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Ladies Guild maintains Lenten tradition at Bradenville church

| Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Rebecca Emanuele | for the Tribune Review
Cathy Zemba, president of St. Mary's Ladies Guild, prepares dough at the first work station along with (from left) Jane Alexander of Derry, Joe Zemba of Unity and Karen Gross of Ligonier.

A giant bowl full of butter sticks, two electric skillets heaped with onions and seven huge pots of boiling water all help to fuel pierogi sales at St. Mary's Dome in Bradenville.

What keeps the Eastern European Lenten tradition going are the members of the Ladies Guild, who produce more than 200 dozen of the treats each week, filled with sauerkraut, potato or prune.

President Cathy Zemba said the fundraiser for the Byzantine Catholic church along Route 982 is the guild's biggest annual project, which the group began about five or six years ago. Traditional fasting — abstaining from meat — is observed by church members on Wednesdays and Fridays.

“That's just our tradition, but people love the pierogies anytime of the year,” she said.

The prune filling, known as lekvar, originated when families in that part of the world could cultivate plums to be preserved and stored for the winter, said Monica Petrick, a church member since 1965.

“They started because they had all the available products,” she said. “By this time everything was gone from eating through the winter.”

When the women started the sales — from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every Friday during Lent, except Good Friday — they lacked the machine to roll the dough or the forms to easily make and seal 18 at a time, said Marge Pezzoni, 82, of Derry Township.

“When we first started this project, we rolled that dough out by hand,” she said. “I taught many of these women up here how to roll the dough.”

Now the well-maintained chain of production also includes Betty Siko, 77, of Derry Township, who makes the halushki.

“We have a lot of fun. We enjoy it,” she said, while loading batches of cabbage and noodles into heated trays.

The group gets a fair amount of regulars who look forward to the sales every year and those who are sad when Lent ends, Zemba said.

“The people in the area just love them (the pierogies),” she said.

Last year, the guild started salvaging broken pierogies and calling them “angels” for sale at $4 for a container instead of the regular $8 per dozen with butter and onions or $7 frozen.

That came from a customer's suggestion, with more “angels” on certain weeks than others, Zemba said.

“I thought they should be called devils” since they don't come out right, she said.

Pezzoni, a member of the Ladies Guild since 1954, said that in decades past the group was a lot larger, helping to support the church at 112 St. Mary's Way, which now has about 120-150 congregants attending on a given Sunday.

She remembers decorating the dome for “snowflake fairs” in the 1950s and '60s, but fundraisers like that have given way to others, including Meals on Wheels, a scholarship program, Christmas food baskets and church improvements.

Pezzoni said she prefers the potato- or the prune-filled versions instead of the sauerkraut.

“The people keep coming back, so they must be good,” she said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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