Pirohis ‘down to a science’ at Epiphany Byzantine Catholic Church

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More than three decades ago, the members of the Ladies' Guild at Epiphany Byzantine Catholic Church in Annandale began serving up meatless dinners on Friday nights during Lent. The pirohis, haluski, nut rolls and other traditional Ukranian fare grew more and more popular, until one year, there simply weren't enough cooks to keep up with the demand.

"We made pirohis until we made 50,000 (a season), and we couldn't do it anymore," said Daria Parrell, the co-chair of the Ladies' Guild. About 12 years ago, the guild began to buy the pirohis from a company in Scranton, Pa. - but it still takes a crew of about 34 volunteers who start work on Thursday to get everything ready.

This year, the ladies ordered 60,000 pirohis and baked 1,000 nut rolls. Members of the Men's Club join the ladies in Epiphany's professional-grade kitchen to wash and chop cabbage, sautee onions with butter, then top the noodles off with salt and pepper to produce 18-20 pans of haluski each week. With about 40 gallons of soup needed, it takes about four hours for volunteers to cook two varieties and clean up afterward. After preparing the soup on Thursday nights, volunteers come in again on Friday around 11 a.m. to get ready for the crowds, which inevitably fill up every table. Children from the religious education program help things run smoothly by clearing the tables.

"We've got this down to a science," said Parrell. "We've been doing it for 35 years."

The tasty homemade chocolates and Ukranian art for sale add to the cheerful, bazaar-like feeling in the parish hall, but the main seller is the pirohis. The only thing penitential about these butter-coated dumplings full of fluffy potatoes and cheese, is limiting yourself to three - topped with a small dollop of sour cream, of course. The line for carryout, which has even stronger sales than eat-in, starts at 4 p.m. Many of the same people come in week after week, year after year, making sure to leave with enough pirohis to freeze for future meals.

"I call the church in December to see when the dinners are," said Dina Tuft of Fairfax, who sat with a plate of pirohis and two carry-out bags on her table. "My co-workers all laugh because I leave at 4:58 to eat at 5:15."

Tuft first read about the dinners in a newspaper article seven or eight years ago, and has been coming to Epiphany on Fridays ever since. Her mother was Ukranian, so she remembers eating pirohis growing up. The ones she's bought in the store are nothing like the ones served up at Epiphany. There's a "big difference," she said. "These are tasty."

That's a pretty common sentiment, Parrell said. People who grew up eating traditional pirohis can tell the difference.

"A lot of people tell me it reminds them of when they were young," Parrell said.

And it's all for a good cause. Sales support the parish building fund, local eparchy (the Byzantine equivalent of a diocese) and various charitable causes.

"We do well," Parrell said.

Stachyra Lopez can be reached at mstachyralopez@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015