makes spinach and feta or bacon and cheddar. “While some customers want traditional pierogi, I have clients that love what I do,” says Kakhtiranova.
While the public has received the products well, “people have come up to me and said, ‘oh, you’re not Polish, why are you making pierogi?” Kakhtiranova continues, “You don’t have to be that nationality to enjoy the food and introduce it to other people. You just have to be a foodie person to know that bacon cheddar might not be Polish, but it’s going to taste so darn good in the pierogi. The dough turns brown, just because of how much bacon I put in them.”
Being a mother, Kakhtiranova learned that creative fillings are one way to get kids to enjoy vegetables. She notes, “If someone wants kids to eat their veggies, my pierogi are filled with veggies. When picky eaters enjoy my pierogi, I know I’m doing something right. Seeing people’s faces happy and bringing their kids to meet me makes me happy, but when that child comes back next week and wants more, it brings me joy.”
Kakhtiranova gets her ingredients from several local farms, including Teddy C. Smiarowski Farm, Red Fire Farm, Clarkdale Fruit Farms, and Randall’s Farm. Farmers have been a source of information and support as P’Frogi continues to grow. The local businesses and restaurants right in Florence and Northampton have been very helpful in sharing experiences and answering questions as they come up for Kakhtiranova.
P’Frogi is a family business. Bryan Johnson is Kakhtiranova’s husband who works alongside her in all aspects of the business, except rolling the dough. Their son who coined the business name is currently at Smith Vocational studying culinary, inspired by his mother.
The family goes to farmers’ markets, offering samples, talking to customers. They have repeat customers who follow P’Frogi on social media and find them. “I enjoy very much what I’m doing. It makes me very happy to learn why they’re enjoying my food,” says Kakhtiranova. “I find it important to connect with my customers. No one will describe my food with as much passion as I do. If someone has questions, I’m right there.”
There is more great food to P’Frogi than pierogi. Kakhtiranova makes golumpki (stuffed cabbage), hand pies and rice dishes. The family does events, and have their sights set on building up their wholesale sales.
P’Frogi pierogi and golumpki are available at River Valley Co-op, Pekarski’s Sausage, Clarkdale Fruit Farms, and the winter farmers’ markets in Northampton, Easthampton, Belchertown, Forest Park Springfield, with more sites added frequently. Check the P’Frogi website and social media for holiday catering menus and pre-ordering.
Lisa Goodrich is communications coordinator for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, (CISA). Learn where you can buy local food and gifts for the holidays in our online guide at buylocalfood.org.
Image Credits: Carol Lollis, Daily Hampshire Gazette