Posts Categorized: Food

Piradzini “Piedogs”

Piradzini piedogs

Justin Scardina’s Piradzini “Piedogs”

Photos & text by Aryn Henning Nichols • Illustrations by Lauren Bonney
Recipes by Justin Scardina • Originally published in the Summer 2016 Inspire(d)

“I’m a quarter Latvian, half Sicilian, and a quarter ‘mutt,’” says Decorah chef Justin Scardina.

While the majority of people can’t even find Latvia on a map, Justin grew up with a grandma who had lived there the formative years of her life.

Piradzini piedogsWorld War I had taken a great many soldiers, including Justin’s great grandfather. Without a spouse, his great grandmother was looking for a fresh start. Many people were emigrating from Latvia and settling in Chicago in the late 1930s – amongst them was Justin’s great grandmother, and her teenaged daughter, Sonja.

Grandma Sonja McGraw had five kids – four girls and one boy – and lived on the north side of Chicago.

“The culture was definitely present even for my mother,” Justin says. “She remembers going to events where everyone was still speaking Latvian.”

Justin’s mom, Karey (Scardina once she married), was the oldest of the brood, and, thus, Justin and his younger sister and brother were the oldest of the cousins. While the other cousins were still at home in diapers, Justin and his siblings would head the few blocks over to Grandma Sonja’s to make a Latvian snack called Piradzini.

Say what? “We called them piedogs,” Justin says. “Basically a baked sour cream roll stuffed with bacon, ham and onion…. good stuff.”

Pie (rhymes with me) dogs – a nonsensical word they made up so it would be easier for the little kids to pronounce– were a special treat made for all the big holidays in the McGraw family.

“We’d show up early, and Grandma would have everything set up in her big kitchen. The dough was all ready to go, and pretty simple to make, but the biggest task was mincing the meat and onion. You want the dice to be really small so, you know, you don’t have a huge chunk of bacon in one bite. Everything goes in uncooked,” Justin explains. “We’d use a water glass to cut out the dough rounds, then roll them out, add in the filling, and form the dumplings.”

While Grandma and the kids were inside prepping and baking piedogs – “It would take all day,” Justin says – Grandpa and the uncles grilled outside or took a boat out on the lake. The family would all come together for dinner – 16 could fit at Justin’s grandma’s long dining table.

“These were a huge event when ever some one made them in my family,” he says.

“My mom makes piedogs too – she bases her recipe off my great grandmothers, though. Grandma Sonja cut some of the fat out of the original recipe… it was the early 80s, you know,” Justin says with a laugh. “My mother put it back in.”

Justin made these for the first time himself about six years ago.

“I had a random craving and called home and asked for the recipe,” he says. “I could have sworn there was garlic in there, but mom says no.”

Perhaps that’s how recipes like this evolve over generations. Justin listened to his mom, though, and kept garlic out of his recipe… but he kept the fat in.

These days, when Justin isn’t making Latvian snacks or entertaining his seven-year-old daughter, Adina, he’s a chef at Luther College, and the mastermind and chef behind local pop-up restaurant Salt/Water. Check out Salt/Water on Facebook for details on upcoming menus and dinner dates.


Piradzini “Piedogs”

Recipes by Justin Scardina (and family!)

Sour Cream Dough

1/2 C Sour Cream
1 C Warm Water, slightly above room temp.  110-115F
2T Sugar
1 1/4 t Salt
3 C All purpose Flour
3 t Yeast

Meat Filling

1 lb Bacon, best you can afford, diced finely
1/2 lb Smoked Ham, again best you can afford, diced finely
2 yellow onions, finely diced
Black Pepper, loads for freshly ground black pepper


Start the dough… mix the warm water, yeast, sugar to together and allow to sit to proof the yeast about 8-12 minutes. In the mean time, stir the flour and mix in salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center of the flour. Now mix in the sour cream in the yeast/water mix until well combined. Add that mixture to the flour and mix gently until the flour comes together in a elastic ball. Transfer to a new, oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Allow to rise in a warm area for at least an hour.

In the mean time, chop all the bacon, ham and onions and mix well to combine. Liberally season with freshly ground black pepper, mix again and set aside until ready to use.

Now take the dough and knead for 5-10 minutes. Again place in an oiled bowl and allow to rise again. After a half hour, the dough will be ready. Take a 1/4 of the dough out on a floured surface and, using your hands, flatten a section at a time. Usually we would use a water glass to cut out 1-2″ circles of dough to stuff with our filling. Fill the circle with 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon of the meat filling and fold the dough over the meat to make a dumpling shape. Repeat until you run out of dough or filling.

Preheat an oven to 350 F. Arrange your dumplings in a single, spaced out layer on a sheet tray. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown on the outside. Make sure to check them after 10 minutes to rotate the sheet tray. Enjoy warm and stuff your face!

Read more Roots of Food: Family Recipes and Stories here!

Grandma’s Apple Pie

apple pie

Grandma Alice’s Apple Pie

Story & Recipes by Joyce Meyer • Illustrations by Lauren Bonney
Photos by Aryn Henning Nichols • Originally published in the Summer 2016 Inspire(d)

Thinking of apple pie conjures up memories of family. The sweet cinnamon-laced aroma of bubbling apple pie wafting through our old family farmhouse brings memories flooding back of my late grandmother, Alice Mansheim Uhlenhake. Grandma Alice lived with us while I was growing up, and being a former teacher, she was eager to teach me many things, including the art of making apple pies from the orchard on our family farm near Calmar, Iowa.

apple pie

At left in our farm kitchen in 1961 is my sister Eileen Schissel, Grandma Alice Uhlenhake and myself, Joyce Meyer, near Calmar.

Grandma grew up with fruit orchards that included a peach grove in Fort Madison, in southern Iowa. Being the only daughter, grandma and her mother, Bernadina Mansheim, had plenty of practice making fruit pies. After she was married, Grandma’s brother, John, would even bring a truckload of peaches up to our area in Northeast Iowa each year. We were privileged to have grandma stay with us in her senior years. A month at a time, she made rounds to each of the four daughters and her only son, who farmed the Uhlenhake family farm by Ossian. Grandpa Ted died at age 61, so for many years Grandma worked as a cook and housekeeper for Monsignor Leander Reicks in Cherry Mound and Dougherty, Iowa.

When I was a child, Grandma would get up early, while the rest were milking cows, and we would wander the orchard together as the sun rose in the sky. We would check on the gardens, grapes, raspberries, and apple orchard. Grandma was a devote women, and at the end of our walk, we would stop to meditate over the beautiful purple Morning Glories as they opened up to the sun and we would offer up our work for the day. Then the bustling farm kitchen came alive.

One day when I was about 10, Grandma decided it was time to teach me how to make pie by myself. It sounded like fun, so we gathered apples from the orchard and the flour went flying as she patiently taught me how to roll out the lard-based dough. It took practice and learning to use less flour to roll out the dough. I eventually became so proficient at my pie-making skills that I was sent to my sister Juanita Elsbernd Cole’s home in Cedar Rapids a few years later to make pies for a baptismal dinner. My mother, Ruth Elsbernd, recalls that Wealthy apples were the choice apples out of the orchard for pies.

apple pie

Summers were busy on the farm, and many times there were extra hungry workmen to feed. Grandma, mom, my sister Eileen (Schissel), and I made large meals at noon, and often the meal ended with her flaky apple pie. We learned the difference of our generations – sometimes we laughed about it, sometimes we just listened. It was the era of “hot pants” for us, as we became teenagers. We would chuckle, looking out at the clothes blowing on the line with grandma’s bloomers alongside our shorts… that just so happened to be shorter than her bloomers.

As soon as I was in high school, I was thrilled to sign up for Home Economics class. Poor Mrs. Grimes may have found me adequate to lacking in my cooking skills, so it came as quite a surprise that I could make a great pie. All because my grandmother felt it was a culinary skill she wanted to pass on to her grandchildren.

Years later, as our children were growing up, it became a tradition with my husband Kevin and our children, Lisa (Keigan) and Scott, to make apple pies to give to neighbors, friends, and put in the freezer for the long winter days ahead in Iowa.

When it was time to say good-by to my 93-year-old grandmother (who said lard is bad for you?!), many of us granddaughters brought pie for the meal after the funeral. I remember looking over the rows and rows of pies and thinking it was a perfect tribute to a wonderful lady we called Grandma.


Grandma’s Pie Crust – makes 3 regular crusts or two deep-dish crusts

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup shortening
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 to 5 cold tablespoons water

Apple Pie Filling

  • 5 or 6 sliced apples (Honey Crisp is a favorite as well!)
  • ¾ to 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Tablespoon of flour
  • Speck of nutmeg

Make dough by sifting flour and salt together. Add flour mixture to shortening slowly; use a pastry blender or a fork, cutting it to the size of small peas. Chill for 30-60 minutes (or longer), then slowly add water up to 5 tablespoons until the mixture is barely dampened. Take half of the mixture and press into compact ball.

Dust flour on rolling pin and board. Roll pastry out to about 1/8 thick and about an inch larger that pie plate. Fit into pie pan. Sprinkle a little flour over it and add 5 or so sliced tart apples. Pour in ¾ to 1 cup of sugar, little dab of butter, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, and a speck of nutmeg.

Next roll up the rest of pastry and place on top of pie pan and crimp the edges. Mix a small amount of cream or milk with sugar and using a pastry brush, brush mixture lightly on top of crust. Cut slits in the top crust to allow for steam to release in oven. Bake for approximately an hour at 350 degrees.

Tip: If you don’t mix water in dough, you can keep it for almost a week in the refrigerator and make a one crust cream pie (I make Key Lime pie) with the third crust. When making apple pie I use a deep-dish pie pan about 11 inches – so I use all the dough from this recipe. Also if you have a little leftover dough, we cut small squares & put jam in them-pinch ends to make tarts. Bake about 10 minutes.

Tip 2: If you choose to make three regular crusts, take a cup of the dry dough mixture out (and save it for later), then only add 2 to 3 1/2 tablespoons of water to finish the dough. If making a deep dish (or a two-crust pie and a one-crust pie) you can slowly add water as needed, up to 5 T.


Read more Roots of Food: Family Recipes and Stories here!

Root Beer Pulled Pork and Carolina Coleslaw

Root beer_Pork_Slaw_Top

Hail to Root Beer

Recipes & text by Jim McCaffrey • Photos by Aryn Henning Nichols
Illustrations by Lauren Bonney • Originally published in the Summer 2016 Inspire(d)

Root beer pork coleslaw illustrationsOne of my earliest memories is my dad coming home from work and bringing in a gallon glass jar of root beer that he had gotten filled at the local A&W. He would then proceed to make – for all us kids and friends that might be hanging out – the greatest root beer floats. This happened quite often. At the time we lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and life was a pretty simple.

Mom would spend her days in the garden or washing clothes or baking bread. Us kids would do our best to help her out. But the best event of the day was at the dinner table. There we shared laughs and giggles, pulled pranks on each other, and enjoyed root beer floats. Ah, living the dream.

Life continued on and, of course, circumstances change. Dad got a job as a rural mail carrier in Decorah and we moved. And, somehow, the root beer tradition didn’t follow along.

So, 20 years ago or so, I was perusing the internet and came across this recipe for root beer pulled pork. The pork was served as a sandwich and topped with Carolina Coleslaw. This is a coleslaw that is made with apple cider vinegar instead of mayonnaise. The two flavors of each recipe just instantly bond – it was a marriage made in heaven… or possibly North Carolina. Wow, it blew me away. So this has been in our family repertoire of recipes ever since.

It is a great summer staple and we probably served it four times last summer for our Saturday Summer Concert nights. A year ago, we held our first McCaffrey family reunion at the restaurant and the pulled pork and coleslaw was the star attraction. So much so that we have had numerous requests to bring it to the table again this year. Ok, ok, just twist my arm. These recipes are now part of our family’s traditional cherished jewels. We have shared them with family and friends for the last 20 years, and now we are sharing them with you!

Maybe throw in a couple of root floats for the kids and adults too… it wouldn’t hurt! Now that’s summer!


Jim McCaffrey is a chef, author, and co-owner with his family of McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita restaurant and Twin Springs Bakery just outside Decorah. He is author of humorous cookbooks “Midwest Cornfusion” and “Mississippi Mirth”. He has been in the food industry in one way or another for more than 40 years.


Carolina Coleslaw
(Look ma, no mayo!)

  • 1 large head of cabbage, finely shredded
  • 1 med green pepper, chopped fine
  • 1 med red onion, chopped fine
  • 2 carrots, grated


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp celery seed
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar

Mix all vegetables in a (very) large bowl. In a saucepan, combine dressing ingredients. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Refrigerate until chilled. 8-10 servings. Great to top pulled pork.

Root Beer Pulled Pork

  • 1 2 1/2 to 3 lb pork butt
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbl canola oil
  • 2 med onions, sliced thin
  • 1 cup root beer
  • 1 cup bottled chili sauce
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups root beer
  • 8-10 hamburger buns

Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Brown meat on all sides in the canola oil. Transfer meat to a 5-quart crockpot. Add onions, 1 cup root beer, and garlic. Cook 4-5 hours on high heat. Make sauce. Combine remaining root beer and chili sauce in a large sauce pan. Simmer and let cook down about 30 minutes. Transfer pork to a cutting board. Using 2 forks shred pork. Place in bowl and add cooked sauce. Mix well. Place a portion on a bun and top with Carolina slaw.

Read more Roots of Food: Family Recipes and Stories here!