Pockets

I’d like to share a couple of recipes which are basically the same thing, just from slightly different cultures.

Take a piece of dough. Add some meat, maybe some veggies and/or cheese. Close up the dough and seal the gaps. Cook.

Dumplings. Pierogis. Piroka. Bierocks. The list goes on and on.

I’ve two of this group I like a lot. The first thing they’ve got in common is they use yeast-bread dough. The second is that they’re not very well known outside their cultures, but are VERY popular there.

The first is from central Europe and you’ll find it in Kansas and Nebraska. It’s got several names depending on where exactly in central Europe you’re coming from, but interestingly again they almost all seem to have landed in our breadbasket regions. I learned them as bierocks, but found a fast food chain that uses the Volga Russian name of Runzas. Make bread dough that would normally make two loaves of bread. After the first punch-down, pinch of balls a bit larger than a golf ball and roll them out to about 5-inch circles (squarish is better, but trickier.) Put about two tablespoons of filling (I’ll get there shorter) in the middle, pull the dough around and seal the seams to form balls, and put them on a baking sheet (seams down, trust me) about an inch apart. Let them rise for 15-30 minutes, then bake in a medium oven for 20-25 minutes.

The filling is a pound of ground beef or pork and a head of cabbage that’s been finely shredded, plus a large onion that you’ve chopped. Brown the meat and onion, add the cabbage and stir in till the cabbage has collapsed and is tender. Now you’re going to add salt and pepper – if you’re like me you’re going to want a couple of tablespoons of pepper (no that is not a typo) and a tablespoon of salt – you want FLAVOR here.

The other version is found in West Virginia, and it’s a variation of a type of Welsh (and Cornish, and a touch of Scottish) pasty. Take your same bread dough but this time you want a couple of sticks of pepperoni (thin sticks, a bit larger than a pencil) and a length of cheese (use mozzarella the first time of about the same thickness on each pocket. Roll them up as you would a cinnamon roll, seal up the seam and the ends, let rise for 15-30 minutes, and bake in a medium oven for a bit less than half an hour.

There are a LOT of variations of both. And once tried they tend to be, well, they don’t tend to be left on the table to go to waste.

A couple of less obvious elements to both need noted. First, they freeze well, both pre- and post-cooking. That means even if you’re single or just a couple you can crank out a batch and not have to worry about wasting them. Just pull some from the freezer, let them thaw, and bake or re-heat as appropriate.

Second, PROVIDED the seams didn’t separate, they’re excellent travelers food. By that I mean they’re food that can sit at room temperature for pretty much all day and not have a risk of salmonella or botulism. That needs a touch of explaining. See, neither bug is that fond of bread. They do, however, like meat and cheese and such. However, sustained high temperatures – such as those found in a medium oven – kill them. So you’ve got this substance the bugs like which is free of bugs, and it’s entirely surrounded by a substance the bugs do NOT like. For our purpose (but not literally) it’s a sterile wrapping.

So you’ve got a food you can pack and carry on trips or to work or to a picnic – or to work in the field or mine all day – and not have to worry about visiting the emergency room in the near future.

The hard part – and it takes some practice – is learning how much filling you can get away with adding. Everyone I know always starts with too much, so don’t plan to make travelers pockets your first attempt. Pick a meat and seasoning you like – or just a cooked veggie (or fruit) mix you’re wild about – and give it a try. I think you’ll find you like it.

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